Indianapolis Colts Suit Up for Preseason, Looking at Houshmandzadeh?

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Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Joe Reitz said the team is tired of hitting each other and is ready to hit someone else.

The Colts will get that opportunity tonight at 8 p.m. EST when they face the St. Louis Rams in a preseason game at the Edward Jones Dome.

And, according to Stampede Blue’s updates on the matter, Indy might be on the verge of signing former Pro Bowl wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

What should one be looking for in tonight’s game, and what would the Housh addition mean?

While the Colts will open (and perhaps close) their preseason schedule without quarterback Peyton Manning, who continues to refrain from activity while recovering from his May neck surgery, there are several reasons for the team’s fans to tune in. Let’s examine a few:

  • Offensive line. I’m sure most will be looking to see how the Colts’ front five function tonight or simply who will be playing where. While 2011 first-round draft choice Anthony Castonzo has been getting plenty of work at left tackle — he’s been baptized by fire in attempting to block defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis — it’s possible he won’t start at the position and will instead give way to Jeff Linkenbach. The buzz is that Reitz might see plenty of snaps at left guard while Mike Pollak, Kyle DeVan, Jamey Richard, et. al will fight for time at the right guard spot. Mainstays Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem will man their longtime positions of center and right tackle, respectively, while second-rounder Ben Ijalana figures to be slotted behind Diem. Can the unit consistently create holes for running backs and protect whoever lines up behind center? These guys probably hope so…
  • Backup quarterback play. Four quarterbacks have been actively involved in Colts training camp in Anderson, Ind, in place of Manning. Curtis Painter, Manning’s primary backup in 2010 figures to get the starter’s reps tonight while Dan Orlovsky, Nate Davis and undrafted rookie Mike Hartline could all see action afterward. The preseason — quite possibly his only opportunity for extensive playing time in 2011 — could serve as a confidence booster for Painter. The former Purdue quarterback has drawn criticism from the Colts’ fan base since stepping in during the late stages of the team’s flirtation with an undefeated season in December 2009. While he didn’t play particularly well in the 2010 preseason, one could argue Painter’s late-2009 struggles occurred in a highly unfavorable situation (fans wanting perfect season, New York Jets’ No. 1-ranked defense, blizzard at Buffalo). People made all the same criticisms about Matt Cassel in New England before he managed an 11-5 record in relief of an injured Tom Brady, and Painter’s arm is much stronger than Cassel’s is. If Painter’s struggles continue, though, it will be interesting to see if veteran Orlovsky (perhaps infamous for running out of his own end zone for a safety with the Detroit Lions in 2008), Ball State product Davis or Kentucky standout Hartline might be able to put the incumbent backup’s job in jeopardy.
  • Health in the receiving corps. The Colts are surely relieved to have back their down-the-middle threats in tight end Dallas Clark, receiver Austin Collie and, perhaps to a lesser extent, receiver Anthony Gonzalez. Clark (wrist) and Collie (concussions) both wound up on injured reserve, missing a combined 17 games. Gonzalez, Indy’s first-round draft choice in 2007, has played in three games since the start of the 2009 season. While Gonzalez’s absence hasn’t really hindered the productivity of the Colts’ passing game, the losses of Clark and Collie certainly last year certainly did. Without their two lethal slot options, the team’s offense declined in productivity, as was evidenced no more clearly than in last December’s meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars in Indianapolis. Collie amassed 87 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns in that game before sustaining a concussion that would end his season, and the Colts did little through the air the rest of the game without a reliable target in the middle of the field. Tonight’s action could give fans a clearer view of whether these guys will be good to go. Clark is a much surer thing; Collie can ill afford too many more shots to the head.
  • First look at rookies, free-agent acquisitions. In addition to the aforementioned Castonzo and Ijalana, defensive tackle Drake Nevis, running back Delone Carter and defensive back Chris Rucker will take the field in NFL competition for the first time. Carter could be an interesting watch, especially when comparing him to Donald Brown, who has struggled with inconsistency since being drafted in the first round in 2009. Nevis has turned heads in camp — observers have said he has a burst off the line of scrimmage — and a promising defensive tackle is always a sight for sore fans’ eyes in Indy. Speaking of which, new acquisition Tommie Harris has gotten generally positive reviews in his first training camp with the Colts, and it will be neat to see how much and how effectively he plays in a game setting. Ernie Sims and Jamaal Anderson both could miss the game; Sims definitely will be out while recovering from an appendectomy, and Anderson has been dealing with a groin injury.

Developing in the midst of preparations for the Colts’ preseason opener is speculation that the team might sign veteran wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who is coming off a 2010 campaign of 30 receptions for 398 yards and three touchdowns with the Baltimore Ravens, to a one-year deal. It was quite the decline in productivity for Houshmandzadeh, who enjoyed six straight seasons of racking up 900-plus receiving yards as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals (he formed a dynamic receiving tandem with who was then named Chad Johnson). If the development is true and Housh joins the Colts, he could be a nice and possibly dangerous weapon for Manning. It would amount to another low-risk, high-reward free-agent signing the Colts have already done with Harris, Sims and Anderson. The possibility does bode the question about the health concerns of Collie, Gonzalez and even Blair White, who has spent training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a sore back.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

By Drew Allen

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