Eyes on the Prize

With the game schedule picking up and the public portion of training camp winding down, the Indianapolis Colts held their third and final evening practice of the preseason, giving the fans at Anderson University one last night of thrills.

Colts president Bill Polian expressed disappointment on Sunday that the first-unit offense couldn't punch the ball in near the goal line with an "open" formation. Perhaps with that in mind, the Colts spent much of Tuesday night working on short yardage and goal-line packages.

Fans showed up in droves for a last chance to see the Colts in Anderson, with patrons ringing Tire Barn Field at Macholtz Stadium and both sides of the stands filled to the brim.

While they didn't get a ton of head-to-head action — the Colts practiced in shoulder pads and shorts — the number one offense faced off against the number one defense a few times, with the defense getting the best of it, for the most part.

In one full-team segment near the end of practice, the Colts simulated a first-and-ten at their own 40-yard line. QB Peyton Manning was pressured on first down, leading to an incomplete pass. Then, the offense was called for a procedure penalty, pushing them into a second-and-15.

Manning completed a short pass, but only after Robert Mathis had reached the quarterback for what would have been a sure sack before spinning away to avoid hitting the franchise QB.

On third down, it was the same story. Only after Mathis pulled up did Manning step up to release the ball — this time, for a 70-yard touchdown to Anthony Gonzalez. A thrill for the fans, to be sure, but it didn't take clairvoyance to see Mathis had made the play.

Manning was sharp otherwise, cutting up the defense in a seven-on-seven drill in which he didn't have an incomplete.

More notes from Tuesday:

  • Blair White had an impressive debut in the preseason game against the 49ers on Sunday, and drew praise from the coaches and Polian alike. The more I watch him, the more I think he has the best hands of any of the new receivers, and is more consistent in the "bad pass" drills they work on in practice. I just question if he can have a role on this team right away with the depth the team currently has at receiver. Brandon James seems likely to make the team ahead of him because of the added dimensions to his game, but White is right there for a roster spot. Keep an eye on him as the preseason goes on.

  • Jacob Tamme continued to be a preseason all-star, hauling in a variety of touchdown passes in goal-line situations from nearly every quarterback on the roster. Tamme has led the team in receiving the last two preseasons, and caught a touchdown in Sunday's game with San Francisco, as well.

  • Tom Brandstater got a positive reaction from many fans for his performance as the third quarterback Sunday, but I've been more impressed with Tim Hiller throughout camp. He looks agile in the pocket and has a nice zip to his throws, although I haven't seen him throw deep much. Tuesday, he squeezed in a really nice pass to Tamme in the back of the end zone for a score, and later found Colin Cloherty for a score on a corner route — both coming against the first-team defense.

  • The offensive line was made up of Tony Ugoh at left tackle, Adrian Martinez at left guard, Jamey Richard at center, Mike Pollak at right guard and Ryan Diem at right tackle. They acquitted themselves very well against the backup defenses they faced, and both Joseph Addai and Donald Brown were able to find room on runs through the line. But, as mentioned above, there were some struggles when Pro Bowlers like Mathis lined up on the other side.

  • Speaking of Addai, he had one of the finest practices I've seen from him this preseason. One highlight was on a short screen pass from Manning, which he caught, turned and weaved his way through a variety of defenders for what would have been a long gain or a potential score.

  • The Colts spent a lot of time working with Eric Foster and Mitch King at fullback, blocking, catching passes and even carrying the ball out of the backfield. Foster seems to be the more graceful of the two, but King did make a nice chip of a defender, release and catch in the flat. This team, however, doesn't need the ball in the hands of King and Foster. They both seem to be adequate blockers at the position — which is all they should be.

The Colts have one final practice in Anderson, this morning at 9 a.m. They will travel to Toronto Wednesday afternoon, where they will face the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game Thursday night.

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