Colts' best preseason feat may be getting healthy
Indianapolis already has two wins, has kept its last two opponents out of the end zone and has seen Andrew Luck make steady progress.
The Colts' biggest feat this preseason may be simply getting healthy.
In a preseason rife with injuries, the Colts have so far avoided taking the big blows and could open the season Sept. 8 against Oakland at or near full strength.
''Football is a dangerous game and people get hurt, and fortunately, I've been able to skirt those kinds of injuries,'' tight end Coby Fleener said Monday after returning to practice following a right knee injury.
He's still waiting to hear whether he'll play in Thursday night's preseason finale at Cincinnati.
Regardless whether Fleener is on the field or not, things certainly look better in Indy (2-1) than with some of the other AFC contenders.
Denver, the trendy favorite, has already lost its starting center for the season, and Wes Welker and Champ Bailey are trying to get back on the field. Defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore already lost tight end Dennis Pitta for the season. New England is still waiting for tight end Rob Gronkowski to get healthy after having offseason back surgery, Miami tight end Dustin Keller is out for the season with a right knee injury and Pittsburgh is trying to sort out its injury-plagued backfield.
It's not that the Colts (2-1) have avoided taking hits.
Linebacker Pat Angerer, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and defensive lineman Fili Moala all started training camp on the physically unable to perform list after offseason surgeries. Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry missed more than two weeks with a left knee injury.
Offensive lineman Hugh Thornton sprained his right ankle in rookie mini-camp and fourth-round pick Khaled Holmes sustained the same injury four days into training camp. Tight end Dwayne Allen (right foot) missed the last two games and Fleener has already had to contend with a concussion and a right knee injury.
Right guard Mike McGlynn also missed the Cleveland game after bruising his knee in practice last week, and left tackle Anthony Castonzo departed Saturday's game on the opening series with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Five players, including free-agent signee Lawrence Sidbury (shoulder), have already been put on injured reserve and are gone for the season.
But somehow, the Colts have minimized their losses.
''They're working their butts off to get back,'' Luck said of Allen and Fleener. ''I'm sure we'll see them soon.''
The Colts, coming off an 11-5 season and a nine-game improvement over 2011, have looked good at full strength.
Angerer, Landry and linebacker Jerrell Freeman all played against Cleveland, marking the first time Indy's starting defense was on the field all preseason. The starting defense allowed only four first downs, 104 total yards and pitched a shutout against the Browns for nearly 2 1/2 quarters.
''I've been good for a while, it's just a matter of being smart,'' Angerer said. ''We definitely have the right guys. Our defensive line is playing tremendous and the guys behind us (the secondary) are great, but we're definitely not all there yet.''
Neither is the offense, which has been piecing things together for the last month.
Luck played most of Saturday's game without two of his starting linemen, and with Justice Cunningham and Dominique Jones as the only tight ends on a roster that was expected to use more double-tight end formations.
But it looks as if all the missing players could be back for the opener.
Allen returned to practice last week. McGlynn was walking around the locker room just fine Monday, a good sign for a player trying to fend off a challenge for his starting job. Bradshaw is expected to be full go when the season starts, and Fleener and Holmes are practicing again. Even Castonzo sounds optimistic.
''It was very good news to hear, that it was kind of a minor thing and it should not cut into the season,'' he said Monday. ''We're kind of taking day by day, but the goal is to be ready for Oakland.''
The only real question this week is whether the Colts will play it safe against Cincinnati.
Coach Chuck Pagano was to meet with his coaching staff later Monday to make that decision. One thing is clear, though.
''We'll be smart,'' he said. ''I'll let you know at a later date.''
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