Things get interesting when the coaching staff is still learning the names of the players at this portion of the season.
But due to a rash of injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, the Indianapolis Colts keep adding players. And some of the newcomers may actually see a considerable amount of playing time Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
“Whoever can get some snaps will get some. Some don’t need them. I wouldn’t think [outside linebacker] Robert [Mathis] would need any snaps to play on Sunday,” interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.
“We’ll wait to see how that goes as the week progresses but they are making really nice progress and the doctors have not ruled them out yet.”
Mathis has been sidelined for the past two weeks with a sprained knee. The Colts are also missing defensive end Cory Redding (knee), defensive tackle Fili Moala (knee), and cornerback Vontae Davis (ankle). Davis, though, might return to the starting lineup this week.
Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, meanwhile, is still nursing a sprained ankle that he initially hurt in the team’s season-opening loss to Chicago. Freeney returned to the lineup two weeks ago against Green Bay and played last week against the New York Jets. But he’s still not 100 percent.
With such a turnover in talent, putting together a consistent performance on defense hasn’t been easy. Indianapolis struggled to stop the Jets’ running game last week and will be tested against by Cleveland rookie running back Trent Richardson.
“It’s a credit to the [Colts] coaching staff to do what they’re doing. Our backup defensive line right now has a cumulative, after today, 10 practices. So that’s a lot of new [players],” Arians said.
“[Defensive line] coach [Gary] Emanuel is earning his paycheck and he’s doing a heck of a job. We’ll see how it goes. We might get fortunate enough to get a couple guys back and [the backups] won’t have to play. But we’ll get ready for them to play and we’ll see how it goes.”
With Mathis questionable and Freeney not at full speed, getting a consistent pass rush on Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden will be tough to accomplish.
“You either have to create pass rush. [Outside linebacker] Jerry [Hughes], the inside pressure or rush blitz them. First of all, you’ve got to stop the run or you’re never going to get to that situation,” the Colts assistant coach said.
“So we’ve got to stop the run and then apply pressure, whether it be three, four, five [players]. You can apply pressure with good coverage and just great effort.”
And how important will it be for the Indianapolis defense to get after Weeden this week?
“Any time you can do that, you obviously make them uncomfortable, especially a young one. Getting them to move out of the pocket or move around. Most young quarterbacks are going to keep their eyes where the reads are and telegraph some things,” Arians said.
“So if you can make them uncomfortable, it obviously helps disrupt their accuracy. Hit them and it helps a lot more to get their feet moving.”
The goal for this week in practice is to try and get a consistent effort across the board.
“The challenge is the difference in the faces learning, the guys having to move to different jobs. If we put our 11 guys that we started with out there, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. We’d be a pretty good football team. Right now, all we’re thinking about is getting to 3-3 [on the season],” he said.
“If we can get to 3-3, we’ll be with half the teams in this league going into the stretch. It’s not about being young. Most of these guys have played a college football season, so they’re not young anymore. The guys who just showed up, they’re young. But we’ll play with them and I’m sure they’ll give us great effort and everything that they’ve got in this football game.”
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n Roster moves — The Colts’ personnel department has been busy this week. Indianapolis waived rookie quarterback Chandler Harnish and outside linebacker Jerry Brown from the active roster Tuesday evening. Tight end Dominque Jones was also waived from the practice squad.
Indianapolis also signed tight end Weslye Saunders (Steelers) and defensive end Lawrence Guy (Packers). Both Saunders, who played for Arians in Pittsburgh, and Guy could end up playing considerable minutes in Sunday. Harnish will most likely be signed to the Colts’ practice squad if he clears waivers.
n Injury list — Running back Donald Brown (knee), cornerback Darius Butler (shoulder), nose tackle Martin Tevaseu (ankle), Redding, Moala, Freeney and Mathis did not practice Wednesday.
Inside linebacker Pat Angerer (foot), offensive guard Joe Reitz (knee) and offensive tackle Winston Justice (ankle) all saw limited work. Davis fully participated in the workout.
“Still out are Donald Brown and Fili Moala. Everyone else will be questionable, day-to-day, at this point in time,” Arians said. “Guys are making really good progress and we’ll see how practice goes to see what the list looks like for the rest of the week.”
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who left last week’s game with the Jets with an apparent concussion-type injury, has been cleared. Freeman practiced Wednesday and is expected to start against the Browns. Inside linebacker Moise Fokou, meanwhile, also practiced and should also be back for the Cleveland game. He hurt his ankle against the Jets.