It's game four of the preseason, typically the game where coaches are more concerned with getting their starters out without injury and getting one last look at those players competing for the final roster spot. Cincinnati Bengals fans have become accustomed to playing the Indianapolis Colts in this game, somewhat sardonically dubbed "The I-74 War" without seeing any Colts starters. That will not be the case this week.
If you're planning on attending, you still won't see Peyton Manning. The Colts activated him from the PUP list this week, but he's still only seeing "scripted" action in practice and is questionable for week one. You will see the Colts first string quarterback… maybe. Newly acquired veteran Kerry Collins is slated to start for Indianapolis and play significantly in an effort to get him up to speed for week one. The Colts brought Collins in because Curtis Painter had not looked very good in their first two preseason games. Painter responded by throwing two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in action last week.
So the Colts are left with three possibilities for their September 11 opener at Houston: a healthy enough Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins operating with a shell of the playbook, or an uncertain Curtis Painter. If Manning decides he can go, it's obviously his job. If he can't, however, what happens Thursday in Cincinnati could decide who gets the call against the Texans.
It's unclear exactly how many other starters will play alongside Collins or for how long. The Colts certainly don't want to risk injury for them, especially given the nightmare of 2010 where the Colts seemed to be combing the waiver wire weekly in search of healthy bodies. Wide receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez have already been ruled out for Thursday.
On defense, the Colts have several new players that they hope fill some gaps in last year's 20th ranked unit. Tommie Harris comes over from Chicago to play defensive tackle. The Colts hope that his presence will take away some of the double teams seen on Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, allowing them to rush more effectively. Jamaal Anderson and Ernie Sims help shore up a rather average linebacking corps. Sims was impressive against the Packers last week after returning from an appendectomy. The Colts secondary is still shaky. The oft-injured Bob Sanders is gone to San Diego. Cornerbacks Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers have not exactly been shutdown corners. Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski should have ample opportunity to find open receivers.
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