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.
This preseason was the same as most preseasons for the Indianapolis Colts. A lot of consternation surrounded the backup quarterback position. After Curtis Painter had a rough start to his regular season career, many expected that he either show marked improvement in preseason games or the Colts find a suitable replacement. Despite having limited time to stake a claim, Tom Brandstater helped himself with a solid performance against the Bengals Thursday night. The question is, did Painter play himself out of the backup job, or did Brandstater do so much this preseason to clearly distinguish himself over Painter. The answer is: no. Brandstater had a couple of solid performances against primarily third string defenses, but Painter likewise showed improvement since his disaster game against the San Francisco 49ers in the preseason opener. Painter’s job is safe for now, but Brandstater should develop on the practice squad and issue a stronger challenge in 2011.
Running Back: Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Mike Hart
One thing is certain about the Colts stable of running backs: they have a lot of solid potential behind them. The trio of Addai, Brown, and Hart should be safe from slipping from their positions at the end of last season. There were bright spots displayed by Devin Moore and Javarris James at times during the preseason but it is hard to argue that either player outplayed Hart to the tune of taking his spot. Moore will be considered in the return game competition and Javarris James is all but guaranteed a spot on the practice squad. If either Moore or James has to spend time on the regular season roster and is asked to carry the football, the Colts have a lot of reason to believe that they will deliver.
Wide Receiver: Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garçon, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, Blair White
The 2010 off-season started with the greatest attention focused on the wide receiver competition. There was reason to believe that Anthony Gonzalez and Pierre Garçon may duke it out for the starting wideout position opposite Reggie Wayne. There was reason to believe that even if the Gonzalez vs. Garçon competition was not a marquee show, Austin Collie’s slot position last season could be pressed by the more experienced Gonzalez. The outcome between the starters seems that each of the players will get a lot of time on the field and line up in a variety of positions in the process. The bigger competition occurred between the players competing for a final roster spot at wide receiver. Blair White, Taj Smith, and Sam Giguère were all front-runners for the spot heading into the preseason. Smith was hot and cold in his performances. Giguère struggled to catch the football. The one constant was Blair White, even though he received fewer opportunities than his colleagues. White’s performance against the Bengals will make it very difficult for the Colts to keep him on the practice squad as he showed more potential as a true rookie than his better experienced counterparts.
Tight End: Dallas Clark, Brody Eldridge, Jacob Tamme, Colin Cloherty
The tight end position was one of the tightest (no pun intended) competitions for a final roster spot. Colin Cloherty appeared to be the superior pass-catching and kick covering player, over Gijon Robinson. Robinson is the decidedly better block, has more experience, and made a couple of his own kick coverage plays against the Bengals. The question becomes one of degrees. Will the Colts gamble to retain only one H-Back/blocking, tight end on the roster in Eldridge for another pass-catching specialist in Cloherty? Will the Colts instead use the spot for insurance if Eldridge has to miss time, by sticking with more of a blocking specialist in Robinson? The superior kick coverage play of Cloherty wins him the spot.
Offensive Tackle: Charlie Johnson, Ryan Diem, Tony Ugoh, Jeff Linkenbach *all italicized linemen can play more than one position on the offensive line
The decision for offensive tackles should be relatively easy for the Colts this year. Adam Terry is not physically capable of being a reliable contributor in a backup role. The whole idea of a backup is at least some semblance of dependability, that the player will be available when he is called upon. Terry does not inspire that confidence. This leaves the Colts with the same rotation as they have had for two years now, adding Jeff Linkenbach for the departed former backup Daniel Federkeil.
Offensive Guard: Mike Pollak, Jacques McClendon, Kyle DeVan
One of the potential surprises from preseason was how poorly Jamey Richard played at center. He took a lot of snaps with the first team, in place of the injured Jeff Saturday, but was consistently obliterated by the interior defensive linemen he faced. There is still a relatively strong chance that he makes the roster, at least for the first week or two, while Saturday works his way back into shape. Still, Mike Pollak, Jacques McClendon, and Kyle DeVan all have received work behind at center in the preseason or earlier in their careers. The only way Richard makes the team is for the emergency reason stated above, or if he has proved to coaches that he is a solid guard. McClendon and Ugoh bring more size to the guard rotation, while Pollak and DeVan have the experience in the system.
Center: Jeff Saturday
Unless Richard makes the team as described above, Jeff Saturday will continue to hold down the center spot. It has been a common theme throughout Saturday’s career that is the only center listed on the roster. This year may be more of the same.
Offensive Roster Spots: 22/53