By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — If the Indianapolis Colts’ second preseason game goes as poorly as the first, there will be nowhere to hide.
Fox is televising the contest to a national audience at 7 p.m., and head coach Chuck Pagano believes the country will see an improved version of his team.
No matter what the scoreboard reads at the final buzzer, here are five things to keep an eye on tonight:
1. Kickoff coverage: The Colts can explain away part of their special teams struggles with the absence of 19 players in last week’s opener, many of whom were safeties and linebackers who generally make up the bulk of the kick coverage teams. However, Buffalo had kickoff returns of 107 and 56 yards that helped put 10 points on the board in the first half. Significant progress must be made tonight to allay growing fears about the impact of such returns during the regular season.
2. Bjoern Werner: The affable German hoped to make his NFL preseason debut last week, but the team didn’t like what it saw from his knee during pregame warmups and made the decision to bench the first-round pick. Tonight, Werner will play as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme for the first time after starring at Florida State as a 4-3 defensive end. Much is expected of the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year. With Robert Mathis as the only proven pass rusher on the roster, Werner must show he can consistently get pressure on the quarterback. Look for him to get most of his playing time tonight with the second unit. But pay attention on third down, when Werner likely will be part of the first team’s nickel package.
3. Wide receivers: With Griff Whalen likely to miss tonight’s game because of a groin injury, someone needs to step up with the second and third units and catch the football. LaVon Brazill will miss the first four games of the regular season because of a league suspension, and that likely means there will be two open spots for receivers on the 53-man roster to start the year. Whalen has separated himself in that race and likely will claim one spot if he’s healthy. Tonight is a prime opportunity for a player such as Nathan Palmer, Lanear Sampson or Jabin Sambrano to show he deserves the other.
4. Drake Nevis: The 6-foot-1, 310-pounder was drafted three years ago out of LSU to play the three-technique in the former regime’s Cover 2 defense. Injuries have slowed his first two NFL seasons, and he was thought to be a poor fit in Chuck Pagano’s preferred hybrid 3-4 scheme. But Nevis has shown an ability to disrupt the pocket in the passing game, and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky singled him out for praise during the final week of training camp practice. On a team in need of pass rushers, Nevis could take a big step forward by pressuring the quarterback tonight.
5. Chandler Harnish: The third-string quarterback called preseason games his Super Bowl and admitted he was frustrated after completing 14 of 33 attempts for 109 yards with no touchdowns and an interception against the Bills. He faces an uphill battle to convince the coaching staff to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and can’t afford another poor performance tonight.