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COLUMN

Colts' bye allows Luck, others time to reflect

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Indianapolis gets an extra week to prepare for the Packers

Saturday, September 29, 2012 - 2:59 am

Two groups are taking this weekend off: The NFL replacement referees and the Indianapolis Colts. Only one, thankfully, will return.

For the Colts, the earliest bye week in the league should be a huge help to allow some additional healing, to reflect on the start of a new era and to get ready for a back-to-back stretch with the Green Bay Packers at home and the New York Jets on the road.

“(We need to) get as healthy as we can and get back on track,” outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. “We kind of got off track last game as you can see. Hone in on the minor details and just do the little things right.”

The Colts are one play from being 2-1, but that play – an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts III – can't be erased. The sleeping secondary can't even blame the replacement refs for that one. Still, at 1-2, the season holds some promise.

Those who will benefit most among the Colts with this bye weekend:

* The rehabbing players. If this extra week spells the needed time for the return of rush end Dwight Freeney and inside linebacker Pat Angerer, it will be a bonus. Freeney seemed energized, even in his new role, early in the season-opener against the Bears. But an ankle injury put him out before he really got started. He could return this week, although there are guarantees.

Angerer is expected back, and he'll likely ease into playing time. He has a fight on his hand to regain his starting spot form Jerrell Freeman, who has been playing well. The added depth, no matter the starter, can only help a defense in its building stages.

* Vontae Davis. I separate him from the preceding recovering players since his ankle injury is much fresher. He was in a boot earlier this week, but that's undoubtedly a precautionary measure. His play has gradually gotten better since his arrival from Miami. This could be a test of his motivational drive to get back on the field.

* Newcomers. The Colts picked up rookie wide receiver Nathan Palmer off the San Francisco 49ers practice squad to replace Austin Collie, who went on injured reserve with his knee injury. They also added cornerback Darius Butler, a free agent who has played for Carolina and New England. How much either of these players actually plays against the Packers on Oct. 7 remains to be seen. Both are more insurance policies, but injuries happen. An extra week of playbook study – even though the Colts aren't practicing this weekend – can only help.

* Coach Chuck Pagano. This will be a great weekend for Pagano to look back at his first three games and assess what went right and wrong, and how he might tweak some of his decision making. The most obvious issue is the offense's lack of punch in much of the second halves of the last two games.

The Colts staked double-digit leads against the Vikings and Jaguars only to go stagnant in the second halves and lose those leads. They salvaged the Vikings game. This is the perfect season for Pagano to put the offense in full attack mode. He needs to reevaluate his approach in playing with a lead.

* Andrew Luck. It's been a great start for the rookie quarterback. He has two games over 300 yards passing and has proved he can execute efficiently in the two-minute offense. This weekend gives him a chance to reflect on where he needs work, but also a chance to take a deep breath from the pressure. In truth, he could not have had a much better start in establishing his credentials as an NFL quarterback and team leader.

“The position I'm in, you've got to watch film still,” Luck said. “I don't think I've earned the right to take five days off completely. I'll make sure I relax a little.”

* Adam Vinatieri. One miss (in Chicago) on a kick he used to make in his sleep is understandable. But he missed another one against the Jags and barely made the one after that. Pagano took the blame for the Jacksonville miss, saying he didn't have the kicking team ready. Doesn't matter. Vinatieri should have delivered. At this point, there's nothing Vinatieri can learn about kicking, but the weekend off could help him dump the erratic start.

* Colts fans. Now they've seen that this team has strengths and flaws and remains in heavy rebuilding mode. A 2-1 start might have prompted some unreasonable expectations. The main benefit of the bye could be that Colts fans will realize they're starting to enjoy this team, from new favorite Luck to old favorite Reggie Wayne to previously unknowns such as Freeman. Absence makes the fans' hearts grow fonder, they say.

Then again, given the down-to-the-wire finishes the last two weeks, Colts fans might need the break already just to calm their nerves.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com