The biggest strides for all the new faces on the Colts came along the line of scrimmage — rookies on the offensive and defensive lines.
Jamey Richard opened up the game as the starter opposite Charlie Johnson, leaving some to wonder why Mike Pollak was not in the game on either side of Jeff Saturday. Steve Justice and Richard both spent some time at the center position, where Richard played well and Justice looked more comfortable than he did at guard.
Mike Pollak and Jeff Saturday combo block vs. Atlanta
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Overall, all three linemen performed very well, playing a very physical style of football, with Pollak in particular showing a bit of a mean streak, and picking up their assignments, diagnosing the play well — Richard specifically has grown by leaps and bounds in pass protection, standing up the defensive tackle at the line and disengaging at the right moment, when necessary, picking up whoever happened to come free.
Justice was the least impressive of the three, but that is only because there has to be someone in last place. Howard Mudd has to like what he saw on Saturday night, because he has a group of young, talented, athletic, and versatile linemen that will continue to improve and form the interior of this offensive line for the next five to seven years at least.
As good as the interior guys looked, tackle Darren Marquez looked lost on both the right and left side, committing two false start penalties, allowing a defender to brush by him and sack Quinn Gray on one play on the left side, then repeating that mistake on the right side, although Gray was able to escape.
He may look the part of a franchise left tackle when he's wearing shorts in practice, but he looks like a practice squad player at best on the field wearing pads so far.
On the other side of the ball, Marcus Howard appeared for only one series, but made his mark, registering one of the game's two sacks. Whether the coaching staff had seen enough of Howard, they wanted to see more of the other players on the roster, or they're protecting him from a minor ailment is unclear.
What is quite evident is that Howard has the skill, athletic ability, and level of comfort in the system to be a dangerous player in the mold of Robert Mathis. He will probably start out as a situational rusher on known passing downs this season, but he will see his workload and responsibilities increase as the games and seasons wear on.
The interesting thing about the battle between Curtis Johnson and Howard is that, while Johnson was in the game for far longer and overall looked more explosive, Howard clearly has a better understanding of the defense by the angles he took to the ball and the patience and discipline he showed on the field.
It's true that Johnson made two tackles for loss and generally asserted himself into the backfield throughout the second half, but it's also true that he was flagged twice for offsides penalties and, when he wasn't making a play in the backfield, was over-pursuing and taking his side of the field completely out of the play.
Howard, on the other hand, showed proper technique, especially on his sack, where he rode the tackle into the backfield, maintained control at the point of attack, kept his gap responsibility in the event of a draw or a screen, then closed quickly on the quarterback and wrapped him up.
Eric Foster saw extended action and made the most of it, looking sharp at the point of attack and using his hands well. His stats — one solo tackle and one assist — don't tell the true story of how active he was inside and how well he complemented fellow rookie Colin Ferrell.
Even though they were playing against the second- and third-string for Atlanta — a team with a questionable starting group that only gets more harrowing as you go down the depth chart — they still looked solid.
Unfortunately for Ferrell, Foster already has a commanding lead to become this year's Ed Johnson, but it's possible that he could narrow that lead or convince the Colts to keep him as well with another couple of performances like he had against Atlanta.
The bad news for Mike Hart is that he had his worst game (five carries, 19 yards) so far against the highest level of competition he has faced. This could lead the staff to believe that he doesn't have what it takes to bring his game to the next level and play well against the other team's first string. The good news is that he still didn't look bad and had, by far, the best game of anyone fighting for that last roster spot.
He could definitely stand to improve for next week, but he also seems to have escaped his bad showing unscathed.
Chad Simpson had a worse night, with four carries and negative five yards rushing, a definite step back for the undrafted rookie looking to take a spot away from either Hart, Clifton Dawson or Kenton Keith.
Linebackers and Defensive Backs:
Silva had a nice pass defended on a third-and-four play in the third quarter, closing on the ball, batting it down deftly, and getting between the receiver and his quarterback without making contact with the receiver.
Unfortunately, fellow safety Brannon Condren has the memorable stat line from this game with two interceptions. Of note, though, is that Condren was just in the right place at the right time when a tip drill took place.
Silva was on the field for both plays, but was manning the other safety position. Had the assignments been reversed, Silva would have ended up with those two picks.
With a deep group at the position, it could be that it was too little, too late for Silva, but the fact that Condren authored those two big plays and not Silva might mean that the undrafted rookie out of Boston College clears waivers and will have a chance to grow on the practice squad.
Senn is in a similar situation, but may make the roster simply due to the fact that the linebacker position has seen some severe attrition this offseason and he might be one of the few able-bodied men available for the roster.
Senn kept his shoulders pointed in the right direction, was rarely caught out of position, engaged blockers when we was supposed to and ran around them in pursuit of the action when he was supposed to.
Brandon Foster once again saw some action on special teams, but looks to be on the outside looking in with a deep group of cornerbacks already entrenched on the roster.
Jacob Tamme was once again the story of the rookie pass catchers, posting a game-high 57 yards receiving. Although most of those yards came on a 47-yard pass from Gray, Tamme looked an awful lot like Dallas Clark out there and seems to have fully locked down the top backup job.
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Pierre Garcon may have made the strongest case of any non-lineman to make the roster, as he adjusted well to a 32-yard prayer thrown up by Jared Lorenzen at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
He tied Tamme for the team lead in receptions with three working as a receiver and managed to not muff any of the four punt returns he had a chance at, as well as turning in the best kickoff return of the game — which isn't saying much — when he had a chance on special teams.
Any receiver that is going to make the roster behind the Big Three is going to need to contribute in the kicking game, and the fact that Garcon got the bulk of the work on returns bodes well for the young man from Mount Union.
Samuel Giguere played sparingly and flashed some of the athleticism that got him a free agent contract, but as it stands now, he has too much to overcome to make the roster. Tom Santi was inactive for the third time in three preseason games. He has probably lost out to Gijon Robinson at this point, so the team will have to make a decision on Santi as he becomes healthier.