A Capsule Look at the Colts' Final Preseason Game
**Indianapolis Colts (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)
Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. EDT
Paul Brown Stadium (65,515 capacity) – Cincinnati, Ohio
Television/Radio: WTTV-TV and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1**
Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the team's first-unit offense and defense are likely to see little playing time in their final tune-up before the regular season. After playing extensively against the Detroit Lions in the team's third preseason game, Caldwell said the plan is to rest the starters in the fourth and get a good, long look at the team's younger players before making final roster cuts this weekend.
Indianapolis (1-2) lost to the Lions last Saturday, 18-17, after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles the week before, 23-15. Cincinnati (1-2) is playing on a Thursday for the third week in a row and is coming off a 24-21 loss to St. Louis last week. The Bengals split their first two preseason games, losing at New Orleans and winning at New England.
Thursday's game will mark the 18th time the Colts and Bengals have met in preseason history, with Cincinnati holding the all-time series lead, 11-6. The two teams faced each other last year in the preseason with the Bengals getting the best of the Colts, 27-7.
Following the Cincinnati game, the Colts resume action on September 13 when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars in their regular-season opener.
Caldwell said the Colts' fourth and final preseason game would serve two functions, one, to help sort out some of the team's kinks from last week, and two, to get in one more evaluation period of the team's younger players and reserves before making cuts.
The Colts coach said the team has been using this week to strengthen its weaknesses in preparation for the Jacksonville season-opener.
"We feel pretty good about where (the offense is) right now," Caldwell said. "Obviously, you want to be perfect. You want every drive that you take the field to culminate with a touchdown. That has not happened this preseason, but we've been pretty efficient."
There is no better indicator of how the first-unit offense is playing this preseason than quarterback Peyton Manning, who has connected on 23-of-31 passes in three games for 296 yards and three touchdowns (and no interceptions). Against the Lions last week, the team's offense looked as crisp as it has all preseason, but Caldwell said there is still room for improvement.
"We are pleased with the progress, but the fact of the matter is, we still have to get better," he said.
As of Wednesday, Caldwell said he was not exactly sure how much the starters would play against the Bengals. But he said every player is going through their "pre-game reps" in practice and are "getting ready to go."
"We tell them all, 'Let's get ready,' and then (the coaching staff) will make the adjustments closer to the game."
Caldwell also promised not to let Cincinnati's game plan in the final preseason game affect theirs.
"We are more concerned with our team and focusing in on what best suits us rather than let our opposition dictate anything in that area," he said.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BENGALS
The Bengals suffered a key injury in the week leading up to Thursday's game.
After remaining un-signed through training camp and the first three weeks of the preseason, first-round draft pick OL-Andre Smith signed with Cincinnati on Sunday, only to break his foot in a non-contact drill less than 48 hours after signing his contract.
In a press release, the Bengals said Smith is expected "to miss a few weeks."
Also, the Bengals were also forced to put TE-Ben Utecht on injured reserve after the former Colt suffered a concussion earlier in the month, according to the Bengals' Web site.
Like the Colts' 'Next-Man Up' theory, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis said the team has no other choice but to deal with the losses and "go on to the next people."
The Bengals did receive some good news when quarterback Carson Palmer participated in practice earlier this week after missing the team's last two preseason games with an ankle injury. If Palmer does not play against the Colts, J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer, Carson's younger brother, will take the snaps under center Thursday.
"When Carson is ready to go, then I'll play Carson," Lewis said. "When he's ready to practice and play, he'll be out there."
And while the Bengals put one former Colt on IR, another is still fighting to make the team. Running back DeDe Dorsey has rushed 11 times this preseason for 87 yards, second-best on the team and is leading the Bengals with 97 kickoff-return yards. Dorsey played 13 games for the Colts in 2006, serving primarily as a special teamer.
The following Colts players will not travel to Cincinnati for the Colts-Bengals game: WR-Sam Giguere, RB-Mike Hart, DB-Kelvin Hayden, OG-Mike Pollak, DB-Bob Sanders (PUP), TE-Tom Santi and LB-Clint Session.
• "We're still trying to get them sharp, so we've kind of tailored our practices to that, and we kind of divide it almost 50-50 in terms of training camp mode and preparation for Cincinnati." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on how he divides the team's practices
• "It's a big week for a lot of guys on this football team still trying to vie for spots on the team, playing time, positions, or a chance to be on the practice squad down the line. Going into this last game, there's a lot of things still up in the air, which is a good thing. I think we've had a good, competitive start, and we have to continue with that as far as competition to be on this football team. Going into the game, I'm looking to play with a great pace and tempo in all three phases – offensively, defensively and special teams." – Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis on the team's final preseason game
• "I think we need to use these last two weeks of practice right up until the Jacksonville game to improve, to figure out what personnel is going to be in there on certain downs and distances and get our rotation at the wide receiver position. I still feel like we're in training camp mode and still using everyday (to get better). I don't know how much the older guys will play this Thursday, but we're practicing this week like it's a normal week. We're taking the majority of repetitions. So, we're going to use this week to get better." – Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on the team's offense
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) MAKING THE CUT
Thursday's game will be quite meaningful for dozens of players on each team. All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to 53 players by Saturday afternoon, making Thursday's game a final audition for many.
Caldwell said on Tuesday the coaching staff would have a hard time making roster cuts without this final game.
"I don't think we could make it today," Caldwell said. "(Cuts) are one of those things that you wait until you have finished playing all of your games…In some cases, you find that someone who has not had an opportunity to get much playing time previously gets an extended amount of playing time and does well. That will open your eyes and make you consider them as part of the process, so we have to wait."
The Colts coach said NFL head coaches can be swayed by an impressive play or performance when making the tough choices.
"And I do think there are a lot of men that are looking forward to that opportunity Thursday evening," Caldwell said. "And we try to stress that. That is why we feel this game is important, because the roster has not been set yet and there are still some opportunities for the guys that are playing in this game."
In addition to last-minute performances, Caldwell said injuries also play a big part in the decision-making process.
"There are a lot of different factors that we have to weigh into this decision, and it's not easy."
For players who do not make the 53-man roster, there is still a chance of making the practice squad. Caldwell said he does not have a "cut and dry" philosophy in how he makes up his practice squad, but said he tends to favor players who have the potential to develop in their system.
"On the other hand, in order to practice and practice well, you need different numbers at different positions, so it's also a positional type thing, but for the most part ours are development-based."
2) SORGI TO RETURN
After missing the end of training camp and the team's first three preseason games due to injury, backup quarterback Jim Sorgi has been cleared to play Thursday against the Bengals.
Sorgi was close to playing against the Lions last week, but the team ultimately decided to hold him out one more week to make sure they were not rushing him back.
Caldwell said Sorgi has been progressing well in practice, but could use some "good, quality work" in a game.
"We haven't necessarily given him a definitive number (of plays Thursday) as of yet," Caldwell said. "We're going to wait until after (Tuesday's) practice, and we'll sit down and talk as a staff and kind of see where things are make a determination on how many reps he's going to get. But he certainly could use some work. It's been limited work he's had thus far this preseason."
3) LOOKING FOR THEIR MAN
Like every aspect of the team, the Colts' return game is a work in progress, Caldwell said.
In eight kickoff returns this preseason, the Colts have utilized five different return men and will continue to tryout new players and combinations against the Bengals on Thursday.
"I think we've had some guys that have shown some flashes, but I think, overall, it's not necessarily simply a return man in terms of where the difficulties may lie and our effectiveness," Caldwell said. "A lot of times it has to do with other factors, a block here and there, and execution is certainly a factor, as well. These are things we're working on constantly. I can see there is improvement in those areas, so we just have to take it to the field and show it."
Caldwell said despite the early struggles on special teams, he thinks he has a core of players who could succeed returning kicks.
"I think we do have a good number of young guys and veteran guys to choose from," he said. "And I think we have a good group that certainly can get it done."