The Andrew Luck-Chuck Pagano era enters Year 2 today with the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium. Below are five things to keep an eye on after the 1:30 p.m. kickoff:
1. The Indianapolis running game: Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has preached physicality in his attack since his arrival in January. The first-team linemen and second-year running back Vick Ballard likely won’t have much time to display their wares, but there still should be plenty to keep fans’ interest after their departure. Donald Brown and Delone Carter likely are competing for a roster spot, and Kerwynn Williams is making his NFL debut. Average yards per carry will be the statistic to watch.
2. Justice Cunningham: With the extent of Dwayne Allen’s foot injury still unknown, Cunningham will take on added importance to the roster — especially in the running game. The rookie likely will get some snaps with the first-team offense, and some team personnel believe he’s the player who has made the biggest jump in his game from the spring to the summer. The Colts need him to live up to his reputation as a blocker at South Carolina, and it wouldn’t hurt if he continues to grow as a receiver.
3. The pass rush: Rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner didn’t practice Friday afternoon after tweaking his knee in the morning, but Pagano said he is expected to play against Buffalo. With Robert Mathis as the only proven pass rusher on the roster, somebody else needs to show he can get to the QB today. Werner is atop the list, but Erik Walden, Lawrence Sidbury and Justin Hickman also bear watching.
4. Josh Chapman: The Colts finally will get a look at last year’s fifth-round draft pick in game action.
The 6-foot, 341-pound nose tackle out of Alabama missed his entire rookie season recovering from knee surgery.
He took out four players along the offensive line on one training camp snap, earning the nickname “Chapnado,” and it should be interesting to see what havoc he wreaks against the Bills.
5. Defensive backfield: The Colts’ cornerbacks — especially Greg Toler, Vontae Davis, Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn — have played well in training camp. It will be interesting to see if that carries over to games. And the safety spot will be intriguing just to see who lines up there. LaRon Landry hasn’t practiced since Monday after tweaking his knee, and at one point this week five of the eight safeties on the 90-man roster were nursing some kind of injury.