Five to Watch: Colts at Rams

The Indianapolis Colts make a short trip to Edward Jones Stadium in Saint Louis Sunday afternoon to face the winless Rams. The Rams are rebuilding, have a new coaching staff, have released their veteran players, and have an influx of youth at many of the games most important positions.

In contrast, Indy has retained most of its players from a season ago, a team which won twelve games, and added others who have proven to compliment the team.

On paper this game could be lopsided but one should never forget that "on any given Sunday" a team can win. Coach Jim Caldwell has worked tirelessly to ensure that his men will not come off of the bye week at half-speed and looks forward to getting some injured players back on the field.

1. S Bob Sanders: Sanders took the practice field for the first time this season two weeks ago, leading up to the Titans matchup in Tennessee. Despite his mid-week cameo, he was inactive and sat out his fifth-straight game to open the year. This week he has resumed his normal practice schedule without being listed on the injury report.

While it is unclear how much Sanders will play, how his presence on the field affects his teammates will be worth watching. Traditionally, when Sanders takes the field the defense tends to play a step faster, hit a bit harder, and generate more turnovers.

The return of Sanders and Hayden should boost the secondary's play this week
AP Photo/David J. Philip

Rams running back Steven Jackson is all too aware of the impact Sanders can make in the game. In their initial meeting, Jackson was pulled from the game after taking multiple shots from the young Sanders.

Bob's return bring the Colts secondary closer to full strength, a unit which has already witnessed impressive performances from Safety Melvin Bullitt and rookie cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey.

Even more interesting is how Coyer chooses to use Sanders. Under former defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, Sanders would often come up in the box to act as an eighth defender in run support.

The Colts defense has vastly improved in the last three games, however, so Sanders may be allowed to drop back into his traditional position to make plays with his speed and vision. It would also free him up for potential blitz packages.

The Sanders version of the Colts defense will be in effect for the first time in 2009 and should be exciting to watch.

2. CB Kelvin Hayden: Hayden has missed much of the year due to a nagging hamstring injury, leaving Tim Jennings and Jacob Lacey to start in his place. Jennings has again been the fan whipping boy for criticism in the Colts secondary to this point in the season, while Lacey has stepped up and shown an ability to develop into a very good defensive back in the NFL.

Despite the relative success of Lacey and frustrating miscues from Jennings, Hayden recently signed a large contract extension indicating that he is the best and most valued cornerback in Indianapolis.

His addition to the game-day roster and presence on the field, coupled with the return of Sanders, should certainly improve the secondary and make it even more difficult for Marc Bulger and the Rams to make big strides in their passing game.

3. DT Eric Foster: With the release of Ed Johnson from the Colts roster, Foster is all but certain to see an increased role on the Colts' defensive line. While Bill Polian mentioned both Daniel Muir and Fili Moala by name as key components in the Colts defensive tackle rotation moving forward, it is Foster who has seen the most time spelling Ed Johnson in the under tackle position.

To this point, Foster has played very well and his increased bulk has aided him in anchoring on the line and be more effective defending the run, while his off-season focus on rushing the passer has allowed him to penetrate opponent offensive lines multiple times this year. Is this Foster's chance to reclaim a starting role in the Colts defense? This game could provide an answer.

4. DT Fili Moala: Fans have been disappointed that the Colts second-round selection has not been a factor in the defense to this point in the season and indeed has not even been on the active gameday roster yet.

With the release of Johnson, Moala will likely become a regular facet on the active roster and may begin taking on a heavier role. Head Coach Jim Caldwell has indicated that Moala has made strides in the first six weeks of the season and looks ready to step up.

If the Colts get out to a lead against the Rams, Moala may have a chance to face a first team offensive line and display his value to the team, which could have important implications down the stretch.

5. RB Mike Hart: Mike Hart's name has not been mentioned much since he went down to a season-ending knee injury against Baltimore in 2008. In that game he had one of the most impressive two-yard carries I have ever seen.

Throughout preseason competition last year, Hart looked like a man on a mission and a contender to push for carries over veteran Dominic Rhodes by season's end. This preseason looked very different.

Instead of facing a former undrafted veteran backup, Hart was coming off of major knee surgery and had to compete against a first-round draft pick and two others who had more regular-season carries than him.

Ankle injuries kept him from being effective in preseason competition and forced the Colts to retain Chad Simpson while Hart could recover and regain his strength on the practice squad to open 2009.

He was recently brought up from the practice squad and remains on the active roster, taking a spot as the third running back on the depth chart. With Chad Simpson questionable for Sunday's game, if the Colts should get out to an early lead it could be his opportunity to get his NFL career back on track.

The odds are stacked against him in this scenario, of course, as defenses tend to crush runners when opponents try to take time off of the clock. Then again, the odds have always been against Hart and maybe he will remind us how he became Michigan's all-time leading rusher two years ago.

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