Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's vision for a perfect preseason start nearly came true. I'd say he's already dialed in.
Luck wanted a long drive. He got one. He wanted some third-down conversions. He got those too, with smooth passes to T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks. He wanted a touchdown. That's where the wish list went unfulfilled.
Due in part to an injury to center Khaled Holmes, that first-and-only series by Luck and the first-team offense ended in an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The other Colts went on to lose 13-10 to the New York Jets on Thursday at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
But the Colts and their fans should walk away from the sneak peek feeling relatively good about the offense. They went no-huddle from the get-go. They went pass-first. They got a couple of nice runs from Trent Richardson. (Not a typo.) The drive stalled when backup center Jonotthan Harrison snapped too soon and the football bounced off Luck. Otherwise, the Colts' offense looked strong, even without receiver Reggie Wayne and running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
“I think anytime you get to be in an offense more than one year, you get to grow with it,” Luck said in a second-half televised sideline interview. “It was good to have some uptempo play.”
After that series, Luck (4 for 5, 53 yards) gave way to backup Matt Hasselbeck (10 of 15, 114 yards). Hasselbeck threw the Colts' only touchdown pass, a 12-yarder to Daniel “Boom” Herron, who dove for the end zone and scored. As the game wore on, play deteriorated, as preseason games are wont to do. The Jets won it with 51-yard field goal by rookie kicker Andrew Furney with 1:08 left. The Jets sacked Colts third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish, forcing a fumble, on the subsequent possession.
The details of the game aren't as important as the chance for the Colts to see how they've progressed in a number of areas.
On the offensive line, the unproven interior of rookie left guard Jack Mewhort, Holmes and right guard Hugh Thornton played well in their short time together. Luck had plenty of time – thanks also to tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus – and the run blocking looked decent. It was a small sample size, admittedly, but encouraging nonetheless.
Herron's play at running back offered encouragement that he can be a capable third back behind Richardson and Bradshaw. Herron carried seven times for 26 yards and caught six passes for 36 yards.
The Colts have not said yet the extent of Holmes' ankle injury, but his status is fairly critical to the line moving forward. Harrison, a rookie, would have a steep learning curve if he's forced to start the season-opener Sept. 7 at Denver.
On the defensive side, the Colts were thin at linebacker, but played well early, with outside linebackers Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden bringing some pressure on Jets quarterback Geno Smith. Ball State product Jonathan Newsome made his presence felt, as did free-agent signee Henoc Muamba and veteran Andy Studebacker. The defense was without a few starters, including cornerback Vontae Davis and safety LaRon Landry.
It was hard to get a good feel for the Colts' defense, but second-team defenders made some strong plays and the Jets' only touchdown, by Chris Johnson, was helped by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Colts safety Sergio Brown. Brown picked up and tossed Jets lineman Willie Colon's helmet after Colon was involved in something resembling a fight, but not quite, with Colts defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton. Pendleton later left with a knee injury.
Somehow, some way, Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal – which is closer than the new, experimental 33-yard extra point – for one of the few veteran miscues of the night. I chalk that up preseason games being the opposite of the pressure situations Vinatieri has thrived in over the course of his career. His special-teams counterpart, punter Pat McAfee, demonstrated the “Boomstick” is in fine working condition.
The Colts have more than a week before their Aug. 16 preseason home game against the New York Giants. Tight end Dwayne Allen, in fact, is taking today to return to Clemson University to receive his degree. He announced his academic achievement during the broadcast. Nice move.
The next week will reveal the extent of Holmes' injury, as well as rookie Ulrick John's (also an ankle) and where the offensive line will go from here. It's uncertain whether Wayne will play next week. He said he wants to play in the preseason at some point, but Game 3 against New Orleans, when the first-team offense will spend the most time on the field, would seem the likeliest game if that is to happen.
Offensive line, followed by the secondary, will be the biggest concerns moving forward. Surely the Colts would like to see Landry and Davis on the field, making plays, to demonstrate the secondary can handle the inevitable heat with outside linebacker Robert Mathis set to miss the first four games with a suspension.
Luck still needs to connect with Wayne, Allen and Coby Fleener in game situations, just to get back in the groove. Judging by his fast start against the Jets, it's only a matter of time.