News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 11, 2012

QB protection becomes issue No. 1 as Colts move forward

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Pass protection remain an issue for the Indianapolis Colts heading into Sunday's home opener with the Minnesota Vikings.

 Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck was sacked three times in the team’s 41-21 season-opening loss at Chicago. He also fumbled once after being hit from the blind side on a pass attempt.

 Indianapolis went into last week’s game with the Bears without offensive guard Joe Reitz, who has been nursing a sore knee. Right tackle Winston Justice left the game with a concussion. The absences of Reitz and Justice left an already iffy roster area in a tough position.

 The Colts went into the 2012 reason replacing starters at center, right tackle and left offensive guard. Indianapolis’ depth has now gotten a lot thinner.

 Still, despite the injuries, Colts coach Chuck Pagano believes in the capability of his offensive line to protect Luck better as the season progresses.

 “We got on the right people,” Pagano said Monday afternoon. “Maybe one or two times in there and we didn’t get out quick enough to pick [pressure up from Bears linebacker Lance Briggs].”

 ‘For the most part, we were on the right guys. And now it’s just a matter of firming things up a little bit. Being a little bit stouter in there and trying to give Andrew that pocket, that comfort zone in there, where he can see the field and step up and make the throws that he needs to make. So w’'ll go to work and fix that.”

Injury list — Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney suffered an ankle sprain in the first quarter of the Bears game and did not return.

Freeney was scheduled to undergo an MRI Monday. He was also slated to meet with a specialist.

 Justice, meanwhile, incurred a concussion against Chicago and was sidelined. Pagano said the veteran offensive lineman will be evaluated by team physicians and go through the normal league-mandated protocols for concussions.

“Other than [Freeney and Justice], there’s some nicks and some bumps and some bruises and things like that. But other than those two guys, we came out relatively healthy,” Pagano said.

The status of Freeney and Justice for the Vikings game won’t be known until the end of the week.

“We’ve got enough guys, thank god, at the outside backer position that we’ve got a ton of options. A lot of guys got a ton of reps, obviously, in the preseason. The Jerry Hughes, the [Mario] Addisons, the [Justin] Hickmans of the world. Those guys got to step up in case [Freeney] is out or he’s out for an extended period of time,” the Colts coach said.

“Again we’ll know later how long that will be if it will be long period of time, a week or whatever. But I heard Dwight’s a fast healer. … Between hyperberic chambers and all that kind of thing, I anticipate him getting back sooner than later.”

 Pagano added that offensive guard Joe Reitz, who has been nursing a sore knee since training camp, is expected to miss another week of work. Reitz did not play against Chicago and will not play this week against Minnesota.

Roster moves — The Colts signed free agent offensive guard Trai Essex on Monday. To make room for Essex on the roster, Indianapolis waived offensive tackle Mike Person and center A.Q. Shipley.

Essex (6-5, 324) has appeared in 76 career regular season games (28 starts) and six postseason games, including one start, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2005-11). The Fort Wayne native was a part of two Super Bowl-winning teams before being waived on August 31, 2012.

Last year, Essex appeared in all 16 games (three starts) and saw action at tackle, guard and center. He helped block for a Steelers offense that averaged 372.3 yards ar game, fourth-most in the AFC.

Vikings game sold out — The Colts-Vikings game Sunday has been declared a sell out. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.

A few hundred seats (from group inventory) are still available and the Colts do anticipate some visiting team returns from Minnesota. Those non-fixed seats and visiting team returned tickets do not count against lifting the network television blackout and are available.

Tickets are available for all regular season home games at the Lucas Oil Stadium ticket office, Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, charge-by-phone at 800-745-3000 or at www.ticketmaster.com.