Colts at Vikings: What to watch for Saturday

Indianapolis Colts

JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 29: An Indianapolis Colts helmet sits on the sidelines during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 29, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

WESTFIELD – The Indianapolis Colts’ second step into the preseason comes Saturday evening against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

  • Kickoff: 8 p.m.
  • Broadcast: FOX59

Figure out left tackle: Our priorities heading into training camp began with sorting out the quarterback situation, and that intensified after Wentz suffered an injury to his left foot that required Aug. 2 surgery.

Things certainly are no clearer at that spot, but we’ve flipped our list of concerns. Now, it’s left tackle.

We’re three weeks out from the Sept. 12 opener against Seattle and the Colts are no closer to settling their issue at left tackle until Eric Fisher’s rehab from the torn Achilles is complete. And that might not be until mid-to-late-September, which would be the best-case scenario.

During the offseason, the team indicated free-agent pickup Sam Tevi would be in the mix as the fill-in left tackle, and perhaps be the front-runner, but he’s been working as Braden Smith’s backup at right tackle.

It appears the coaching staff has decided to give Julién Davenport or Will Holden every opportunity to emerge. Davenport started against Carolina and gave way to Holden, who allowed a sack of Jacob Eason on his first pass protection opportunity that resulted in a lost fumble.

“I would always be excited for a guy to be the clear-cut favorite, but we’re just not there, yet,’’ offensive line coach Chris Strausser said. “We’ve still got a few weeks to go so we’re going to move those guys around once we get through this game.’’

Injuries have wreaked havoc with the offensive line. All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson might not be available for the opener after undergoing Aug. 3 surgery on his right foot and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly has missed extensive time with a hyperextended left elbow. Kelly might return to practice next week.

“Since I’ve been here this is the best opportunity we’ve had to truly develop depth,’’ Strausser said. “Would I like to have the guys who haven’t been playing a bunch be around? Yes. But it’s a tremendous benefit to the guys who haven’t been playing in our system to get as many reps as they’ve gotten.’’

Figure out the QB situation: Sam Ehlinger figures to be battling butterflies Saturday evening. The rookie will make his first NFL start.

The sixth-round pick admitted that reality has yet to sink in.

“It hasn’t, it hasn’t,’’ he said. “I try not to think about that and just focus on the things that I can control.’’

There’s no overstating the magnitude of the moment for Ehlinger and the Colts. After Ehlinger plays the first half, he’ll turn things over to Jacob Eason. That’s a reversal of the batting order in the preseason opener against Carolina.

Sooner, not later, Frank Reich needs to determine if Eason or Ehlinger is next in line behind Wentz, whose availability for the opener remains uncertain. The winner of the training camp competition needs all the practice reps he can get in the weeks leading up to the Seahawks game, whether that’s as the opening-day starter or the backup.

Ideally, Reich and Chris Ballard will have enough information following the Vikings game to make the right call.

One thing to keep in mind when evaluating Ehlinger and Eason Saturday night: it won’t be a level playing field.

Ehlinger will benefit from Reich playing some of his starters, but also will face a good portion of Minnesota’s starting defense. And remember, Indy will be without three-fifths of its starting offensive line. The starting unit might consist of Davenport at left tackle, Chris Reed at left tackle, Joey Hunt at center, Mark Glowinski at right guard and Smith at right tackle.

Eason, meanwhile, will be leading Colts’ backups against Vikings’ backups. The circumstances seem to favor a more efficient evening for Eason.

“It’s not equal,’’ Reich conceded. “There’s no way to make it apples to apples, so we just have to use our best judgment, understand all the dynamics that are in place and make the best with what you have at the time.’’

Get a look at Paye: The Colts dodged a major bullet when a sprained right ankle kept Kwity Paye out only a week. He missed the Panthers game, but appears back at 100% as evidenced by the first-round draft pick once again dominating the left side of the offensive line in practice.

As much as the coaching staff might want to limit Paye’s preseason reps to avoid an injury, he needs to play against top-flight competition to adequately prepare for what’s to some. He needs to be the catalyst to the pass rush and work against the Vikings and perhaps Aug. 27 at Detroit would serve as invaluable teaching moments.

At Minnesota, Paye likely will go against left tackle Rashod Hill, who has appeared in 59 games with 17 starts in five seasons. He won’t get the opportunity to test Vikings’ Christian Darrisaw. The first-round pick is out after recently undergoing groin surgery.

In the days leading up to the April draft, speculation swirled the Colts might have an interest in Darrisaw. Instead, Ballard opted for Paye with the 21st overall pick. Minnesota selected Darrisaw two slots later.

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