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August 12, 2013

Work, not panic, in store for Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — What should you take away from Sunday’s preseason opener for the Indianapolis Colts?

If you’re calm and clear-eyed, very little at all.

The Buffalo Bills set a franchise record for points in the 44-20 victory, and there’s no doubt the second half severely exposed the bottom third of the Colts’ roster. But little that happened in that game will have much impact when the regular season begins Sept. 8.

Some things that will? The kickoff coverage that allowed a 107-yard touchdown and a 56-yard return to set up another score for the Bills. A pass rush that very rarely got the to the quarterback and helped allow rookies E.J. Manuel and Jeff Tuel to complete a combined 79.5 percent of their passes. And, of course, a foot injury to linebacker Justin Hickman that looks as though it will cost him the season.

Hickman was one of few bright spots for the Colts with five tackles before leaving the game. He’s also one of the team’s most versatile linebackers, easily moving between the inside and outside positions.

His absence opens the door for players like Josh McNary and Mario Harvey, if they can quickly return from hamstring injuries, and narrows the field competing to start inside next to Jerrell Freeman.

Kavell Conner, who also did some good things against the Bills, seems to be the front runner for now. Kelvin Sheppard is his primary competition, and Pat Angerer will join the mix when he is activated from the physically unable to perform list.

Aside from the loss of Hickman, the only serious injury was to the Colts’ pride.

No team enjoys being badly beaten no matter the time of year or the stakes. And the players’ frustration likely will add a layer to practice when training camp resumes today at Anderson University.

But Sunday’s game should not be seen as a referendum on head coach Chuck Pagano, general manager Ryan Grigson or this team’s offseason activity.

From 2002-08, Tony Dungy’s teams went 10-20 during the preseason. Those same squads were 85-27 in the regular season, winning six division titles and Super Bowl XLI.

Exhibition games are like a trailer for an upcoming movie. T.Y. Hilton provided some excitement for coming attractions with his diving 45-yard touchdown catch, but the Colts are hopeful the feature film will have a much happier ending.

“We just have to do what we do better, more so than what they do,” veteran Robert Mathis said in the postgame locker room. “That’s kind of what the preseason is all about, working on our timing and how we adjust on the fly. (The Bills) came out with, I’d say, more of a sense of urgency than we did (Sunday). So it’s just something we have to work on.”

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