The Indianapolis Colts will begin their three-game preseason slate on Sunday when they take on the Carolina Panthers.
The Colts and Panthers have participated in joint practices together for the past couple of days at Grand Park Sports Campus, but now it’s time to perform in a game setting.
For the Colts, there are still a few question marks surrounding various facets of the team, with plenty of players needing to step up and prove themselves worthy of a prominent role.
Let’s take a look at the three areas that should be focused on the most when kickoff commences at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The obvious focus for many during this game will be the Colts’ quarterback position. Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger are in a competition for the starting spot until Carson Wentz can return from his foot injury.
Eason and Ehlinger have been splitting the first-team reps in practice for the last four days with each one of them having some success. Now it’s time for them to prove it in an environment where quarterbacks can actually be hit.
“I expect them to be fearless,” head coach Frank Reich told reporters about his two quarterbacks. “I expect them to embrace that moment. They’ve gotten to this point so I assume that when the bullets are live, I know how we all feel, (having) played at this level, it’s kind of fun. You know you’re going to get hit and there’s something about that that brings out the best in you. So, I’m counting on that bringing out the best in them.”
For Eason, he needs to show that he can make quick decisions and deliver the ball accurately. We all know about his size and his second-to-none arm strength, but he has been hesitant at times to throw the ball into tight windows and sometimes slow to process the defense. Being able to decipher where to correctly go with the ball in a timely fashion and trusting his reads will be big for Eason if he wants to win the job.
For Ehlinger, this will allow him to showcase his talent when the play breaks down. His mobility and pocket movement will be big in keeping plays alive for the offense. If he can showcase his ability in this area as well as help ease doubts about his arm strength, he could very well see more time with the starters.
As far as playing time is concerned, Reich said Friday that Eason will start the game and play around a quarter and a half before being replaced by Ehlinger. The roles will then be reversed next week against the Minnesota Vikings with Ehlinger starting and Eason coming in afterward.
There have been injuries up and down the entire offensive line for the Colts.
At least three starters will not be playing due to injury in Eric Fisher (Achilles), Quenton Nelson (knee), and Ryan Kelly (elbow).
However, the battle for the starter at left tackle continues to wage on between Will Holden and Sam Tevi. Julién Davenport has also seen reps with the first unit at left tackle. Holden is currently listed as the starter on the Colts’ depth chart with Tevi as the backup. Both will see plenty of snaps on Sunday as the Colts get a better look at each player.
So far in camp, both tackles have struggled to contain the Colts’ pass rush, allowing sacks and pressures in the backfield. Going up against a stout Panthers front, Holden and Tevi will need to meet the challenge and give the Colts confidence that they can hold down the position until Fisher returns.
One of the biggest question marks entering training camp for the Colts was how the young pass rushers would perform. So far, they have shown fantastic potential.
First-round pick Kwity Paye has been getting better every day, consistently winning his matchups against the left tackles and being a force off the edge. Unfortunately, Paye sprained his ankle during practice on Wednesday and while Reich said it is nothing serious, he will not play Sunday.
The other edge players have had success throughout camp as well. Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, and Ben Banogu have all done a good job being disruptive, with Turay and Banogu registering would-be sacks on multiple occasions.
Banogu has especially had a solid camp as it seems he is attributed with a sack at every practice. It was not a guarantee that Banogu was going to make the team after two disappointing years for the 2019 second-round pick. He has shown a fire and relentlessness in camp that was not there before, and it has led to success on the practice field.
The young pass rushers must now show that production on the field during real game action. The Colts defense has a chance to rise into the elites of the league this year, and they will not be able to reach that point without a good pass rush from the edge.
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