NFL Preseason Preview - Indianapolis (0-0) at NY Jets (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Two AFC teams with playoff aspirations start their 2014 journey on Thursday when Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts visit Rex Ryan's New York Jets.
The Colts finished the 2013 campaign with an 11-5 record and their first AFC South Division Title since 2010.
With Luck, an emerging superstar, running the offense, Indianapolis projects to be able to hold down the fort again in what is shaping up as a mediocre division. That said, things haven't gone all that smoothly for the Colts thus far.
The biggest blows came in the offseason and started at the top. Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay had his driver's license suspended one year for his March arrest for driving while intoxicated and still faces discipline from the league stemming from the incident in which police alleged that multiple prescription drugs were discovered in Irsay's car during an inventory search, none of which were associated with any of the prescription bottles found.
On the field, Indianapolis suffered quite a blow when its top pass rusher, Robert Mathis, was suspended for the first four games of the regular season after violating the NFL's performance- enhancing drugs policy. Meanwhile, the team has already suffered two season-ending injuries to potential contributors in running back Vick Ballard and offensive guard Donald Thomas.
Ballard, who also missed all of last season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, was carted off the practice field in late July after tearing his left Achilles tendon, while Thomas went down less than a week later, re-injuring his right quadriceps.
Thomas, who signed a four-year, $14 million contract with the Colts in March of 2013, started the first two games at left guard last season before tearing the same quadriceps and missing the remainder of the campaign.
To be a true contender, the Colts will need something more from disappointing running back Trent Richardson, who was acquired from Cleveland last September for a first-round pick.
"A thousand (yards) is not the goal," Richardson told the Indianapolis Star. "For me, it's personal. I'm going to keep it to myself. But a thousand is not it for me. It's higher. I can't wait to be involved in the passing game, even if it's just pass blocking. I'm trying to be a three-down back."
Rookie Jack Mewhort, Indianapolis' second-round pick in this year's draft, has been taking the majority of first-team reps at left guard following Thomas' latest injury.
Veteran receiver Hakeem Nicks arrived in free agency to give Luck another proven producer alongside Reggie Wayne, who is returning from a torn ACL and the emerging TY Hilton. The Colts will remain cautious with Wayne and he has already been ruled out of the preseason opener,
"Wayne is going to see some action before (the season opener), what that is, is TBA (to be announced), Indy coach Chick Pagano said.
Defensively, the Colts allowed a mind-numbing 384 rushing yards during two games in the postseason a year ago so adding beef up front was of paramount importance.
Arthur Jones, a 315-pound base defensive end, was brought in from Baltimore to help plug some of the holes as was veteran run-stuffing linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.
The Jets haven't played in a postseason game since losing the 2010 AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers but the often braggadocios Ryan thinks that's about to change.
"Eight-and-eight would be a hell of a disappointment for us," Ryan told the New York Daily News. "I'm just telling you that I believe this team is on the cusp of doing some special things. I'm confident we will be a playoff team."
The big story surrounding "Gang Green" is at the quarterback position where second-year man Geno Smith will try to hold off veteran free-agent pickup Michael Vick.
"Geno will start. I've been happy with the way he's looked, his command of things, so he will start the game on Thursday," said Ryan. "I'll get with (offensive coordinator) Marty (Mornhinweg) and we'll discuss exactly what the play time will be and things like that."
Whether it's ultimately Smith or Vick, one thing is certain, the team significantly upgraded the skill-position talent around the prospective signal caller by bringing in former Denver wide receiver Eric Decker and ex-Titans running back Chris Johnson, along with drafting tight end Jace Amaro.
Johnson isn't the same CJ2K who once rushed for 2,000 yards in Tennessee but he is a significant upgrade in the backfield for the Jets who were getting by with the nondescript Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory.
On defense cornerback seemed like the bigger need for the Jets in the draft but GM John Idzik and Ryan couldn't pass up on Louisville safety Calvin Pryor with the 18th overall pick. An old school, seek-and-destroy safety, Pryor is a little bit better in coverage than he gets credit for and a lot of scouts have described him as a bigger Bob Sanders.
The Jets and Colts have met only one previous time in the postseason with New York taking an easy 31-7 win at the old RCA Dome in 2004.
08/05 15:24:02 ET