Five to Watch: Eagles at Colts

With a nationally televised preseason game, a lot of eyes will be on the Colts for their Thursday night exhibition date against the Eagles. Here are five players to watch.

1. Peyton Manning: He said he wants more snaps in the second preseason game after taking a regular season's game worth of hits against the Vikings in the first game.  Manning and the first team did not look sharp in their first action of 2009 and it is up to the quarterback to rally his teammates into the end zone on Thursday night.  Six starters will not suit up for the Colts, but the offense should be intact.

This will be Manning's first chance to work with the players that will most likely start the 2009 season with him.  He needs to connect with his targets, run the offense, and try to find success against a very talented Eagles defense.

If he is looking for enough snaps to get in a rhythm, he needs to show the Indianapolis staff that he can, in fact, get into that rhythm.  He called them out by asking for more time, so it's on him now.

2. Chad SimpsonGiven the fact that he did not do much with his opportunity to work with the second team and showed even less as a returner, Simpson needs to step up in a big way.

Joseph Addai will see more time, as will Donald BrownMike Hart is not on the list of scratches for the game, so he will probably see some action as well.  That means that Simpson will have less time to work with, which means that he needs to make a big splash in limited action.

Johnson has to show he can handle the duties of protecting Manning's blind side
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In addition, Lance Ball showed that he can function as a running back and returner, so the Colts have another option should they decide to have a player at the position pull double duty.  This is a make-or-break game for Simpson.  He will either break out or fade away.

3. Jerraud Powers: With Kelvin Hayden out for the next three to four weeks with a hamstring injury, Powers will get his fair share of snaps on defense, a number of which will probably come with the first team.

Powers was impressive in his debut against Minnesota and showed once again the coaching chops of Alan Williams and his ability to ready young defensive backs for significant playing time well before they should be ready.

If the Vikings game is any indication, the defensive side of things should take care of itself.  Where Powers really needs to shine is in the return game, where Pierre Garcon should see more time at receiver, Simpson and Ball should handle kickoff duties, and T.J. Rushing failed to establish himself last Friday.

If given the chance to run back a few punts — even if it's against the third team — Powers needs to cash in and show the coaches another side of his game.  The more things he can do to help the team, the better his chances of making the roster and making a bigger contribution in 2009.

4. Charlie Johnson: This will be his first starting opportunity since he was tabbed first on the depth chart.  He can't do much worse than the now deposed Corey Hilliard did in his lone shot as a starter, but doing better than a player that was waived is not a good way to make an impression.

Against a formidable Philadelphia pass rush that likes to bring multiple players from multiple directions, Johnson needs to be on top of his game. 

Although Tony Ugoh certainly did not distinguish himself in the first game, either, there is no question that he is nipping at Johnson's heels and the coaches have not yet made up their mind regarding who to name as the protector of Manning's blind side.

Johnson is not in a make-or-break situation like Simpson, but he only has Thursday's game and the third preseason game against Detroit to put some distance between him and Ugoh.

5. Adrian Grady and Anthony Gonzalez (tie):  Grady needs to prove that his stellar performance in the first game was not a fluke.  He was able to shine against the second and third team for the Vikings, but that has only upped the stakes.  Chances are that the coaches will want to see how he does against the first team.

Gonzalez needs to show Peyton he can be relied upon on the right side
AP Photo/Denis Poroy

It has been established that the Colts defense wants to get bigger up the middle and eliminate the Achilles heel that is their run defense between the tackles and they are prepared to go with the players that give them the best chance to succeed at that objective.  If Grady can demonstrate that he is one of those guys, history has shown that Indianapolis will keep him and give him a chance to play.

Gonzalez might not be the player for Colts fans to watch, necessarily, but, while he's in the game, it will be very important to note how closely Peyton Manning is watching him.  As has already discussed, Gonzalez needs to fill the production gap between what Reggie Wayne had historically done as a number two receiver and what the number two receiver has produced since Wayne ascended to number one.

Gonzalez has the skills to succeed as Manning's second option and Tom Moore will put him in a position to make plays.  The two critical x-factors in that scenario are whether or not Manning looks in Gonzalez's direction and whether or not Gonzalez makes the most of his opportunities when he gets them.  At this early juncture, stats are not as important as targets and completions.

If Manning is looking his way and Gonzalez catches everything thrown in his direction, then that bodes well for the upcoming season.  If Manning focuses more on Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne, then that certainly tells us something about tendencies heading into the regular season and will send a message to Gonzalez that he needs to make himself more conspicuous.  For the offense to succeed — especially at 2004-2006 levels — Gonzalez needs to be as conspicuous as possible.

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