The Indianapolis Colts launch into the post-Luck era with his successor on the bench.
Coach Frank Reich plans to sit Jacoby Brissett against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night, the Colts’ first game since Andrew Luck announced his retirement. Either Phillip Walker or Chad Kelly will start, competing for the No. 2 job. Kelly has played well in all three preseason games but must serve a two-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Walker has spent the last two seasons on Indianapolis’ practice squad.
Reich plans to rest his starters and some key backups.
Before the Colts returned to the field Monday, Reich met with general manager Chris Ballard, then the players dressed in a locker room where Luck’s empty stall served as a glaring reminder of how topsy-turvy things had gotten in just a matter of days. By Tuesday, it was finally starting to feel more like a game week.
“Emotionally, it felt like a more normal day,” Reich said. “I think now that all the announcements have been made and everything’s been done we’re in the mode of let’s get ready for this season.”
One new face is expected to play: rookie receiver Parris Campbell, a third-round draft pick who missed most of training camp and the three preseason games with a hamstring injury.
The Colts hope to avoid their first winless preseason since 2014, a season in which they eventually lost to New England in the AFC championship game.
The Bengals also plan to rest starters in the final game. It’s unclear whether receiver John Ross, who missed all of camp and returned to practice this week, will play. The Bengals must decide whether to keep star receiver A.J. Green on the active roster while he recovers from ankle surgery. Coach Zac Taylor said there’s no timetable for his return.
CHIEFS AT PACKERS
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will not play, which means the two-time MVP won’t make his debut in coach Matt LaFleur’s offense until the regular-season opener on Sept. 5 at Chicago. Rodgers said he’s using this week to prepare for the Bears.
The Chiefs’ big story line will be at backup quarterback after Chad Henne broke an ankle against San Francisco. Kyle Shurmur and Chase Litton are the two developmental prospects on the roster, and veteran Matt Moore was signed this week to provide some experience.
GIANTS AT PATRIOTS
Both teams are 3-0 in the preseason, for what that is worth.
Patriots rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham may play the entire game, leading to speculation that veteran backup Brian Hoyer’s job may be at risk if Belichick chooses to keep only one behind Tom Brady.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon, recently reinstated following a substance abuse suspension, was taken off the non-football injury list and has only just begun to practice. Veteran Demaryius Thomas also recently began practicing as he continues rehab of an Achilles tendon injury.
QB Eli Manning will not play for the Giants, nor will many regulars. Running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Sterling Shepard have not played in the preseason.
With Golden Tate III suspended for the first four games (PEDs), Shepard is No. 1 now, with Bennie Fowler seemingly the other starter.
RAVENS AT REDSKINS
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is delighted that his team has won 16 straight preseason games, but he’s not going to play any regulars Thursday. Sixth-round pick Trace McSorley will run the offense and has played well enough to stick behind Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III, especially because Griffin (broken thumb) hasn’t played in the preseason. The defense has been stout, but none of the regulars will be used and it’s unlikely coordinator Don Martindale will use any intricate blitzes.
First-round pick Dwayne Haskins will start at quarterback for Washington. Coach Jay Gruden has made veteran Case Keenum his starter for Week 1 at Philadelphia. Given longtime backup Colt McCoy’s lingering leg injury, Haskins should get the chance to dress and wear the headset on the sideline on game day.
TITANS AT BEARS
Of importance for the Bears is the kicker position. Even though Eddy Pineiro made a 58-yard field goal last week, he needs another good week to prevent GM Ryan Pace from bringing in any kickers cut later this week by other teams.
It’s doubtful Titans QB Marcus Mariota, pulled after being sacked for a safety on the second play of his second series last week, will play. If Derrick Henry does not play, he will have sat out the entire preseason after hurting his left calf on the opening day of training camp. He led the NFL with 625 yards rushing last December, the most yards in any month by any running back last season.
RAIDERS AT SEAHAWKS
The Raiders are trying to find its starting guards with right guard Gabe Jackson (knee) out for a month and left guard Richie Incognito suspended for the first two games (personal conduct). Jonathan Cooper, Jordan Devey, Denzelle Good and Lester Cotton are all in the mix.
There also are competitions for the final spots at receiver, where undrafted rookie Keelan Doss is making a case for a roster spot.
For the Seahawks, most notable is the backup quarterback competition between Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch. Smith missed the second preseason game due to minor knee surgery; Lynch sat the third after suffering a concussion. Injuries also have thinned Seattle’s wide receiver options.
EAGLES AT JETS
Again, third-string QB is of interest. Trevor Siemian has the backup job won, and he’s likely to start against the Eagles. But Davis Webb and Luke Falk are in a competition for the No. 3 spot — if the Jets even keep three. This could be a big game for kicker Taylor Bertolet, who bounced back last week against New Orleans after missing two extra points the previous week at Atlanta. The Jets haven’t brought in anyone to compete with Bertolet, which appears to be a good sign for him.
QB Carson Wentz will sit out again with the rest of Philadelphia’s starters while Josh McCown, Cody Kessler and rookie Clayton Thorson take the reps under center. Kessler could be playing for his next job as the Eagles face tough decisions at the position with Nate Sudfeld expected to return from a wrist injury in September.
CHARGERS AT 49ERS
The Chargers are 0-3.
“It does matter,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “It’s a game. They keep score for a reason and we want to come out on top. I made a decision before camp that there were certain guys that were not going to play, and some guys that were going to play but not very much. I looked at our team last year at the end of the season, I thought we were a little tired. We had some injuries here and there and some guys were worn down. I just feel like it’s going to help in the long run.”
San Francisco heads in looking to resolve the backup quarterback situation between Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. Coach Kyle Shanahan said the Niners could keep three quarterbacks this season for the first time in his three years as head coach because he doesn’t want to give up on either of his backups.
FALCONS AT JAGUARS
Jacksonville defensive tackle Taven Bryan, a first-round draft pick in 2018, will play. It’s coach Doug Marrone’s way of pushing, pressing and prodding Bryan to show something, anything, before the regular-season opener against Kansas City.
“Taven has had a setback,” Marrone said. “He is probably disappointed, but hey, he has to get his mind right and go because there were some things he was doing earlier that were really exciting and would really be able to help our football team. That’s what he wants to do, so strap it up and get your (butt) out there and go play and get better.”
Blair Walsh was signed by the Falcons for the final week of the preseason to compete with Giorgio Tavecchio. The Falcons signed Walsh after Tavecchio made only four of eight field goals in the first four exhibition games. First-round pick Kaleb McGary is expected to make his preseason debut at right tackle after needing a heart procedure on July 31.
CARDINALS AT BRONCOS
Denver will again split snaps between QBs Kevin Hogan and rookie Brett Rypien, who are vying for a backup job with second-rounder Drew Lock (thumb) sidelined. Coach Vic Fangio said he wants to see separation from the two, but the Broncos could scour the waiver wire this weekend to find a veteran backup. Starting QB Joe Flacco got only 30 snaps and four series, none of which ended in touchdowns, in the preseason.
The Cardinals will focus on depth, especially on defense, as they get ready for the weekend’s cut. The only real drama might be seeing if the offense has any more trouble with its pre-snap quarterback clap that’s led to four false starts over the past two games.
LIONS AT BROWNS
The Browns don’t have many roster spots up for grabs, but depth at wide receiver is suddenly an issue following Antonio Callaway’s drug suspension and Jaelen Strong’s release. Former Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is expected to get a long look at receiver and perhaps as punt returner. Miller caught 34 passes in two seasons with Houston and returned 13 punts.
The Lions are expected to give newly acquired quarterback Luis Perez some snaps. Perez was signed Tuesday and replaced David Fales, who was cut, as a fourth quarterback on the roster. Perez played in the AAF until it folded during the winter.
VIKINGS AT BILLS
Returning receivers Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie and Ray-Ray McCloud, along with former CFL star Duke Williams, who has scored twice this preseason, are projected to be on the bubble for the Bills behind Cole Beasley, John Brown, Zay Jones and Andre Roberts. This is their final proving ground.
Vikings kicker Dan Bailey and punter Matt Wile are the incumbents, with recent acquisition Kaare Vedvik in camp to challenge both of them. Special teams have been a sore spot in Minnesota, and Vedvik missed two field goals last week against Arizona. Coach Mike Zimmer said he was “at a loss” about the situation while noting that Bailey and Wile had performed better in practice since Vedvik’s arrival.
DOLPHINS AT SAINTS
Two key free-agent acquisitions, running back Latavius Murray and punt return specialist Marcus Sherels, have missed part of this preseason but appear ready to play for the Saints. Sherels, sixth in punt return average last season and second in 2016, has yet to play this preseason due to an undisclosed injury.
Complicating matters — in a good way — has been the performance of undrafted rookie Deonte Harris, whose 14 career kick and punt return TDs for Division II Assumption College set an NCAA record. His first touchdown in a Saints uniform came on a 78-yard punt return against the Jets. Harris has averaged 14.7 yards on 10 punt returns and 25.1 yards on eight kickoff returns.
The Dolphins may do some payroll purging as they head into a season in which they’re widely expected to be also-rans. That means it could be the last game with Miami for such veterans as receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Receiver Albert Wilson might see action for the first time since a hip injury ended his 2018 season in October.
STEELERS AT PANTHERS
For the Panthers, this game is all about figuring out the bottom of the roster. The biggest question will be if Graham Gano kicks against the Steelers. He has not kicked throughout the preseason and training camp because of a lingering injury to his plant leg.
The Steelers can secure their first undefeated preseason since 1997, but the real intrigue lies in who will win the backup quarterback derby between Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs. Rudolph appears to have the inside track after playing well against Tennessee.
Can linebacker Tuzar Skipper translate his three preseason sacks into a roster spot?
RAMS AT TEXANS
The Texans will look to Duke Johnson to be their featured back after Lamar Miller, the team’s starter for the last three years, suffered a season-ending knee injury against Dallas. Johnson, acquired in a trade with Cleveland, likely won’t play. Coach Bill O’Brien says he likes the depth at running back despite Miller’s injury.
The Rams will rest almost every player likely to play significant snaps this season, sticking to Sean McVay’s plan to treat the preseason as a distraction to be avoided for every contributor.
BUCCANEERS AT COWBOYS
With No. 2 quarterback Blaine Gabbert suffering an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, the Bucs re-signed Vincent Testaverde to share playing time with No. 3 QB Ryan Griffin against Dallas. Testaverde’s father, Vinny, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft and is still Tampa Bay’s career passing leader.
For Dallas, with two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout now beyond a month, rookie Tony Pollard’s status as the first option at running back should be cemented by Pollard sitting in the preseason finale, as is customary with starters. There are some intriguing options for the last receiver spots, headlined by 2015 second-round pick Devin Smith, trying to come back from knee surgery, and Cedrick Wilson, who missed all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury.
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