KRAVITZ: Some questions, some observations: Colts offer up a mixed bag in preseason victory

Indianapolis Colts players, including quarterback Andrew Luck, second from left, stand during the singing of the national anthem before an NFL football preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Bob Kravitz

SEATTLE, Wash. (WTHR) - Wait. So somebody not named Andrew Luck played here Thursday night in the Colts' 19-17 preseason victory over the Seattle Seahawks? Really?

Clearly, Luck and his return were THE story; thus, the 1,500-word column I wrote elsewhere on our website. But there were other players, other stories, other issues that emerged from the Colts preseason opener. And there were questions, most of which remain unanswered:


How quickly can Anthony Castonzo's balky hamstring recover?

For the first time in what feels like forever, we can honestly see the potential that the Colts' offensive line will be massively improved this season. That is, unless Castonzo's injury lingers. Without their left tackle, merely the most important position on the O-line, the Colts are pedestrian or worse.

First, Joe Haeg, filling in for Castonzo, gave up a sack.

Then his backup, J'Marcus Webb, got abused by a pass rusher.

Haeg is a more-than-passable Swiss Army-type of backup offensive lineman, kind of a New Age Joe Reitz. But you don't want him, or anybody not named Castonzo, protecting Luck's blind side. And it's not like general manager Chris Ballard can simply pick up the phone and go shopping for a left tackle. If you're a team that has a good one, you don't let him go.

Will John Simon play his way into a starting defensive end position?

Yes, I'm a John Simon fan. Always have been. The guy just plays like his hair is on fire. In limited play, he had three tackles, including 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits.

I'm thinking the Colts would really love for Tarell Basham to emerge and earn that spot, but Simon, who played defensive end in college, is going to make it very difficult. He was a holy terror Thursday night.

"He's been doing that for a long time,'' Frank Reich said. "He did a really nice job. Defensively, I just liked the speed we played with. Even when they moved the ball (early), you could see guys just pursuing. We came up with the big plays. Nate (Hairston) came up with that huge play (an interception in the end zone), so there were some really good signs on defense.''

Another defender who flashed (as the football people like to say): Defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway. He had three tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks.

Are we worried about the Colts cornerbacks?

The early returns were not glowing. Russell Wilson, who forces defenders to cover their men for what feels like a half-hour, eviscerated the Indy defense on the first drive, and backup quarterback Austin Davis, had the Seahawks near the goal line when he threw an interception.

Right now, it feels like Pierre Desir is set at one corner. On the other side, there's a battle between Kenny Moore II and Quincy Wilson.

I'm not going to read too much into a possession or two, and the fact is, the way this defense is designed, the Colts are going to give up yards as opponents operate against the Tampa-2. Reaching preseason conclusions is a fool's errand; the Cleveland Browns, who went 1-31 the last two seasons, have now won five straight preseason games. It is, however, worrisome that Wilson has not seized control of the spot, and concerning there is so little experience back there.

Will it improve once safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers return? Undoubtedly.

Who will emerge as T.Y. Hilton's bookend wide receiver?

Let's just say, none of the likely candidates separated themselves from the pack in the preseason opener. Chester Rogers had two short receptions – on his first one, he scampered out of bounds short of the first-down mark -- and Ryan Grant had none. Some of the young receivers made an impression, particularly Zach Paschal, K.J. Brent and Kasen Williams. Now, there's concern about rookie Deon Cain, who injured his knee. After the game, Reich did not know the severity of the injury.

Unless somebody emerges, this is going to be a problem area for the Colts. Did somebody say Dez Bryant? Just tossing it out there.

Who's the running back – or running backs?

Make no mistake, Robert Turbin's 4-game suspension is going to hurt the Colts and hurt them badly. At this point, he's the team's most well-rounded, consistent running back, and he showed that both in the running and receiving game Thursday night.

The big concern now is Marlin Mack, who injured his hamstring. There's no word yet on the severity of the injury, but if he's down for an extended period of time, a very young and inexperienced group gets even younger and more inexperienced.

A guy to watch is Jordan Wilkins, who has impressed everybody throughout training camp and in the preseason opener.

What about the kick- and punt-return game?

Oh, boy.

Let's be kind and just say that rookie Nyheim Hines had some, um, issues back there on punt return. He misplayed two punts and looked very jittery. We'll cut him some slack; this was his first-ever NFL game, but that wasn't a particularly promising initial effort.

My sense is the Colts will give Hines more chances back there, but if he can't handle it, the Colts can turn to Mack (if he's healthy), Chester Rogers or, heaven forbid, T.Y. Hilton. I know Antonio Brown returns punts for the Steelers, but do you really want to put Hilton, a man with a very slight build, in a position like that? I mean, he's all they've got right now at wide receiver. He goes down, Luck will have to throw to himself.

Will this defense be any good?

The first two Seattle drives were not promising, but, then, Wilson has carved up better defenses than the one the Colts currently have. They don't have an alpha-dog pass rusher, they don't have experience or depth at linebacker or cornerback and…well, that just about covers it. Plus, it's a new scheme with a new coach (Matt Eberflus) and a bunch of new players. As Eberflus said this week, "It's a work in progress.'' Which is a nice way of saying, "We're not very good just yet.''

I'm thinking Luck and that offense are going to have to score 27 points or more most games in order to win. (I have a very keen eye for the abundantly obvious).

What was backup-backup-backup center Mark Glowinski doing, and how great was it to see Reich pull him late in the game?

On one late possession, the center-quarterback exchange was bobbled two straight times, and then, in the shotgun, Glowinski rocketed one wide of the quarterback, which resulted in a Seattle touchdown.

In Glowinski's defense, he hasn't gotten much work at center, and after the game, Reich blamed himself for putting the young player in such a difficult position without the necessary reps.

Here, though, is what I liked: Reich yanked Glowinski on the next Indianapolis possession, returned Haeg to the field. Would Chuck Pagano have done that last year and in previous years? That's ultimately unknowable, but there were times when it felt like there was a lack of accountability, and players could make hurtful mistakes without consequences. Reich sensed that Glowinski wasn't ready for the moment and honestly, he just wanted to win the football game.

What do we make of the new helmet rules after watching Colts backup safety Shamarko Thomas get ejected for a dangerous, head-first hit?

First, let me tell you what Reich thinks:

"It was very disappointing,'' he said of the Thomas hit. "We do not teach that. It was a good call. It was the appropriate call. He should have been ejected. That should not be part of the game. That could have been avoided, should have been avoided and the officials did the right thing.''

I've said before, I think the league's heart is in the right place. I've also said before that it has the potential to become a very big issue throughout the season as players try to adjust to the rule. In this case, it was an absolute no-brainer. The Thomas hit was dumb, dangerous and unnecessary, and the officials were right on it.

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