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Five Things Learned

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5 Colts Things Learned, Preseason Week 2: Why Shane Steichen didn't play starters; Josh Downs, James Washington stand out vs. Bears

The Colts had impressive games from two wide receivers Saturday night for completely different reasons. 

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1. Shane Steichen explained why he didn't play the majority of his starters.

Both the Colts and Bears elected to keep most of their starters on the sideline for Saturday night's game. Coaches have generally not played their starters in games following back-to-back joint practices, and this week was no different.

Steichen was pleased with the work rookie Anthony Richardson put in during two-hour practices on Wednesday and Thursday at Grand Park, as well as the rest of the first-team offense and defense.

"I look at those as legit games," Steichen said. "He got all those reps and a lot of starters didn't play on both sides of the ball and that was the decision that was made."

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus echoed Steichen's thinking, saying he was electing to sit Justin Fields and his starters "because of the work we've done here."

The Colts will travel to Philadelphia this week for a joint practice with the Eagles on Tuesday and then Thursday's preseason finale at Lincoln Financial Field. Steichen said he hasn't made a decision as to if Richardson and the Colts' starters will play against the Eagles but he's "leaning" toward them possibly taking the field.

Either way, for Steichen (and Eberflus), the joint practices in Westfield provided more than enough work for his team's starters.

"You do get a ton of reps, you know what I mean?" Steichen said. "A lot of starters didn't play on both sides of the ball for us, so it was just one of those things that I felt I wanted to hold (Richardson) out and we'll go from there next week."

View highlights from the Colts versus Chicago Bears preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 19.

2. Shaquille Leonard is in the concussion protocol.

Leonard did not participate in Thursday's joint practice with the Chicago Bears – the first practice he didn't take part in since training camp began. After Saturday's game, Steichen said Leonard is in the concussion protocol.

"He got dinged up in the practice (Wednesday)," Steichen said, "but he should be back soon."

The Colts beat the Chicago Bears 24-17 in the second preseason game of the 2023 season.

3. Josh Downs got open, again.

Downs' feel for how to get open has stood out throughout training camp, and showed up again Saturday night on his two catches for 20 yards. Both receptions came from the slot, where Downs did the majority of his damage in college at North Carolina.

On his first reception, the cornerback over Downs blitzed, leaving the two-high safety to the field side to cover him. Downs faked outside – like he was going to run to the flat – and baited safety Adrian Colbert into driving down on his route. Then, using his quickness, Downs flashed inside, crossing up Colbert and getting wide open in the process. Minshew found him for a 10-yard gain. 

Downs did the same thing to Colbert on his second catch, drawing the Bears safety down with his momentum going toward the sideline before running a slant back across the field. Minshew linked up with Downs to convert a third-and-three one it. 

"He did a nice job," Steichen said. "He caught some balls inside the slot there and made some big plays. It was good to see that. Good to see his growth. He is continuing to improve every day and excited where he is at."

Both of Downs' receptions resulted in first downs, and the second one extended a drive that ended with a touchdown from Minshew to wide receiver Juwann Winfree.

"I just feel like the quarterbacks can trust me and the coaches can trust me when my number is called," Downs said. "I help move the chains and help get a drive going. Just do whatever they need me to do."

4. James Washington showed up Friday and made a big play Saturday.

The Colts brought wide receiver James Washington in for a tryout Friday morning, signed him Friday afternoon and then threw him into the fire on Saturday – and he came out of the game with a 42-yard reception in the fourth quarter.

In fact, the first interaction Washington had with quarterback Sam Ehlinger, beyond quickly throwing a ball around on the sidelines, was when he got back to the huddle after that play and Ehlinger told him: "Good (stuff)."

"It's a credit to his intelligence, his work ethic and who he is as a person," Ehlinger said. "We knew - we were talking today in the walk throughs this morning and we were calling out the plays and he was on top of it, and he signed yesterday. So, it was very impressive how quickly he picked it up and made some plays for us."

Washington was up all night Friday studying the Colts' call sheet, and credited wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne and offensive quality control/wide receivers Brian Bratton with getting him up to speed.

"It's been a crazy few days," Washington said, "but I'm very thankful for it." 

Washington means it when he says he's thankful. The 2018 second-round pick has had to navigate a difficult path to even get back on an NFL field after sustaining a broken foot last year with the Dallas Cowboys – an injury that required two surgeries. He said he didn't feel healthy until about June of this year.

In addition to the physical stress of rehabbing an injury, Washington discussed the mental toll of feeling like "nobody wants you" while just hoping for an opportunity like the one he now has with the Colts.

"It's been a journey, I'm not gonna lie," Washington said, emotionally. "It's been hard. But I'm very thankful for it."

5. Quick notes on the defense.

  • It was great to see defensive end Tyquan Lewis on the field for the first time after he sustained a season-ending patellar injury last October. Lewis, who sustained a season-ending patellar injury on his other knee in 2021, played eight snaps on Saturday against the Bears. He began training camp on PUP and did not play in the Colts' preseason opener agains the Bills.
  • All five of the cornerbacks competing to start on the outside played on Saturday: Dallis Flowers (11 snaps), Darrell Baker Jr. (11 snaps), Darius Rush (14 snaps), JuJu Brents (27 snaps) and Jaylon Jones (27 snaps).
  • Sixth-round rookie defensive end Titus Leo had a productive day, with a sack, pass break-up at the line of scrimmage, a quarterback hit and a tackle for a loss.

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