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Last updated: Sat. Aug. 10, 2013 - 03:16 am EDT

COLUMN

Colts will be out of Luck early in preseason opener

But there are plenty of other players to watch

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Allen's season in doubt?

The Colts could be without second-year tight end Dwayne Allen for an undetermined amount of time due to injury

Allen suffered a foot injury and was seeking a second opinion on the best avenue of treatment. The Colts did not elaborate.

Other players who are expected to miss the preseason opener against Buffalo on Sunday due to injuries are outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and offensive linemen Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes.

For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

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ANDERSON – Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton wasn't too specific when asked how long quarterback Andrew Luck will play in the preseason opener.

So let's go with my best hunch: Don't blink or you'll miss him.

The first-team offensive and defensive players – other than some linemen – won't likely see much time at all when the Colts play the Buffalo Bills at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. While NFL teams vary in their approach, it's common knowledge that Game 3 of the preseason is the one when the stars come out and stay out for a while.

If it's Luck, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton you hope to see in action, don't miss the first series. But, that doesn't mean there isn't anything intriguing to watch after the first couple series.

Colts fans should keep an eye on these players in the first couple preseason games. They may not be stars (although a couple could emerge), but those who make their mark will, indeed, help shape the 2013 season:

* Josh Chapman, nose tackle.

I'm not sure how much Chapman will play since defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was just about as vague as Hamilton talking about Luck. But no matter how long Chapman is on the field, whether Sunday's opener of subsequent preseason games, watch how he sheds blockers and moves.

He missed his rookie season while recovering from knee surgery, but at his best he's the type of nose tackle the Colts need to make their defense work. He's looked pretty agile and healthy in training camp so far.

* Wide receivers on the loose

Someone will have to step up and join Wayne, Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey in the Colts' wide receiver rotation and it's up for grabs. Those there prime players won't play much Sunday (Heyward-Bey won't likely play at all due to his sprained knee), so look for the next unit.

The five to watch are Griff Whalen, Nathan Palmer, Jabin Sambrano, Lanear Sampson and Jeremy Kelley. (I'm excluding LaVon Brazill for now due to his four-game suspension to open the season.

Whalen has been terrific in camp while the others have had their ups and downs. Kelley is fascinating because of his size (6-foot-6, 231), making him the type of target the Colts have rarely utilized.

* Kerwynn Williams, running back/kick returner

Williams, a draft pick from Utah State, is listed as the team's kick returner in the early depth chart. He'll need to make his mark on special teams, and specifically in that role, if he's going to end up on the 53-man roster.

Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw are locks for running back slots, and it's likely the Colts will keep two fullbacks (probably Stanley Havili and converted tight end Dominque Jones). So that means Williams is fighting with Donald Brown and Delone Carter. If Williams thrives as a returner, he puts himself in much better position.

* The secondary

The starting secondary is set with Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry at safeties and Vontae Davis and Greg Toler at corners. Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn seem pretty certain as corners, too.

A number of players are fighting for spots at corner (Josh Gordy, Marshay Green, Teddy Williams) and safety (Larry Asante, Sergio Brown, Delano Howell, Joe Lefeged, Ashante Williams). A couple bad plays – or, better yet, a couple dynamic plays – could do the trick in differentiating these players from one another.

* Hasselbeck and Harnish

Chances are, Luck will play one or two series, with Hasselbeck taking over for the remainder of the half and Harnish running things in the second half. While they are set at the No.2 and No.3 spots, there are still some things to learn about the quarterbacks.

The Colts must decide whether to keep three on the active roster or try to work Harnish onto the practice squad again. Other teams have shown interest in Harnish and, given preseason injuries still to shake out, they might sign him if he's available.

If the Colts see Harnish, the former Norwell High School standout, as Luck's longer-term backup, they'll have to keep him on the active roster. He can continue to make their decision tough with a strong preseason.

Preseason NFL games look like the real thing, and it's do-or-die for many as roster trimming looms, but preseason ends up more like a glorified scouting combine.

Who stays? Who goes? Fans should look for the players they don't know best, and see if they can spot the winners and losers that way.

rhayes@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.


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