What to watch for: Previewing the Colts-Ravens preseason game

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Andrew Luck

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Worth watching when the Indianapolis Colts entertain the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Telecast: WXIN FOX59

Streaming Broadcast: FOX59.com and CBS4Indy.com

Main men: We should get our first significant indication of what to expect from the Andrew Luck-led offense. The plan is for the starting unit to play into the second quarter, and the objective is for it to show bits and pieces of its potency.

Show something resembling a ground game after that abysmal effort at Buffalo (19 rushes by running backs for 10 yards). A cameo by Frank Gore – a couple of carries, no more – should help, but so would better play by the offensive line. Develop some timing and rhythm. Sustain drives by converting third downs.

Chuck Pagano made it clear some starters are expected to play longer than others. Maybe Gore is on the field for a series, two tops. Luck might only be under center for the first quarter before yielding to Scott Tolzien. A few of the younger players should anticipate a heavier workload. Rookie center Ryan Kelly and second-year receiver Phillip Dorsett come to mind. Same with right guard Denzelle Good, who’s making the switch from tackle.

More important than how long Luck plays is how he plays. He hasn’t dealt with a game situation since Nov. 8 when he suffered the season-ending lacerated kidney. Moving forward, the team wants its most indispensable player to make better and quicker decisions. It wants Luck to remain a playmaker, but limit the times he exposes himself to unnecessary contact.

“We’d like to see him go out and feel comfortable executing, calling the plays, going through some of the things last week that was good for us to get from an efficiency standpoint and procedure with the headset coming down from the (press)box,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. “Andrew has played enough football that you feel pretty confident that he’ll be able to pick right up where he left off and get right back on the bike.’’

Who’s 4, and 5? Time is running out for receivers not named T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Dorsett to secure a roster spot. Chudzinski has seen flashes from several players. At Buffalo, rookie Chester Rogers shook a tackle and scooted 57 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, and rookie Tevaun Smith led the team with three catches. What’s been missing is consistency.

“It’s hard to say that one play is going to separate a guy,’’ Chudzinski said. “It has to be the composite of things he is doing over the course of practice and in games. They are rookie receivers, so one play you are high-fiving and (saying) this guy looked pretty good and then the next play you are pulling your hair out and then the next play it’s back to good.

“Somebody has to go get it and that’s got to happen in the next couple of weeks.’’

Pagano made it clear the team is looking for upgrades at the bottom of the depth chart. Veteran Josh Boyce had two catches for 15 yards at Buffalo, then was waived. Any significant personnel addition probably won’t occur until the first round of cuts, which is Aug. 30.

Quan Bray might have an inside track to one of the backup spots on the strength of his return skills. If the team carries five receivers on the 53-play roster, the pursuit of that fifth spot should be fierce.

Where’s the rush? Robert Mathis might get on the field against the Ravens, and it’s never a bad thing when the team’s premier pass rusher is poised to chase the QB. More important, though, is who’s going to help him?

We’re not talking about contributions from Trent Cole and Erik Walden. We’re talking about whether Earl Okine, Ron Thompson, Curt Maggitt or Trevor Bates will emerge as a viable option. As has been the case with the unproven receiver prospects, the young pass rushers have shown bursts but no consistency. Maggitt, an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee, had three tackles for a loss at Buffalo. Okine, who’s transitioning from end to rush ‘backer, had one sack and another QB hit.

For coordinator Ted Monachino’s defense to work, there has to be pressure from the front seven. And Mathis can’t do it alone.

Meaningless stat: We’ve documented the Colts’ history of miserable preseasons. They’re 13-38 since their last winning record in 2003.

But here’s a stat that’s hard to digest, even in the context of preseason records. The last time the Colts won their first two preseason games? It was 1994, when they went 4-0.

That perfect start proved nothing. The Colts wandered to an 8-8 finish during the regular season.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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