With Manning still on the “Physically-Unable-to-Perform” list, the third preseason game will probably give coaches and fans another long look at the backups despite this game typically being the dry run for first team offense. Austin Collie has a foot injury, Anthony Gonzalez has not returned to practice, tight end Brody Eldridge’s return is questionable, and the pieces on the offensive line are continuously moving around.
Reggie Wayne will return to the field following the birth of his child but it still leaves the Colts with anything but a first team offense. The first team defense should be relatively whole with the only Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea at risk of missing the game, but fans should be prepared for a lot of rotations. A large group of would-be starters will get plenty of work against Green Bay’s first team offense and defense.
*Number of players being retained at each position in parentheses
QB (2): Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins
Manning has been working out, and throwing since July, just not with the team. With players and former coach Tony Dungy saying he will start Week 1, the Colts will keep only one spare. Since Collins is a real backup, and he’s getting paid $4 Million for this year alone, my money would be on him to be the real backup.
RB (5): Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Javarris James, Delone Carter, Devin Moore
Addai, Brown and Carter are all guarantees at this point. Recent injuries to Addai and Brown justify additional depth. Baby J has noticeably improved in all phases of the game, so I feel he will retain his roster spot. Moore is our kick return specialist. Undrafted rookies Chad Spann and Daren Evans will likely end up on the practice squad.
WR (5): Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, David Gilreath
While Anthony Gonzalez is on this list, if his hamstring injury is anything but a minor pull, I can see the Colts being done with him. Despite an admirable showing by Blair White last year, he had the misfortune of missing TC with an injury in a year when WR performance was stellar. The Colts already put Kole Heckendorf on the waived/IR list despite having an amazing training camp, so White could be next. At this point, David Gilreath offers the best dual WR/PR option. While Joe Horn also had injury problems, he looked very good in training camp and could a practice squad spot. Taj Smith is no longer eligible, so his number will be on speed dial should the need for a special teams ace come about.
TE (4): Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme, Brody Eldridge, Justin Snow
Tight end has been a deep position this year, but with Dallas Clark healthy again, Tamme getting legitimate looks at regular season playing time even with Clark on the field, and Eldridge still being one of the most impressive blockers on the field, other hopefuls may be reserved to the practice squad. Mike McNeill and Tyson DeVree have been impressive and shown solid foundations. One or both of them might get a shot to stick around.
OT (3): Anthony Castonzo, Benjamin Ijalana, Jeff Linkenbach
Absent a setback, Castonzo is the starting left tackle. With Ryan Diem getting pushed inside, right tackle will come down to a competition between Ijalana and Linkenbach. Ijalana presents the better long-term answer, while Linkenbach has the credentials to be the Week 1 starter. The Colts only carried 3 OTs last year, and with Diem moving to guard, they have a starter and backup covered for both LT and RT.
OG (5): Ryan Diem, Joe Reitz, Kyle DeVan, Jacques McClendon, Mike Pollak
My hope is that Ryan Diem moves inside permanently. With the Colts continuing to lose faith in Mike Pollak, it seems reasonable that Diem will get a serious look there. Joe Reitz has been exceptionally stable. DeVan was hampered by injury, but with impressive play the past couple years, I think he stays. McClendon hasn’t gotten much chance to work, but he seems to be developing well. Pollak got a lot of work at center last week, and actually looked quite good. He may yet make me eat my words since I thought a horrible guard couldn’t just move to the center spot and be expected to be good. Perhaps I was mistaken?
C (1): Jeff Saturday
Jeff Saturday will be the only guy we need. Jake Kirkpatrick is almost guaranteed a practice squad spot, and while Richard is the number 2 center, I think he ends up being a roster casualty. If Saturday gets injured, look for Pollak or DeVan to be the immediate replacement — with Kirkpatrick on standby.
DE (5): Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes, Eric Foster, John Chick
Freeney, Mathis, and Hughes are all locks, and for that matter, so is Foster. Foster was equally effective as a DE and oddly enough as a 1-tech DT, which is stereotypically where the 320 lbs. linemen are required. I think the Colts recognize this and will keep him due to his ‘Raheem Brock,’ feel. John Chick, on the other hand, provides the Colts with a legitimate edge rusher that wasn’t there in Jamaal Anderson, and with two successful preseasons under his belt, Chick will earn the roster spot.
UT (2): Fili Moala, Drake Nevis
Under-Tackles, or 3-tech DTs, are the penetrators, and that happens to be the specialty of both Moala and Nevis. Nevis in particular has been exceptional at getting into the backfield. Since the team needs guys who will either disrupt in the backfield, or stop the run, Nevis and Moala provide the best options at 3-tech in a relatively thin field.
NT (3): Antonio Johnson, Tommie Harris, Ricardo Mathews
Nose-Tackle, or 1-tech DTs, are the guys who take on double teams, clog running lanes, and just generally try and take as many offensive players out of the equation as possible. Antonio Johnson is very much that type of player, and Tommie Harris has been a very solid DT in his time (you don’t earn a pro-bowl berth for nothing). Still, Harris hasn’t done much playing, and like Adam Terry on the offensive line last year, the hopes for Harris could be more than he can provide. Ogbu deserves a spot, but if Harris steps up I can see him being put on the practice squad since he actually still does have eligibility, unlike Ricardo Mathews. For that reason alone, I’m giving an edge towards Mathews over Ogbu in that 3rd DT spot.
LB (6): Gary Brackett, Pat Angerer, Ernie Sims, Phillip Wheeler, Kavell Conner, Adrian Moten
The Colts use linebackers for everything. They are their ‘do-it-all’ guys, and are always in demand. Cody Glenn has been injured most of the preseason and so despite being solid usually, guys like Ernie Sims and Adrian Moten have answered the ‘what have they done for me lately’ call. At htis point, Conner is looking to get benched in favor of Sims if Ernie is able to come back nicely (which he should), and Moten is proving to be a ball hawk, which Conner is definitely not (nor is he a tackler either, it would seem).
CB (6): Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey, Justin Tryon, Kevin Thomas, Chris Rucker, Cornelius Brown
Powers, Lacey, and Tryon are the de facto starters, regardless of their order. Whether Lacey is the outside CB or the nickel CB means very little as the Colts tend to run a nearly 50/50 split between their base and nickel defense. Behind them Kevin Thomas will likely be the 4th CB and going off the Colts recent trends, will be the starting CB by Week 4 due to injuries. Rucker is still injured, but he should be healthy for the season. After that group, I think it will come down to a choice between Terrence Johnson and Cornelius Brown. As with the DTs, I’d say Brown gets the spot since he doesn’t have PS eligibility anymore, unlike Johnson.
FS (2): Antoine Bethea, Al Afalava
Bethea pulled a hamstring recently, but his overall health has never been much of an issue. There is a significant drop-off in talent behind Bethea, but Afalava is currently sitting pretty as the main backup. He’s got two more games to solidify that perception or lose the spot though.
SS (2): Melvin Bullitt, Joe Lefeged
Bullitt has been disappointing with numerous broken and missed tackles, but he is still the starter because his upside is still there. Lefeged has actually been exceptionally impressive in game situations. He’s been tackling consistently, making fewer mistakes in coverage, and has been involved in play after play. He is by no means a Bob Sanders type of talent, but he definitely will be starting for the Colts sometime in the future.
P/K (2): Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee
Very little needs to be said about these guys. Vinny has his young legs back and is kicking 55+ yard field goals with regularity, and McAfee is booming 60+ yard punts and field goals with ease. It will be interesting to see if the Colts do in fact use McAfee for long range field goals of 55 yards or more since McAfee showed he has exceptional accuracy out to 70+ yards.