INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan expects to see his most extensive preseason action against a familiar foe.
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady is scheduled to make his preseason debut on a familiar field.
Yes, the two guys who finished the 2016 season by starting in the Super Bowl are expected to square off again Saturday under far less consequential circumstances.
“It's a good test for us,” Ryan said as the Colts wrapped up training camp Thursday. "It’s not the regular season. The focus is not the same as the regular season. The focus is on us and making sure that we’re getting ourselves ready and getting ourselves to where we want to be Week 1.”
Since these two met in February 2017, much has changed including the teams they represent.
Brady delivered one of the most memorable postseason comebacks that day to beat Ryan and claim his fifth ring. The three-time league MVP added a sixth ring before leaving New England following the 2019 season and earned one more with the Buccaneers before briefly retiring and then announcing a comeback earlier this year.
He didn't play in either of the Bucs first two preseason games, though, opting instead to take a planned 11-day break. He returned to the field Monday and new Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles implied Brady would get one more chance to create a nightmare for the Colts home fans.
How much Brady plays remains as much a mystery as his pre-planned absence. He hasn't spoken with reporters since returning to the team and Bowles has only said Brady left for personal reasons.
How long he plays also remains unclear since starting center Ryan Jensen and Aaron Stinnie, the potential starter at left guard, will not play because of injuries. Bowles also would not say if four-time Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans would play. Evans returned to practice Monday after missing more than two weeks because of an injured hamstring.
“Everyone that’s healthy will play,” Bowles said. "We got together as a staff, and as a team we understand. We want to see certain things so we’re putting everybody out there.”
Meanwhile, Colts coach Frank Reich changed philosophies this preseason.
Instead of the usual mid-morning starts for training camp practices, the workouts typically began around midday. The reason: Hoping to avoid yet another slow start. Indy has lost eight straight season openers and has started 1-5 twice during Reich's first four seasons.
Reich also intends to play Ryan and most starters about a half Saturday. Last year, Reich held out most of his starters during the preseason, nobody played during the COVID-19 cancelled 2020 preseason and the starters also rested last week after two joint practices last week against Detroit.
Jonathan Taylor, the NFL's defending rushing champ, and his backup, Nyheim Hines, are the exceptions. Neither will play against the Bucs so Reich and his staff can better evaluate the other running backs.
Ryan, the 2016 league MVP, wants to play and Reich think it's important for the Colts new quarterback to get a little more action before Week 1.
“The game work is important — just sync things up, get everybody on the same page, get the feel and the rhythm of what it’s like out there in Lucas Oil (Stadium),” Reich said. “I think it will be a good test for us. Really, just iron out details, kind of get game ready, and when we feel like we’ve got that work, we’ll pull the guys out.”
Until then, fans can enjoy a rare preseason headline contest between two of the NFL's most prolific passers and two teams with championship aspirations — even if the result means nothing.
“Not quite as much as a regular-season game,” Ryan said, explaining how he'll prepare for the Tampa Bay defense. “It’s kind of nice we’re going against them. I have a lot of familiarity of their scheme and playing against their personnel for a long time. But it’s also them, they’re very good.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, also contributed to this report.