INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts on Sunday officially open up the 2017 regular season when they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams.
The Colts, who are coming off an 8-8 season in 2016, finished their preseason schedule at 2-2, falling the first two weeks to the Detroit Lions (24-10) and the Dallas Cowboys (24-19) before reeling off two straight wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers (19-15) and the Cincinnati Bengals (7-6).
The Rams, meanwhile, finished 4-12 last season, and also had a 2-2 record in preseason play; they defeated the Dallas Cowboys (13-10) and the Oakland Raiders (24-21) before falling to the Los Angeles Chargers (21-19) and the Green Bay Packers (24-10).
So what should fans be looking for when the Colts kick off the 2017 season on Sunday?
1. New-Look Defense
We caught glimpses of what the Colts' reloaded defense will look like during the preseason, when the unit forced seven turnovers over the four-game exhibition span. But Sunday's game, of course, will be the first opportunity for defensive coordinator Ted Monachino to see his new schemes and plans in play for an entire 60-minute ballgame. With a new starter possible at all 11 positions on Sunday compared to the 2016 season, the unknown is an exciting prospect for this Colts defense.2. Tolzien Under Center
The Colts on Sunday will have Scott Tolzien at quarterback, giving the seventh-year Wisconsin product an opportunity to make a Week 1 start for the first time in his career. Tolzien, who will be making his fourth career start — and second with the Colts — said he hopes to take advantage of the extra time he's been able to spend working with the No. 1 offense since the start of the offseason workout program in April.3. New Operation
The Colts on Sunday will also officially debut their new special teams unit, which features a new punter/kickoff specialist, Rigoberto Sanchez, and a new long snapper, Luke Rhodes. The constant, of course, is kicker Adam Vinatieri, who, entering his 22nd NFL season, has been tasked with ensuring the new Indy specialists are all on the same page anytime they're on the field. After a successful preseason, look for this theme to continue early into the regular season.4. New Operation, Pt. 2
While the unknown is an exciting aspect for the Colts' defense heading into Sunday's game, it's something that the Rams feature in droves, too. Los Angeles this season is led by Sean McVay, who at 30 years old at the time of his hiring in January was the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. The former Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator has brought in his own staff with him, meaning that other than the film of the Rams' four preseason games, Chuck Pagano and his staff have had to do a little extra digging to fully prepare for what they'll be facing on Sunday.5. Donald's Replacement?
While McVay on Friday said it's "safe to say" star defensive tackle Aaron Donald "won't be a part of this game" as he continues to hold out in search of a new contract, the Colts' offensive line will still have much to contend with in the trenches on Sunday. Tanzel Smart, a sixth-round pick this year out of Tulane, is expected to start in Donald's place against the Colts, and has been able to work his way up the depth chart after a very strong training camp. And, of course, the Rams still have veteran Michael Brockers, who has 172 tackles and 14.5 sacks over his six-year NFL career.6. Young Secondary
Even before top cornerback Vontae Davis suffered a groin injury that will keep him out of Sunday's game, the Colts' secondary had a tough task ahead of it when it came to trying to stop the Rams' passing game. But Davis' absence for Indy means the team will have a very young core of corners and safeties expected to be available for the season opener, including first-round pick Malik Hooker at safety and second-round pick Quincy Wilson and fifth-round pick Nate Hairston, among others, at cornerback. While Pagano said mistakes will be made against a receiving core that now includes the extremely talented Sammy Watkins, he said he's confident in the talented defensive backs group the Colts will bring to Los Angeles.7. Bond — Deyshawn Bond
With Ryan Kelly officially ruled out on Friday with a foot injury, the Colts will likely start undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond at center on Sunday. If he does, he'll become only the fifth undrafted rookie to start for his team Week 1 in the NFL since 2001, showing just how special an accomplishment it would be. Pagano has praised Bond's work ethic since the team signed him after going undrafted out of the University of May, and said he doesn't think the job will be too much for the Warren Central High School product.