By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The curtain is about to be pulled back a bit on the 2013 season tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Indianapolis Colts host the Cleveland Browns in the third week of the preseason, the game traditionally used by coaches as a kind of dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Starters are expected to play the entire first half and the first series of the third quarter, and both teams put in game plans during the week similar to the way they’ll approach the games that count beginning Sept. 8.
It won’t yet be a true measuring stick for the Colts, but it is the next best thing.
“Whenever you step out there, you want to put your best foot forward,” wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. “Now, being that this is the game that (starters) play the most, it may be more emphasis on that. But whenever you’re out there on that field, you want to go out there and put your best foot forward.”
Indianapolis did that for the most part last week, with the first-team offense scoring on three consecutive drives in the first half of a 20-12 victory against the New York Giants. That helped erase the bad taste of a 44-20 loss against the Buffalo Bills in the preseason opener.
The Browns, under first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski, are 2-0 in the preseason. And their first-team defense has surrendered just three points.
Cleveland rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo won’t play after suffering a bruised lung last week, but the Browns are otherwise healthy defensively.
The Colts will play without tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, and Jeff Linkenbach will start at right guard in place of Mike McGlynn — who injured his knee in practice. Rookie guard Hugh Thornton is expected to make his NFL debut tonight, and head coach Chuck Pagano said he’d like to see Thornton get at least a few snaps in the first half.
Second-year quarterback Andrew Luck played most of the first half against the Giants and threw two touchdown passes. His goals tonight remain consistent.
“Always improve, number one,” he said. “You want to win, like any game, and again put drives together. Put good, long drives together. Score points. Be an efficient offense.”
Veteran running back Ahmad Bradshaw again will be held out as a precaution, even though he increased his practice reps throughout the week. But a pair of defensive veterans will make their first appearances of the season.
Strong safety LaRon Landry, who missed three weeks of practice and the first two preseason games with a knee injury, returned to the field this week and will make his Colts debut tonight.
“Quite anxious,” Landry said. “Hopefully, I won’t overdo it when I get out there.”
Inside linebacker Pat Angerer, who has been recovering from a foot injury throughout the offseason, also is expected to play tonight. Pagano said he will try to protect Angerer, and the linebacker could play just 15 to 20 snaps.
Other veteran starters such as Wayne, outside linebacker Robert Mathis and defensive end Cory Redding could be protected as well. Pagano said the flow of the game will determine in part how long they remain on the field.
Once the starters leave for good early in the third quarter, the roster competition will really heat up. Indianapolis must cut its 90-man roster to 75 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday. And the final cut to 53 players is due four days later, following the final exhibition game at Cincinnati.
So tonight’s game will be the final opportunity to turn heads and put highlights on tape for 15 players.
“Really important game, as you know, with the 75-man cut down coming up on Tuesday,” Pagano said. “Getting to 75, it’s very important for a lot of these young players, free-agent guys, to go out and play well and make a case for themselves.”