The Indianapolis Colts used the final preseason game to allow future backups on the regular season roster, and future practice squad players, to identify themselves through their performances. Each of the new, young players stepped onto the field at Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday night with all of the training and development the Colts coaching staff could impart over the course of three long summer months.
It is reasonable to believe that there were players who had previously been unable to showcase their abilities, and who had yet to have their “lights come on,” who had their chances to show the Colts and the rest of the NFL that they deserve a professional football career. Some tough decisions will have to be made, and in honor of the players who are on the wrong side of those decisions, this final roster prediction will provide an explanation behind the final depth chart at each position.
Defensive Tackle: Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir, Fili Moala, Mitch King, Eric Foster
The Colts are in a very strange position along the defensive line this season. The fact is, every player who has taken time at defensive tackle has something to offer. The players who received the most work and have the most experience in the Colts system at defensive tackle are the ones listed above. Ricardo Mathews played a fantastic game against the Bengals but had been otherwise quiet throughout the preseason. He surely earned himself a spot on the practice squad through his effort last night, but handing him a roster spot for his work against third string offensive linemen might be a stretch. Marlon Favorite, likewise, promises some depth behind Antonio Johnson at nose tackle. The issue is, Daniel Muir can move over to nose if he needs to and the Colts are stacked with players capable of playing the under tackle position.
Defensive End: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes, John Chick, Ervin Baldwin
Similar to defensive tackle, the Colts have more players capable of making an impact at defensive end than they have roster spots available. Keyunta Dawson is a veteran who has played inside and outside in the Colts system but was limited throughout much of training camp and preseason due to injuries. Against the Packers, Dawson did little to convince that he should be retained over his competition. However, he was held out of the Bengals game and it could indicate that the team plans to stick with him. This would be a mistake. Ervin Baldwin and John Chick have played aggressive football and helped the defensive line look far better than it has in previous seasons. Both players are capable of generating a pass rush, are smart enough to keep their eyes up to bat down passes, and stout enough to make an impact against screens and run plays. With Jerry Hughes as the other obvious defensive end, this should resemble the Colts final roster at the position.
Linebacker: Gary Brackett, Clint Session, Philip Wheeler, Pat Angerer, Ramon Humber, Cody Glenn, Kavell Conner
Rookie Pat Angerer looks like the real deal. He led the team with 35 defensive tackles, which was 16 more tackles than any other defender, and added solid special teams coverage, though he tallied only one coverage tackle. Ramon Humber was everywhere against the Bengals. Kavell Conner gathered 11 defensive tackles, including two tackles for a loss, and three total special teams stops. Cody Glenn showed potential last year as a short-yardage back, on special teams coverage units, and has also flashed potential on defense this preseason. Glenn gathered seven defensive tackles, including one tackle for a loss.
Cornerback: Jerraud Powers, Kelvin Hayden, Jacob Lacey, Deshea Townsend, Brandon King, Ray Fisher
Following widespread panic over the position leading into the summer, the Colts have managed to put together a solid group of cornerbacks. Jerraud Powers, Kelvin Hayden, and Jacob Lacey should develop into the best starting three corner rotation the Colts have had in years. Deshea Townsend is a 13-year veteran who brings some savvy and experience to the position, who should help young players Brandon King and Ray Fisher come along. Brandon King looked like a solid zone corner, eager to come up and help against the run, and not afraid of initiating contact. His 15 tackles were good for third best on the team for the preseason, and he added two tackles for a loss blowing up outside runs and screen plays. Fisher has been the most productive kick returner on the team, by average, aided by a 58-yard return late against the Packers. He also sticks receivers hard and played solid as a gunner on punt coverage units, gathering two stops on returns. Fisher’s eight tackles and a forced fumble on defense show enough potential to keep him around.
Safety: Bob Sanders, Antoine Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, Mike Newton
Even without considering who the fourth safety will be on the Colts roster, this team has the most talented safety rotation in all of football. ESPN announcer and former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jon Gruden mentioned in the Green Bay game that Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea represent the best one-two punch at safety in the NFL. The separation between the Colts and the rest of the league gets even wider when Bullitt is thrown into the mix. Of all the safeties who attempted to lock down a spot on the roster, it appears Mike Newton may be the front runner. That said, it has been rumored that the Colts may consider signing a veteran safety following cuts, not unlike they did in 2009 — when they grabbed Aaron Francisco after the Arizona Cardinals let him go.
Defensive Roster Spots: 27/53