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Injuries continue to cloud Colts' make-or-break season

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien throws during the first half of a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Indianapolis Thursday. (By The Associated Press)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien throws during the first half of a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Indianapolis Thursday. (By The Associated Press)

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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-8)


New faces: QB Jacoby Brissett, DT Johnathan Hankins, S Malik Hooker, RB Marlon Mack, OLB Jabaal Sheard, OLB John Simon, CB Quincy Wilson, NT Al Woods.


Key losses: S Mike Adams, TE Dwayne Allen, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, DT Kendall Langford, OLB Robert Mathis, P Pat McAfee, OLB Erik Walden.


Strengths: Andrew Luck is among league's top quarterbacks when healthy. Pro Bowler T.Y Hilton was league's 2016 yards receiving champ, and TE Jack Doyle has become one of Luck's most trusted receivers. RB Frank Gore shows no signs of slowing down, and 44-year-old Adam Vinatieri remains model of consistency for kickers everywhere.


Weaknesses: Indy's young offensive line and completely revamped defense are still trying to get in sync. Preseason games have demonstrated benefits of emphasizing takeaways, but defensive coordinator Ted Monachino continues trying to find pass rushers. Colts' injury-riddled secondary will force rookies into major roles early. If Luck isn't healthy, QB becomes weak spot.


Fantasy Players To Watch: Hilton should continue to produce big numbers if Luck is making the throws. Same with Doyle's numbers, which are expected to improve now that he's starting. You know what you get with Vinatieri.


Expectations: Depend primarily on Luck's health. After Luck missed all offseason workouts, training camp and preseason, coach Chuck Pagano eagerly awaits any indication franchise quarterback will be ready for game action soon. Luck has been rehabbing from offseason surgery on throwing shoulder. With Luck, Colts could contend in weak AFC South. Without him, Indy could get top 10 draft pick.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Indy coach worried about who is on the field, not off it

Thursday, September 07, 2017 12:01 am

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano kept hoping all those offseason workouts, a full training camp and four preseason games would give him a clearer picture for 2017.

Instead, with Sunday's season opener looming, things look even murkier.

Andrew Luck was finally activated from the physically unable to perform list Saturday, but didn't take a snap and hadn't thrown to a teammate in nine months as he rehabbed from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder.

Starting center Ryan Kelly continues to miss time after having foot surgery. Safety Malik Hooker, Indy's first-round draft pick, spent most of the offseason watching practice or on a pitch count. And that's only part of the story.

No, this isn't how Pagano envisioned entering a tenuous make-or-break season, but he doesn't have a choice.

"We're moving forward with who we have on the football team right now and who's practicing," Pagano said before the Colts' preseason finale.

Luck might be practicing, but he won't play this weekend.

On Monday, general manager Chris Ballard confirmed Luck will miss the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams and declined to say when the Colts' franchise quarterback might be ready to play.

For the moment, that puts Scott Tolzien in charge .

"He's smart, he understands the system, he's got arm talent, he's tough, he's gritty, he's a competitor," Pagano said Monday. "He's going to manage the game. We were a little conservative with him in the preseason, but we're going to have to be able to move the ball some and throw the ball down the field."

Defensively, things also continue to be in flux.

Hooker is expected to see limited work against the Rams, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, the Colts' biggest free agent acquisition, will probably start after being limited to one preseason appearance because of injuries.

The seemingly endless injury list hasn't yet allowed the Colts to play at full strength on offense or defense, and that's forcing the coaching staff to improvise.

"We know who our best 20 football players are and how we can use them defensively," defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said. "It's just up to us as a staff to figure out when we need to use those guys specifically."

Here are some other things to watch this season:

THE HOT SEAT

Nobody is more anxious right now than Pagano, who has not had a losing season in five years as coach.

He missed the playoffs each of the past two years, and Irsay has made it clear he expects to be back in the postseason this year. While Luck's injury could give Pagano another reprieve, the Colts coach would rather not have to play that card to lobby for his job.

JUST IN CASE

The Colts found some insurance for Luck on Saturday, trading receiver Phillip Dorsett to New England for backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Dorsett never lived up to the expectations of a first-round draft pick, catching only 51 passes in 2015 and 2016. Brissett, on the other hand, was impressive in a small number of appearances with the Patriots.

The trade means Indy will likely carry four quarterbacks on the active roster — until Luck gets back into game action.

GOLDEN OLDIES

Placekicker Adam Vinatieri heads into another season as the league's oldest player, at age 44. And last season, running back Frank Gore became the oldest player since John Riggins in 1984 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

They're not done yet.

Vinatieri needs 57 points to pass Gary Anderson for No. 2 on the NFL's career scoring list and 167 points to pass Morten Andersen as the league's career scoring leader.

If Gore rushes for 1,037 yards this season, he will move into fourth all-time behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders on the league's career list.

PEYTON'S HOMECOMING

On Oct. 8, Peyton Manning will be inducted into the Colts' Ring of Honor — on one of the biggest football weekends in franchise history.

Among those expected to attend the game, and the Oct. 7 unveiling of Manning's statue outside Lucas Oil Stadium, are Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It's a good bet that the man who drafted Manning, Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, and close friend center Jeff Saturday also will attend.

More Information

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-8)


New faces: QB Jacoby Brissett, DT Johnathan Hankins, S Malik Hooker, RB Marlon Mack, OLB Jabaal Sheard, OLB John Simon, CB Quincy Wilson, NT Al Woods.


Key losses: S Mike Adams, TE Dwayne Allen, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, DT Kendall Langford, OLB Robert Mathis, P Pat McAfee, OLB Erik Walden.


Strengths: Andrew Luck is among league's top quarterbacks when healthy. Pro Bowler T.Y Hilton was league's 2016 yards receiving champ, and TE Jack Doyle has become one of Luck's most trusted receivers. RB Frank Gore shows no signs of slowing down, and 44-year-old Adam Vinatieri remains model of consistency for kickers everywhere.


Weaknesses: Indy's young offensive line and completely revamped defense are still trying to get in sync. Preseason games have demonstrated benefits of emphasizing takeaways, but defensive coordinator Ted Monachino continues trying to find pass rushers. Colts' injury-riddled secondary will force rookies into major roles early. If Luck isn't healthy, QB becomes weak spot.


Fantasy Players To Watch: Hilton should continue to produce big numbers if Luck is making the throws. Same with Doyle's numbers, which are expected to improve now that he's starting. You know what you get with Vinatieri.


Expectations: Depend primarily on Luck's health. After Luck missed all offseason workouts, training camp and preseason, coach Chuck Pagano eagerly awaits any indication franchise quarterback will be ready for game action soon. Luck has been rehabbing from offseason surgery on throwing shoulder. With Luck, Colts could contend in weak AFC South. Without him, Indy could get top 10 draft pick.

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