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INDIANAPOLIS – The next time we see the Indianapolis Colts, the score will matter.

It didn’t on Thursday, but the Colts hope they get the same result when they meet the Bengals again a week from Sunady in the regular season opener.

What did we learn from the Colts beating the Bengals, 27-26, in the preseason finale?

FIVE THINGS LEARNED

-Joe Haeg Should Be Week One Starter: The main starting job that was up in the air coming into Thursday night was at right tackle. Musical chairs at right tackle had Joe Haeg sitting in it on Thursday and he should be in that same seat a week from Sunday, when things get real. Haeg did a nice job in his first half work on Thursday. He was going up against third-round pick Sam Hubbard (Ohio State), who is a more talented edge rusher than you typically see in the preseason finale. With 20 starts at right tackle in his first two NFL seasons, Haeg isn’t a bad ‘third’ option for the Colts to turn to after issues with Austin Howard (poor play) and Denzelle Good (injuries). At right guard, rookie Braden Smith started on Thursday night. Smith was still in competition with veteran Matt Slauson, according to the Colts. But Slauson took the vast majority of reps at right guard this offseason and is probably the guy there in Week One.

-Wide Receivers Emerge: Coming into Thursday night, I thought Reece Fountain and Zach Pascal would be the team’s No. 4 and 5 wide receivers after roster cuts. I still think that after Thursday, thanks to both guys flashing against the Bengals. Fountain, the team’s fifth-round pick, had 3 catches in 4 targets for 32 yards. Pascal had 3 catches for 33 yards and 1 touchdown, along with continued special teams contributions. Wide receiver should be a spot this team monitors on the waiver wire this weekend, but Fountain and Pascal could be the early winners in this race.

-Delaire vs. Basham: It wasn’t a great end to the preseason for defensive end Tarell Basham, the team’s 2017 third-round pick. Basham left Thursday’s game late in the first half with a knee injury. Whereas Ryan Delaire continued to show off a nice pass rush pedigree from the edge. Debating these two will be one of the more compelling case studies for Chris Ballard and company this weekend. Production wise, Delaire should definitely make it over Basham. But is it really time to close the door on a third-round pick from just two years ago? I say no, given the Colts transitioning into a defense that Basham excelled in at Ohio. It can take pass rushers time to develop. Are the Colts willing to be patient with Basham and rely on their staff to develop him? Now, Basham’s knee injury suffered on Thursday could impact his positioning on the roster.

-Robert Turbin’s Last Action Until October? Another interesting storyline in Thursday’s preseason finale was having veteran Robert Turbin back to work. An ankle injury three weeks ago had sidelined Turbin since the preseason opener. Turbin had 5 carries for 12 yards on Thursday. He’s now heading to the suspension list for the first four weeks of the season. Given the lack of proven bodies at running back right now, it seems like Turbin will definitely return to the 53-man roster in Week Five versus the Patriots. With the suspension for Turbin, injury to Marlon Mack and rough August for Nyheim Hines, the Colts will certainly miss the reliability of Frank Gore.

-Time To Crunch: Chris Ballard was watching from the sideline on Thursday night as he enters a two-day stretch which he calls the hardest part of his job. Ballard is a typical viewer from the press box during a game, but clearly he wanted a closer look at the final guys trying to make this 53-man roster. The Colts have to cut their 90-man roster down to 53 by Saturday at 4:00 PM. Waiver claims can then come the following 24 hours, which is an area of roster building the Colts should be active in using. Thursday’s game was treated like a final chance for the back end of the roster to impress. Potential Week One starters in Haeg, Smith, cornerback Pierre Desir and linebacker Najee Goode were the only regular season front line guys that started/played on Thursday.

 

QUICK HITTERS
 

  • Injury Report: The following players did not dress on Thursday night: DE-Denico Autry (leg), WR-K.J. Brent (knee), OT-Anthony Castonzo (hamstring), LB-Jeremiah George (back), OT-Denzelle Good (knee), S-T.J. Green (hamstring), CB-Nate Hairston (hamstring), DL-Tyquan Lewis (foot), RB-Marlon Mack (hamstring), Ronald Martin (shoulder), RB-Robert Turbin (ankle), LB-Anthony Walker (groin), CB-Quincy Wilson (hand), WR-James Wright (knee). Two potential 53-man roster guys in DE-Tarell Basham and TE-Ross Travis both left Thursday’s game with respective knee injuries. These injuries could impact their 53-man roster status
  • Key Stat: The Colts started 4 different players at right tackle this preseason (Week 1-J’Marcus Webb, Week 2-Austin Howard, Week 3-Ausitn Howard, Week 4-Joe Haeg). That quartet didn’t include Denzelle Good, who was probably the favorite to start at right tackle before injuring his left knee during Week Three of the preseason.
  • What’s Next: The Colts will turn their full attention to roster cuts for the next 36 hours. The team must trim their roster from 90 players to 53 by Saturday at 4:00 PM. The new 53-man roster will reconvene for their first regular season practice on Monday. A week from Sunday marks the 2018 regular season opener, with the Bengals coming to Lucas Oil Stadium.