INDIANAPOLIS –Week three of preseason is the one that most closely resembles the approach to a regular season game.
That means two Colts veterans – Antoine Bethea and Dwight Freeney – will get a better measuring stick of where they are in the new 3-4 defense, the first season this is being run in Indianapolis since 1992.
Both have been dutiful in their learning and application process through the first two games, and week three will be a true litmus test since each should be playing into the third quarter.
In doing so, they will be facing a fresh face and a familiar one – Robert Griffin III, the Redskins' new quarterback, and Pierre Garcon. Garcon was a teammate and practice opponent of Bethea and Freeney for the past four years.
First things first, however, and that is the importance of where each is in the new defense. Bethea believes progress has been made and that there is time for growth Saturday in Washington and the following week against Cincinnati.
"Yeah, I think so," said Bethea when asked if things are soaking in. "The first two preseason games, I think all three phases of the game, we've shown some good things. Then from the first to the second game, we've improved on some things that we didn't do well in the first game.
"I think if we can just keep improving each week, each day of practice, just watching film and get better, when it's time to go up to Chicago, I think we'll be ready."
Bethea snared an interception early in the Pittsburgh game last Sunday, one thrown directly at him. While taking barbs from teammates about the ease with which he made the interception, that was the point. In the past, Bethea and others thought the defensive approach sometimes meant they really had to labor to get one.
"Me and Jerraud (Powers), we've talked about that before in the past. Getting interceptions here has been a good thing, but you really had to work for them, break on the ball really well," said Bethea. "In the new scheme we are in now, (there is an) opportunity to get some cheap ones, some tipped balls, quarterbacks really not seeing you, just throwing it to you. In the back end, just catch them.
"Coaches always say, 'If you catch the ones that are thrown to you, you'll lead the league.' That's just something we want to harp on, and, hopefully, I'll get some more this year."
A huge component of that is applying pressure to the quarterback, something the club did in the past with only a handful of players compared to now where the intent is to bring heat from more sources. Bethea sees that as a plus for the secondary.
"Most definitely. Getting pressure on the quarterback, the quarterback not knowing where the pressure is coming from and just capitalizing on the opposing offense's mistakes. If we do that, we'll be fine," said Bethea.
Freeney is busy, too, but likes the direction where things are heading. Never satisfied, he looks for growth, even in his 11th season.
"Things are on the up and up and moving in the right direction," said Freeney. "I can't say I'm completely, totally happy because then there's no room for growth. You can always get better. I think I can get better in this system.
"Obviously, this is new for me, so I'm really learning when to do certain things, whether I can play with my alignment because I'm doing some different things this year."
Still, a performer who has 102.5 career sacks will not wander far from his roots. Freeney still expects to bring pressure on quarterbacks.
"It's the same thing because for me I'm pretty much doing the same thing," said Freeney. "I'm dropping back in coverage a little bit more but like 70-80 percent of the time, I'm going at the quarterback.
"I'm a 'rushman (in the scheme).' Whatever you want to classify that new position as, but I do both (rush and drop). I rush the quarterback."
Both played last year against Cam Newton of Carolina, one of the league's fleetest quarterbacks. Now, they get to see a one-year newer model in Griffin.
"In college, he did some great things," said Bethea. "It will be a great test for this defense as well. Just knowing what type of dual threat he is, it will be a good test for our defense just seeing what he can do and see how we can defend their offense."
Speed is one part of Freeney's game, and he may see Griffin in the pocket or elsewhere.
"He's fast. I know that, but I'm used to seeing fast guys, the (Michael) Vick's, the Cam's (Newton) and all that stuff," said Freeney. "I'm sure he wants to stay in the pocket and really establish the system and what they're trying to do. I don't foresee him running around as much during the preseason, but who knows?"
Garcon joined Washington as an unrestricted free agent this year, providing a talented target for Griffin. Seeing an old teammate will be fun for the Colts veterans.
"It'll be fun. There's to be some trash talking, of course, but it's going to be fun," said Bethea. "You know what type of player Pierre is. He's a very strong, aggressive player that can make some plays. It's going to be good for our backend to see how he can handle those guys. RGIII has some good weapons back there. It's all fun and games but I'm happy for Pierre, his success. But like I said, there will most definitely be some trash talking and it will be some fun."
With victory always a priority for the Colts when competing and the nature of this preseason game taking on the closest flavor of the regular season, Indianapolis will be aware of the aggressive nature of Garcon since they worked against him for four seasons.
"I do, I do," said Reggie Wayne when asked if Garcon sought contact after the catch because of his physical nature. "That's the type of player he is. He's kind of got that special teams background where you go in there and you can get blown up or you can do the blowing up, you know? It won't bother him.
"Pierre is real physical. To me, he's up there in that Hines Ward status. He's looking for the big hit. He's willing to go out there and block and do all the things (necessary as a receiver). He takes that aggression out down the field."