The Colts kicked off preparations for their Week 15 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers not knowing if a few key players could take the field Saturday – both for them and for their opponent.
Cornerback JuJu Brents, who injured his quad in Week 7 and hasn't played since, was listed as a full participant in Tuesday's walkthrough (his status was an estimation of his participation if there had been a full practice). Linebacker EJ Speed (knee), who missed last weekend's game as well, was similarly listed as a full participant, while right tackle Braden Smith (knee) and running back Jonathan Taylor (thumb) did not participate.
Head coach Shane Steichen said Brents is "progressing well" after he was listed as a limited participant Thursday and Friday last week, then was downgraded from questionable to out the day before the Colts' Week 14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. As for Taylor and Smith, Steichen said "we'll see how the week goes with both of those guys."
The Colts this week are not alone in having a handful of players with uncertain statuses. Both Steelers starting edge rushers – T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith – are in the NFL concussion protocol. Watt and Highsmith sustained concussions in the Steelers' Thursday night Week 14 loss to the New England Patriots, which afforded both players extra time to pass through the protocol – but there's no guarantee either will in time to play Saturday.
Watt has 14 sacks this season, marking the fifth time in seven years Watt has had at least 13 sacks. Highsmith, meanwhile, ripped off 14 1/2 sacks in 2022 and has six this season, forming one of the NFL's most formidable pass rushing pairs with Watt.
Neither has missed a game this season; Highsmith has never missed a game over his four-year career. We likely won't know until Thursday or Friday if either or both will take the field on Saturday, but the Colts aren't approaching this week as if the Steelers will be without Watt and/or Highsmith.
"I think you've got to prepare that they are playing," quarterback Gardner Minshew said. "Both are really good players, I think we'll have a plan for them. If they don't play, we adjust as that goes, but definitely have to prepare because they're really good."
Both Watt and Highsmith were listed as limited participants in the Steelers' Tuesday practice.
The one player the Steelers know they'll be without is starting quarterback Kenny Pickett, who will miss Saturday's game with an ankle injury. 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky will start his second game for the Steelers after throwing completing 22 of 35 passes (63 percent) for 190 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a passer rating of 74.7 in Pittsburgh's loss to the New England Patriots last Thursday night.
"You know that he's been in this league, he's been in a few systems, they trust him with the ball," linebacker Zaire Franklin, whose first career interception was thrown by Trubisky in the 2021 season, said. "They trust him to be the guy. We just have to take care of him. They still have dangerous weapons on the outside in (George) Pickens and Diontae (Johnson). Obviously, they have a great run game that he'll be playing off of too. We just have to be able to stop that."
Tuesday's practice report: