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INDIANAPOLIS – For competitive advantage purposes, Frank Reich isn’t completely showing his hand for Week One.
But some strong content clues, and a new regular season depth chart, can lead to answers on who will start for the Colts when the Bengals come to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
When Training Camp started in late July, the Colts had around a half dozen questions about their starters.
What answers did we get?
- Right Guard: The veteran (Matt Slauson) versus the rookie (Braden Smith). The depth chart says Slauson will get the nod on Sunday. During the spring, this was not a true competition, but Jim Irsay said in June that he was hoping Smith would beat out Slauson at right guard. Early in camp, we continued to see Slauson take all the right guard starting reps. But after the Colts experimented with Smith at right tackle, they moved him back to his natural spot at right guard, for starts in the final two preseason games. Slauson is the expected Week One starter, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Smith sneaks his way into the lineup at some point in 2018.
- Right Tackle: What a mess this competition was. The Colts started 4 different right tackles in each of their 4 preseason games. Denzelle Good was Jim Irsay’s favorite but could never stay healthy. Austin Howard took his nice free agent signing bonus and didn’t even make it to September, after being cut on Saturday. With Braden Smith moving back to right guard, this battle was down to Joe Haeg (20 starts at right tackle the last two years) and J’Marcus Webb (64 career starts, but didn’t play in the NFL last season). Haeg would be my choice, and is the guy atop the depth chart, but you are complicated by the Anthony Castonzo injury situation, and possibly needing insurance at left tackle early in the season. If Haeg is needed at LT on Sunday, then Webb slides into the starting lineup. To Webb’s credit, he’s done a nice job after joining the Colts early in camp. Webb was suspended for the first 4 games of last season and didn’t join a team at all in 2017.
- No. 2 Wide Receiver: This was a position battle decided early in camp. The consistency of Ryan Grant separated him early on from Chester Rogers. Then Deon Cain’s torn ACL in the preseason opener ended any chance of a serious threat to the No. 2 WR spot. Honestly, the wideout group was pretty underwhelming during the month of August. The Colts need for Grant and Rogers to take a jump for T.Y. to have the support he lacked in recent seasons. Grant is the team’s No. 2 wideout though.
- Defensive End: Is the youth movement in full affect here? It wasn’t during the month of August, with Margus Hunt (31 years old) rising up the depth chart and Tarell Basham (24 years old) and Kemoko Turay (23 years old) falling. Even though Chris Ballard labels Hunt and Jabaal Sheard as ‘left ends’ they both were starting in the preseason and are starting on the new depth chart. Maybe we see Hunt continue to play on early downs, and then a Turay sighting on passing downs? This is a position that, depending on the down and distance, could/should see some interchanging
- MIKE Linebacker: Did injury turn this into a position battle? Anthony Walker, a fifth-round pick from 2017, was the starter throughout the spring and at the start of camp. But a groin injury took Walker off the field for a month. Undrafted free agent Skai Moore quickly slid into the starting lineup and never looked back. Walker finally returned to practice on Monday, but the guess is Moore still starts on Sunday. However, the depth chart does have Walker ahead of Moore. Still, it’s hard to imagine Walker taking his starting job back in just one week of practice, after missing more than a month. If Moore plays well enough, he might just lock down this job for the entire 2018 season.
- Cornerback: After weeks of rotating corners in and out of the starting lineup, the Colts settled on Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir as their starting cornerbacks. We thought. Until the Colts oddly played Desir in the final preseason game and then put Nate Hairston ahead of him on the regular season depth chart. Both Quincy Wilson and Hairston have returned from injury. We don’t have as many definite answers at corner, outside of Moore, who likely will kick inside to the nickel cornerback when the Colts want to use that personnel package. No corner on the roster has started more than 6 games in a season.
- Running Back Reps: Like the MIKE linebacker position or right guard, this position battle evolved a bit with the Marlon Mack injury, thrown on top of Robert Turbin’s suspension. For now, with Mack’s hamstring injury iffy for Week One, it’s looking like Jordan Wilkins and Christine Michael are your 3-down options. Wilkins is listed as the No. 2 back, behind Mack, on the depth chart. Rookie Nyheim Hines is probably more of a gadget guy with his ability to play in multiple offensive spots. Predicting carries is always tough. Maybe you see a 12-6 carry split for Wilkins and Michael in Week One, if Mack can’t go?
New Show: Monday, September 10 will be the debut of the ‘Morning After’ show with Jeff Rickard and Kevin Bowen co-hosting from 7-10 AM on 1070 The Fan each Monday. The show will be centered on recapping the previous day’s Colts game. Catch this local show during your morning drive time every Monday to end 2018.