INDIANAPOLIS– Last Saturday's game at Washington was the one preseason game that was approached more like the regular season than any other.
In a hostile environment, the Colts had an uphill battle. With the regulars playing into the third quarter, the club was down 14-7 before falling eventually by a 30-17 score.
Indianapolis was never able to gain the lead, and it lost a few faces along the way. Entering the contest without the services of Robert Mathis, Cory Redding, Mike McGlynn, Pat Angerer and a few others, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and cornerback Jerraud Powers left the game early. Among others, wide receiver Griff Whalen aggravated a foot previously injured.
McKinney, a free agent addition from Baltimore and a player targeted to help beef up the interior of the team's hybrid 3-4 attack, damaged the ACL in his knee. He will be lost for the season.
On Sunday, Head Coach Chuck Pagano assessed the team's injury situation prior to the roster moves that will see the club reach 75 players by this afternoon.
"Brandon McKinney, unfortunately (the) MRI came back and he does have an ACL injury," said Pagano. "Unfortunately for Brandon, it's probably going to end his season. He'll end up going to IR. Griff (Whalen) did re-injure the same foot he had an issue with earlier in camp. It does show a fracture there, so he's going to miss some extended time. (Jabin) Sambrano and Korey (Lindsey) are being evaluated (for head injuries). Jerraud's got a mild (knee) sprain. Had it been a regular season game, I think he would have able to come back. He's going to be day-to-day as we prepare for Cincinnati. Thankfully, his was just a mild deal, and he should be fine, for sure, for Chicago."
Such are the headaches for a head coach. Trying to build a team and seeing players with whom bonds have formed being hurt are part of the daily job. The team has been without the services of Angerer and Mathis since early in the first preseason game.
Personnel losses affect development of any team, let alone one that is installing a new scheme and trying to build a new program. Pagano cited his defensive staff for the way it has continued to shape the unit through the adversity.
"Losing a couple linebackers that we've lost (Robert Mathis, Pat Angerer) and now, like Brandon (McKinney) and had the injuries that have kept some guys out for a couple weeks here and there, it's tough from a continuity standpoint," said Pagano. "For the last two-to-three weeks in training camp from a continuity standpoint, you'd love to have them all playing together just from a communication standpoint and a trust standpoint and all those types of things.
"It's definitely been a challenge for Greg Manusky and our defensive coaches. It's really been amazing what they've been able to go and do what they've been able to do. It's because of a type of character that we have in that locker room and the guys on the defensive side of the ball, and the coaches that we have over there to be able to keep this thing tied together.
"It seems like every time we come out of a preseason game, we're adding somebody new to the mix. They just keep plugging away. We'll continue to strive to be the best that we can be and get better on a daily basis. It's been a challenge, but an exciting one."
Players have been added to the mix by necessity and on Sunday, one was added by choice. Indianapolis sent two 2013 draft picks to Miami for cornerback Vontae Davis. Davis, a fourth-year pro, is the latest in a series of players in the secondary to be added by Pagano and General Manager Ryan Grigson.
It is a vastly different assemblage of players, particularly in the secondary, since both joined the team in January.
"(There are) a bunch of new names and faces," said Pagano. "We're going to keep making moves and doing the things that we feel are necessary, as long as they're all moves that are positive and help this team and can help us win. Obviously, we're not afraid to pull the trigger on doing that."
The team still is creating a culture of competition as it approaches the regular season. It is something players have known for a while.
"Our guys understand that. The competition, we told them from day one that we're going to try to create competition at every position, and we'll continue to do that until we get the right mix out there," said Pagano. "Again bringing in a guy like Vontae (Davis) and the guys that we've brought in – Cassius (Vaughn), D.J. (Johnson), Korey (Lindsey) and Josh (Gordy), just to name a few of them – I think they've all been positive moves. They're definitely going to help us moving forward."
This week will be spent balancing the need for health, evaluation and confidence. Coaches want the players to feel confident about the program. The team is coming off two road games that involved hostile environments – Pittsburgh and Washington.
Last week against the Redskins, Indianapolis was out-rushed by nearly 100 yards and tallied only a 2.0 average on 27 rushes. The team yielded two sacks and had a pocket that was too busy for the coaches' tastes. Field position contributed to the challenge, and Indianapolis fell behind by 16 points in the second half.
Speaking about the offensive line's performance and what must occur, Pagano's remarks centered around the basics, and those technical matters can be applied to every position.
"There were some things, obviously, that after we looked at the tape, from a communication standpoint and fundamentals and technique stuff, that we can clean up," said Pagano. "It has nothing to do with want and effort and certain things like that. It just comes down to communication and fundamentals and technique. We'll go back to work starting tomorrow to get that stuff corrected."
Rosters are pared from 90 to 75 this week and down to 53 by Friday.