One Big Storyline
The Colts will play the majority of their starters in Saturday's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and those starters on both sides of the ball are scheduled to play about a half.
Head coach Frank Reich said running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines will not play; we'll see on the statuses of defensive end Kwity Paye, who sustained a knee injury during practice this week, and center Ryan Kelly, who missed Wednesday and Thursday's practices due to COVID.
Other than those guys, though, it'll be an important night of work for the Colts' starters with just over two weeks left until the regular season opener Sept. 11 at Houston.
"The game work is important – just sync things up, get everybody on the same page, get the feel and the rhythm of what it's like out there in Lucas Oil," Reich said. "I think it will be a good test for us. Really, just iron out details, kind of get game ready, and when we feel like we've got that work, we'll pull the guys out."
The added bonus is the Colts will get their dress rehearsal against all of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' healthy starters – including quarterback Tom Brady. The Buccaneers are loaded with roster talent, something Colts quarterback Matt Ryan knows well from spending the last decade and a half competing against them in the NFC South.
"I have a lot of familiarity of their scheme and playing against their personnel for a long time," Ryan said. "But it's also them, they're very good. So it's a good test for us.
"It's not the regular season. The focus is not the same as the regular season. The focus is on us and making sure that we're getting ourselves ready and getting ourselves to where we want to be Week 1."
5 Things To Watch
- A last look at Alec Pierce. Wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne has seen Pierce getting "better and better" throughout training camp, and Saturday will be his final chance to play before his regular season debut next month. Keep an eye on No. 14 even if the ball doesn't come to him – he's constantly working on his craft, and created separation with good releases in preseason games against the Bills and Lions.
- The running backs. The Colts are holding back Taylor and Hines in part because they want an extended evaluation of the other running backs on the roster: Philip Lindsay, Ty'Son Williams, Deon Jackson and D'Vonte Price. There's been strong competition for a roster spot – or spots – behind Taylor and Hines, and Saturday will be an opportunity for those guys to work with the first-team offense. With Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline for roster cuts looming, Saturday night will be big for Scottie Montgomery's group.
- Position battles at WR and CB. Dezmon Patmon and Mike Strachan each made big plays in last weekend's game against the Detroit Lions – will we see either get work with the first-team offense against the Buccaneers? Whether they do or don't, though, Saturday will be one final opportunity to make their case for the 53-man roster. And at cornerback, a wide-open competition to slide in as depth behind Kenny Moore II/Stephon Gilmore/Brandon Facyson/Isaiah Rodgers will see guys like Tony Brown, Anthony Chesley, Dallis Flowers, Marvell Tell III and Chris Wilcox compete once the starters get out of the game.
- D-line depth. While it was a preseason game for which they neither gameplanned nor played their starters, the Colts weren't okay with giving up 174 rushing yards to the Detroit Lions last weekend. Defensive line coach Nate Ollie believes the Colts have eight defensive linemen they can count on for gamedays, but need to keep developing those guys into being reliable depth pieces. "It's a 75-play game, (Yannick Ngakoue) can't go out there and take 70 plays, (DeForest Buckner) can't take 70 plays," Ollie said. "So we talk about in our room, no weak links. If you're in this room, we're counting on you. We need you."
- A new punter – and who handles kickoffs. The Colts signed punter Matt Haack and released kicker Jake Verity earlier this week, with Haack stepping in for the injured Rigoberto Sanchez. But an important question to be answered, and evaluation for the Colts, will be in who handles kickoff duties on Saturday. That was Sanchez's job over the last few years; will it be Haack, who's kicked off four times in his five-year career, or Rodrigo Blankenship, who's kicked off 24 times in two years with the Colts? And whoever it is – how do they do in terms of touchbacks and/or giving the Colts' kick coverage unit an opportunity to make a tackle and win the field position battle?