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Behind Enemy Lines: Bengals vs Colts

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In the NFL, the fourth preseason game may have little significance for anything other than the bottom of the roster. But the Colts and Bengals should play significant roles in the AFC in 2014. To talk Colts, we sat down with Josh Wilson, Editor of Stamped Blue.

John Grieshop

Q: Reggie Wayne played for the first time since his knee injury. How has he looked in camp?

A: Like Reggie Wayne.  And that's not an easy way out, that's truly the most encouraging thing I can say about him.  His knee looks great and he has been running and cutting with no problems. You wouldn't even be able to tell he tore his ACL, other than the compression sleeve he wore on that leg in camp.

It was great to see him out there again on Saturday, and while he won't play Thursday night against the Bengals, he should have a good season with the Colts and will again be a significant part of their offense. If I had to pick a concern regarding Reggie, it'd probably be his age and not his knee, because health-wise, he looks great.

Q: I have always liked Hakeem Nicks and thought that was a good pickup by the Colts. How has he fit in with the offense? And what type of year do you expect from Nicks?

A: I expect to see a Hakeem Nicks that more resembles the Nicks of a couple of years ago instead of the past year or two. In other words, I expect him to have an impressive bounce-back season. He's clearly the team's number three wide receiver, behind T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne, but that doesn't mean he won't get playing time or opportunities.

The team will run a three wide receiver set quite a bit, and even then, Nicks will get in occasionally in the two receiver sets as well. In terms of on-the-field, Nicks started off camp a little slow but has rapidly acclimated to the offense, and that showed in the preseason game against the Giants when Nicks was playing as the number one.

He looked great, and I expect him to look good this season too.

Q: I thought the trade for Trent Richardson would work out well and like many, was surprised how ineffective he looked in 2013. How has Richardson looked in camp and what is expected of him in 2014?

A: Well, we've seen the worst of Trent Richardson. That much I'm absolutely confident in - he won't be worse than he was last year. But what I'm not sure of is just how much better he'll actually be. In camp and in the preseason so far, he has had some very good runs where he makes a sharp cut and shows nice burst, so that's encouraging because there's at least some good runs mixed in.

Overall, however, the offensive line hasn't blocked anywhere close to well enough to give him enough room to consistently gain good yardage. Richardson's struggles go beyond just the line, but I think we've seen that Richardson isn't a guy who's going to make something out of nothing. Some guys, like Joseph Addai in Indianapolis, were good at creating plays even when there weren't running lanes.

Trent Richardson doesn't seem to be able to do that. So I think this year, we'll see some really nice runs by Richardson, but overall, until this line improves much more than what it has this year, Richardson won't be that star back we all thought he could be.

Q: Last year, the Colts gave up 38+ points on five occasions, including 44 and 43 in their playoff games. Is this defense good enough to make a run in the playoffs?

A: Let me put it this way: the defense should be good enough. We all know the Colts offense should be a top unit in 2014, and with Andrew Luck at quarterback they're automatically contenders, especially in the AFC. The defense should be much improved from last year. They added linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and defensive lineman Arthur Jones, both of whom were good moves.

Especially Jones, he will play a big role in improving the run defense. Then, nose tackle Josh Chapman has had an absolutely tremendous camp and preseason and looks incredibly promising along the line as well.  There are two main factors that would cause the defense to struggle this year:1) injuries, and 2) if Robert Mathis struggles.

The latter one likely won't happen (though he also won't get 19.5 sacks again), but for the first four games the Colts will have to play without Mathis. As long as Mathis is there rushing the passer, the Colts defense should be good - if they stay healthy. There are injury concerns with the injury-prone LaRon Landry and Greg Toler, and then some of the other guys absolutely must stay in there or else things won't be pretty.

So yes, this could very well be the best defense the Colts have had since 2007, and at the very least they should be good enough to win in the playoffs, considering their offensive talent.

Q: Are any Colts starters going to play in the preseason finale?

A: We don't know yet (as of Monday), but should know more soon. I don't expect any real significant starters to play, but perhaps some linemen (like rookie Jack Mewhort, the starting left guard) or someone like him could see playing time. But no, if any starters do play, it will be only a couple and none of the big-name guys.

Q: The Colts are 0-3 in the preseason, any concerns?

A: Nope. Zero concerns, regarding the record. They've won nine preseason games total since 2005 (.243) and 99 regular season games in that same span (.688). For every team, preseason results don't matter. For the Colts especially, there's nothing to judge from the records. They'll be fine.

Q: What is the deepest/strongest position on this 2014 Colts team?

A: Easily the wide receiver position. T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and Hakeem Nicks all can and have been No. 1 receivers before, and then rookie Donte Moncrief has looked impressive in camp too. Then Da'Rick Rogers is a guy with a ton of potential and has great speed, and Griff Whalen can play out of the slot and is a reliable guy. The receiver position is loaded and easily the deepest position the Colts have.

Q: What is the most intriguing roster battle in Colts camp this year?

A: Safety. The battle has been diminished by the uncertainty surrounding Delano Howell, who is dealing with a neck injury. There is no timetable for his return, but the safety spot is still undecided. Mike Adams looks to be the clear favorite at this point to start alongside LaRon Landry, but Colt Anderson and Sergio Brown are both looking to push for the spot - and then of course Howell, whenever he returns.

Q: Who is a player most Bengals fans won't know, but should know, or should look for on Thursday?

A: Hmm, good question. Considering it'll likely be mostly backups, I'm going to name a couple. Any of the receivers (Moncrief, Rogers, or Whalen) could have productive days, and then running back Daniel "Boom" Herron should have a lot of opportunities, and he has been incredibly impressive in preseason so far.

Look for him. Also, defensive lineman Zach Kerr has been very disruptive the past two weeks, and I'd expect the same from him again this week.

Q: What is the strength of the 2014 Colts? And, what areas of this Colts team concern you?

A: The strength of this team is easily Andrew Luck and the passing game. I already mentioned how the receiver position is loaded, and then on top of that the Colts have two good tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. And, of course, Andrew Luck is simply incredible.

The no-huddle passing attack is the strength of this team. The offensive line is a concern, though it looks better than last year, and the pass rush is a concern, especially without Robert Mathis. My biggest concern, however, is injuries, as the Colts were absolutely and completely decimated by them last year.

Q: How do you see the Colts stacking up in the AFC South?

A: They're far and away the favorites. The AFC South won't be as bad as it was last year, but it won't be "good" either.  The other teams (the Jaguars, Texans, and Titans) are moving in the right direction, but they likely won't be great this year. All three of them will play the Colts though and a couple of them might make a push for the division title if the Colts falter to only eight or nine wins. But ultimately, it would be a shock if the Colts don't win the division.

Q: What is your prediction for the Colts 2014 season?

A: Well, I haven't made my official predictions yet, but the Colts should definitely win the division with 11 or 12 wins, and that may be enough for a first round bye, depending on how other teams do. Either way, this team can compete for a Super Bowl if they let Andrew Luck do his thing, and if the Colts truly do play to Luck's strengths, there's a real chance they could get there.

Q: Were this a regular season game, what would your prediction be?

A: Well, if it was a regular season game it'd be a good one. The Bengals defense would give the Colts a good test, but with the weapons the Colts have, the Bengals would have a hard time stacking up against all of them, like most teams will. One of the key matchups would be Vontae Davis on A.J. Green - an elite receiver against a corner who can play elite at times (if he gets more consistent, he'll enter that tier).

I think Vontae could do well against him, but Davis has been known to have a few inconsistent days. Overall, Andrew Luck might have to lead a fourth quarter comeback or a game winning drive, but I think the Colts would win it if it was a regular season game. But, since it's preseason, the Bengals will likely win.