Colts vs. Eagles: 5 things to watch in preseason Week 3

The Indianapolis Colts will wrap up their preseason on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.

Players will be looking to make their final impressions to the coaching staff for starting spots on the depth chart and their place on the 53-man roster ahead of cutdown day on Aug. 29.

Here are five things to watch for in the last look at the Colts ahead of the regular-season opener:

Final dress rehearsal for Anthony Richardson

Justin Casterline/Getty Images
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Shane Steichen confirmed following Tuesday’s joint practice with the Eagles that Anthony Richardson will be starting on Tuesday night. There was no indication of how long he will play and Steichen did also mention that other starters will be a case-by-case decision.

I do expect that Richardson will play at least the first quarter but after not playing in last week’s matchup against the Chicago Bears, it does make sense for him to play the first half and possibly a series or two in the second half.

This will be the first time in action for Richardson since he was officially named as the starter. The coaching staff has been tuning up the offense to fit his skillset so we may get a glimpse at what it will look like during the regular season without Steichen tipping his hand too much ahead of the season opener.

It would be a good sign that the offense is headed in the right direction if the rushing attack with Richardson shows signs of life and he has an efficient night that leads to two or three scoring drives.

Who emerges at running back?

AP Photo/Gary McCullough
AP Photo/Gary McCullough

Indianapolis gave Jonathan Taylor permission to seek a potential trade partner on Monday so the reality is that the Colts will open the season without their star back. Even if he’s still on the roster, there is still a question about his availability with him on the PUP list with his ankle injury.

Indy’s rushing attack has been somewhat underwhelming in the preseason thus far. Deon Jackson has been the best back when he had the ball in his hands. He’s gained 43 yards on nine rushing attempts.

The fifth-round pick Evan Hull was viewed more as a third-down back who can work in the rotation but with Taylor’s murky future and Zack Moss getting sidelined with a broken arm, the rookie will be leaned on more than expected to start the season.

It should be noted that some of his rushing attempts have come behind the backup offensive line but Hull has only managed 28 yards on 11 attempts.

Jackson and Hull are projected as the top two backs on the depth chart at the moment but Kenyan Drake, Jake Funk, and Jason Huntley have their last shot to make their case for a role on the team.

Even if Moss is ready for the season opener, he likely won’t take on a major workload in his return so one of the current active backs will get a chance to be the lead dog against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season opener.

The current group will need to impress Thursday night otherwise I can see Chris Ballard making an addition from the free-agent market or working the waiver wire after cutdown day if the team does indeed trade Taylor or if he remains on the PUP list to start the season.

Do any of the cornerbacks separate themselves?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Based on what we’ve seen it does look like Darrell Baker Jr. and Dallis Flowers are on the path to being the opening-day starters at the boundary spots. But the competition also doesn’t seem to be resolved with the pair being the only “starters” that played against the Bears last week.

It does appear that rookies JuJu Brents and Jaylon Jones are the top two corners on the depth chart behind the starting group since they replaced Baker Jr. and Flowers in the second quarter against Chicago.

Brents looked much more comfortable since his return from his wrist injury and showed off his size and strength when he blew up a block to disrupt a receiver screen.

Jones had a great night last Saturday. He was sticky in coverage, which was on display in this best rep of his against Chicago.

Unfortunately for Darius Rush, he left last week’s contest with a hip injury and didn’t practice Tuesday so it does look like he won’t be playing on Thursday night. This hinders his chances of earning a significant role to start the season.

There eventually will need to be two players listed as the starting boundary corners but this also might not be a competition that is settled until sometime in the first quarter of the schedule. I would not be surprised if there is some type of rotation to start the year until two players separate themselves from the rest.

Do we get any insight on the tight end competition?

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

One of the hardest position groups to figure out who would be on the final roster entering training camp was tight end. But with multiple players missing time throughout training camp, there has been much of a battle to watch unfold.

Kylen Granson is the safe bet to not only make the team but to have a solid role in the offense. He had a catch for 20 yards playing with Anthony Richardson against the Buffalo Bills and he was among the group of starters that didn’t play against the Bears.

Mo Alie-Cox and Drew Ogletree made their returns to practice on Tuesday but there has been no confirmation that they will play against the Eagles.

Alie-Cox will likely make the team since he’s the veteran of the group but the Colts could create $2.9 million in cap space if they decided to move on from him or $5.3 million in cap space if they could find a trade partner.

Ogletree is an interesting case to watch. He flashed last preseason and the front office seems to still be high on him but with limited film on him, Ballard could see if they could sneak him onto the practice squad.

Then there is Jelani Woods. He has yet to return to practice because of a hamstring injury. He will make the team but I also wonder if they carry an extra tight end past the cutdown date and then place Woods on the injured reserve list so he can return later in the season if this injury is significant.

Lastly, fifth-round pick Will Mallory made his preseason debut against the Bears. He had two receptions for 29 yards. The rookie got a vote of confidence from Steichen in the war room when they selected him so if he can show improvement as a blocker and his effectiveness as a receiver then he can make a good argument for his place on the team.

Thursday night should hopefully give us more information on how the coaching staff views the healthy group and it is the position to look at when the initial 53-man roster comes out on Aug. 29.

Battle for the final spots on the defensive line

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

It will be interesting to see how many defensive linemen Chris Ballard decides to keep on his 53-man roster. It’s no secret that he loves the trenches and has stressed that it is important to have depth there. Last year, there were 10 defensive linemen that made the Colts’ initial 53-man roster.

DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, Kwity Paye, Samson Ebukam, and Dayo Odeyingbo are locked to make the team. I would assume that fourth-round pick Adetomiwa Adebawore will be on the final roster. It does help he had a solid performance against the Bears.

Tyquan Lewis, Eric Johnson II, and Taven Bryan all seem to have a good chance to make it through cutdown day but they also have players like Titus Leo and McTelvin Agim making their case.

Leo has impressed as a sixth-round pick in his two preseason performances and will be looking to stack another one against the Eagles.

Agim has made some plays throughout the preseason and showed off his pass-rush ability against Chicago.

Khalid Kareem and Al-Quadin Muhammad are a pair of veterans who can also make a push with a great night against Philadelphia. To me, there are seven players who all have a chance to earn those three-to-four spots that are available across the defensive line.

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire