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Camp Caldwell: Plot Thickens As Injuries Mount
Anthony Holds. 19th August, 2009 - 6:19 pm

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It would certainly appear that Jim Caldwell?s 2009 edition of the Indianapolis Colts have at least one thing in common with the teams that played under Tony Dungy for the last seven years; they don?t bring their best stuff in the preseason.

After an uninspiring 13-3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in their preseason opener at Lucas Oil Stadium last Friday, many questions remain unanswered. A few positives have surfaced, and, somewhat ominously, quite a few injuries (particularly on defense) are starting to raise questions about personnel availability for the regular season opener on September 13 against Jacksonville.

Perhaps there will be a surge of positivity after a stirring performance in this week?s nationally televised contest against the Eagles on Thursday night, but Colts fans probably shouldn?t hold their collective breath. Chances are the team will continue with its preseason tradition of eschewing scoreboard-happy results in favor of personnel evaluation. The injury situation will probably be the most telling indicator of how the season might kick off.

There was plenty of things to be vaguely concerned about following their loss to Minnesota-- if one takes much stock in preseason performances.

The first unit offense came out, ran six plays (three of which were sacks), and then said goodbye for the night. This rankled Peyton Manning and a few more of the regulars? which likely bodes well for Thursday. One imagines Caldwell, in a motivational ploy, didn?t pull them so quickly by accident. Expect the starters to play about a quarter in the coming game.

The defense, schematically the same as ever but with several aggressive twists added by new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, looked about the same as last year?s model, giving up big runs to?well, just about everyone that carried the ball, and failing to get off the field on third down. Of course, this was the portion of the roster where injuries played the biggest part. Going into the Philadelphia game, the defense is decimated by various maladies.

First off, the entire Colts starting secondary missed the preseason opener. Safety and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders is still recovering from offseason surgery on his right knee and is now apparently questionable for the start of the regular season. The other starter at safety, Antoine Bethea, has also been out with a broken bone in his right hand. He is in practice this week, but there is no word on when he will be game ready. The corners, Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, appeared to be on their way back into the lineup this week, but then on Monday afternoon Hayden was carted off the field after aggravating a hamstring injury. He is now expected to miss 3-4 weeks and is questionable for the season opener as well. So it would seem that only Jackson has a chance at being back in the lineup against Philly, and that only two of four starters in the defensive backfield will play at all in the preseason. On the defensive line, Raheem Brock, the top backup at defensive end, broke his left hand against Minnesota and is expected not to return until the season opener. Starting defensive end Robert Mathis did not practice early in the week after bruising his thigh against the Vikings. His injury does not appear serious, but certainly the team will err on the side of caution when deciding whether or not he will play Thursday. All in all, it?s quite possible that approximately half of the defensive starters will be out once again, hindering their ability to continue absorbing the new schematic wrinkles Coyer has brought to the table.

Now for the good news: Two rookies in particular stood out last Friday and gave the Colts reason to smile.

Donald Brown, the team?s first round draft choice at running back out of Connecticut, carried the ball five times in the second quarter for a whopping 58 yards. His first three carries were memorable, as he ripped off impressive runs of 11, 6, and 38 yards. Colts fans have to be ecstatic about that first glimpse of their new thoroughbred, particularly when taken with Joseph Addai?s two carries for 13 yards. If Brown and Addai (along with the healing Mike Hart) can put together that kind of production going forward, the team?s running concerns should be put to rest. Also providing a warm fuzzy was rookie punter Pat McAfee, who got lots of work and made the most of it ?- cranking seven punts for an average of 49.9 yards, including a 63-yarder in the first quarter. That kind of effort on a consistent basis will make fans forget former punter Hunter Smith quickly.

Colts fans can assume that this week?s game will offer a greater chance for them to see some of the team?s key camp questions addressed, particularly that of who will be the team?s third receiver. It now appears that rookie Austin Collie has gained some ground on Pierre Garcon, the offseason favorite. They are also being used very specifically: Collie in the slot and Garcon outside. So if both perform decently, they could be interchangeable parts in different packages, depending on whether Anthony Gonzalez is lined up outside or in the slot on a given play. The added time for the starting offense should give Manning a much needed chance to develop some chemistry with both of them this week.

Some answers and some general improvement in performance and team health would be nice to see this week. But in any case, the Colts are a team for whom preseason wins and losses have not and will not mean much? and there won?t be many complaints from Colts Nation on that front as long as Jim Caldwell?s regular season results also echo those of his predecessor.