By TOM JAMES
That’s the plan for the Indianapolis Colts players and coaching staff heading into this afternoon’s National Football League pre-season opener with the Buffalo Bills.
Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With two weeks of training camp practices now in the books, the Colts have a better idea of where they stand as a team. They’ll find out a lot more today against a Buffalo team that will be playing their first game under new head coach Doug Marrone.
Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano admits that he doesn’t know a whole lot about the Bills or what Marrone is going to do from an offensive or defensive standpoint. Game-planning is iffy at best since its the first pre-season game for both teams.
“We are going to familiarize ourselves as a staff and obviously as a team with their personnel. [They’ve] got a coaching change obviously, so scheme-wise we’ll take a look at it. But until you get to really the third preseason game, I think that is when you really get into a game-plan mode, game-week mode,” Pagano said late last week.
The goal for the Indianapolis coaching staff and player personnel department this afternoon will be to get some limited playing time for the veterans and to take a long look at the Colts’ backups, especially the team’s rookies and first-year players.
“[The goal is to] kind of indoctrinate, especially for your young guys, the process of a typical game week as far as preparing for an opponent. Like I just told them, we are always worried about us. The enemy is always in your own camp, so we are excited to play a game,” Pagano said.
“We got a really good football team coming in here so it’s going to be a great challenge and it will be a great barometer to see where we are at.”
JOBS ON THE LINE
Since there is limited contact during training camps around the NFL, pre-season games are usually the first real test on how players might react under game-time conditions.
While most teams have a pretty good idea which players will comprise the regular-season roster, the real battles will come down to who will be the key backups and which rookies will end up sticking.
“Mentally with these guys, especially the young guys, if they know exactly what to do, they’re going to be able to go out and play fast and really gauge and have a great idea of exactly where they’re at individually and where we’re at as a team,” Pagano acknowledged.
The second-year Colts head coach likes where his team is at right now. He’s happy with the veteran free agents that were brought in during the off-season. And he’s been pleased with the rookies drafted and signed by the team.
Now, with the pre-season starting, it all comes down to competition both on the practice field and in games.
“The guys have been doing a great job out there. It will be interesting, it’s wide open. We’ve got maybe one spot that’s pretty clear cut. I think everybody knows what that is. Maybe two, maybe three [spots],” Pagano voiced.
“Like we always say, ‘Man sharpens man like iron sharpens iron’ so it’s going to be a great opportunity not only for our veteran guys, the guys that have been here but especially for these young guys. [The] undrafted rookie free agents. [It’s] their first time getting the taste of an NFL game and the speed of the game and those type of things. It is a great opportunity for them and we’ll see who’s going to take advantage of it.”
PREPARING FOR BUFFALO
The Colts had a short workout Saturday in Anderson, finishing things off with the usual day-before game routine.
“We got a lot of new bodies out here, young guys that have never been through a pregame, so we got to have a walkthrough on how pregame goes. When the specialists come out, when the kickers come out, when the returners come out, et cetera,” Pagano explained.
“So we’ll [walked] through that. [We had] a mock game. It’s all Buffalo related. Give our young guys a heads up on how game day works, coming out, halftime, all those kind of things.”
SHOW ME SOMETHING
That’s the attitude that defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has going into the Bills game.
“I think the most important thing is number one, their effort,” Manusky said.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who will be working his first game with the Colts in that capacity, agrees.
“We feel like it’s important that, as coaches, it’s important that all our guys go out and execute. It’s our job to have our guys ready to play. We want to give our guys a chance to go out and be successful. We expect all of our guys, not just our front-liners, all of our guys to go out and execute at a high level,” Hamilton said.
“There’s only one way to truly evaluate those guys in a game day environment and that’s for them to go out and play at a high level and have some success.”
Former Indianapolis defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes will be returning to “The Luke” with Buffalo.
Hughes was the Colts’ top draft pick in 2010 but never developed into the top pass-rushing prospect that ex-Indianapolis team president Bill Polian had envisioned. He was traded to the Bills this past offseason in exchange for inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.
In three seasons with Indianapolis. Hughes totaled 103 tackles and five sacks.
The transition to a new team has seemingly gone well. Hughes is currently listed as a backup defensive end behind Pro Bowler Mario Williams and is expected to see plenty of minutes this afternoon.
Expect the former Texas Christian defensive standout to come out today with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He told Buffalo reporters last week that he felt like he had never been given a chance to show what he could do in Indianapolis.
“Now I’m a Buffalo Bill, and I’m here to show everyone that I can play football at this level,” Hughes said. “I have expectations, the way that I like to play the game. Be out there playing fast and relentless, getting after the quarterback, the ball carrier, whoever that may be.”
“Early on with the career in Indy it was definitely tough being the first-round guy and not getting the opportunity to play those first two seasons,” he said. “But I just kind of look at that they really didn’t know what they have.
“I was a little bit caught off guard [by the trade] just because we just got done with the offseason workouts, but I looked at it as an opportunity to kind of start over fresh. Really, I’ve only had one season of football which was last year so I’m excited how that year ended and I’m excited for this year.”
Hughes was asked how he felt about coming back to Indianapolis for today’s game.
“It never really felt like home,” he said. “So that’s why I’m not really too attached to there.”
MANUEL TO START
Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel is expected to be Buffalo’s starter against the Colts. He was the Bills’ top draft pick last spring.
Manuel, who played at Florida State, and Indianapolis second-year quarterback Andrew Luck are friends, having gotten to know each other as high school players.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully getting to talk to him a little bit after the game and see how his experience is going. But yeah, as him being a rookie, it’s a fun time. There’s a lot of learning that goes on and a lot of that learning is a bit on the fly, if you will,” Luck said.
“I got to know him. We came out of high school the same year, went to a bunch of camps together. I always was very impressed by him and his character. He seemed like a great guy every time I was around him. So I wish the best for him.”