5 Things To Watch

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5 Things To Watch: Colts' Final Preseason Game Vs. Detroit Lions

The Colts wrap up the 2021 preseason Friday night at 7 p.m. ET against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Here’s everything to watch in the team’s final tune-up before Sept. 12’s season opener against the Seattle Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

1. Last Looks At Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger.

Jacob Eason will start and coach Frank Reich will rotate in Sam Ehlinger and Brett Hundley based on the flow of the game. For Eason and Ehlinger, it'll be one final opportunity to get some snaps in before the regular season.

But the Colts will head to Detroit with a strong amount of information on both quarterbacks thanks to their elevated status with Carson Wentz (foot) missing all but five training camp practices. 

"There's so much positive," Reich said. "You've got two young quarterbacks that we've drafted that we feel like have good upside and have proven that they know how to play winning football. First and foremost, we feel like the evaluation process is at a good spot like, 'Hey, we're in good shape. We've got two guys that are giving us a chance here.' Games are weighted a little bit heavier for sure, but there are a lot of reps and a lot of meeting time that are going into the equation."

All those practice reps and snaps in preseason games will be beneficial for both quarterbacks, neither of whom had much (if any) NFL experience before this year.

Eason this preseason is 31/48 (64.6 percent) for 315 yards (6.6 yards/attempt) with no touchdowns and no interceptions; Ehlinger is 18/28 (64.2 percent) for 225 yards (8.0 yards/attempt) with no touchdowns and three interceptions. 

2. The Wide Receiver Competition.

The Colts will face a difficult decision ahead of Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline to cut rosters down to 53 players: Which wide receivers do they keep?

The down-the-depth-chart competition at receiver has been one of the stories of training camp. Mike Strachan, Dezmon Patmon, De'Michael Harris, Ashton Dulin, Tyler Vaughns and Tarik Black have all made plays in practice and games, consistently dialing up the competition behind T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell. 

"It's going to be tough, and we feel very confident in our receiver group," Reich said. "We have a lot of guys that can make plays that we feel good about. A lot of things factor into it including special teams, but then also the role that they play – certain guys you use in different ways. So that will be a tough decision."

And a quick fun fact here — Patmon enters Friday as the NFL's leading preseason receiver with 109 yards on nine catches. 

"They're making it hard on us because they're all playing so well," offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "We have a good group. (Chris) Ballard and his staff put together (and) brought in some good players in here and we're happy for it. We have a lot of weapons we're ready to work with. So, it'll be some tough decisions."

3. The Defensive Line Competition, Too.

Another extremely competitive position group throughout camp has been Brian Baker's defensive line. 

We saw Ben Banogu shine in the Colts' second preseason game, and he's been a consistently disruptive presence during training camp. But one other name to watch here is defensive tackle Chris Williams, who was highlighted by fellow D-tackle DeForest Buckner last week. 

"I mean Chris Williams right now, I mean he's playing with his hair on fire," Buckner said. "He's taking all the coaching. He's put in a lot of work this offseason out here with Rob Mathis and I can see it coming to fruition this training camp –the two days with the Panthers, in the game and these past couple days he's really been growing as a player inside and it's been fun to see."

4. More Identity-Building From The Defense.

With most starters only playing a handful of snaps — Kwity Paye, Khari Willis and Bobby Okereke at 15, Kenny Moore II at eight, DeForest Buckner at three, among others — the Colts' defense has not missed a beat. And that defensive success and mentality has been especially noticeable in two situations: Third down and sudden change. 

The Colts held the Panthers and Vikings to a combined five of 27 on third down (18.5 percent); In four sudden change possessions, the Colts' defense allowed just 2.7 yards per play and two field goals. 

"All we need is a blade of grass. That's the mindset," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "You give us a blade of grass and we'll defend that blade of grass. Somebody gets the ball on the one or sudden change, in our minds it's okay, let's get the ball back. We say, okay, offense, we got your back and we're going to make sure we get a stop and give y'all the ball so you can go down and score. It's just a mentality that you gotta have. 

"You see a lot of teams when quarterback or whatever make a mistake or fumble or something, a lot of defenses don't go in with intensity or that mindset to say okay, let's go. A lot of guys will go out with their heads down. We look at it as an opportunity to show who we are and that's what we're going to do."

That we've seen that mentality permeate the entire Colts' defense — not just the starters — is certainly an encouraging sign for where things stand depth-wise on that side of the ball.  

And with most starters not expected to play Friday, it'll be another opportunity to continue that team-wide growth.

5. Continued Progress From The O-Line.

With Eric Fisher, Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly out for most or all of training camp, the Colts have had to rely heavily on their depth at tackle, guard and center. And from Day 1 through Day 20 of camp, the Colts saw improvements from their offensive line.  

"Those guys were trending all camp," running back Jonathan Taylor said. 

The benefit to that growth is that there will be an additional layer of trust from the other players on the field if someone like Chris Reed or Julién Davenport has to step in during the season. 

"You don't have to worry about the decisions that they're making, you don't have to worry about them executing their job," Taylor said. "It's, I trust those guys, I can go out there and play fast and do what I'm obligated to do. And we're able to hit on all cylinders."

Nelson summed up his view of the line this week, too.  

"Danny Pinter was doing really well before he got hurt, he was doing a great job. He trained really hard this offseason," Nelson said. "I think Chris Reed has showed that he's a reliable starter and can go in and play really well. Another strong guy with good technique. 

"And then it seems like Davenport is taking control of the one spot, with the left tackles, and getting to talk to him I really like his mentality and confidence about himself. A little bit more on the quiet side but getting to know him, the guy can play. And then (Sam) Tevi and (Will) Holden and all the other guys going in there and competing hard.

"It's good to see the depth we have on the O-line going into the season. I feel really confident, hopefully we get Danny back soon, we got Chris and Joey Hunt and Jake Eldrenkamp and all these guys on the interior and then at the tackles too. Get Fisher back soon."

Look back at some of the best images from the Indianapolis Colts 2021 training camp.

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