For the most part, the Indianapolis Colts kept players on the roster who I feel give the team the best chance to be very competitive in the 2011 regular season. There were a lot of players who I thought may not make it through final cuts who did, and some players who made it through who I cannot fully wrap my head around. This story will go through the roster by position and provide detailed feedback on where the Colts did great, where they went wrong, and where changes are still coming.
The biggest story of training camp and preseason stays alive as long as the team retains two backup quarterbacks. Even though I believe Peyton Manning will take the field against the Houston Texans to open the season next week, it is clear the Colts have some concern about that with the choice to retain both Collins and Painter.
After the 2010 season ended, the NFL changed the rules with regard to carrying one additional roster spot for a quarterback. At the time, the quarterback who was in this “emergency” spot would have to finish the game if he came in to replace other players due to injury — actually, the rule only stated that the quarterbacks higher on the depth chart could not return to the game to replace him. Now, the extra roster spot is wide open.
Do not be confused, the roster size is still a 53 player limit. The “extra” spot is about how many players can dress on Sundays and compete in the actual game. In 2011, teams can use the extra spot on game day for anyone they want.
It is for this reason that it makes little sense, in terms of value, for a team like the Colts to carry an extra quarterback unless there is a real concern that he will be needed. Accordingly, Curtis Painter will likely only remain on the roster until such time as the organization feels comfortable with Peyton Manning’s long-term health. I look forward to that day, because right now a roster spot is wasted.
Keeping five running backs on the roster makes very little sense at face value. What makes it “okay” for the team to do so is the rumor that the front office is working on, or interested in making a trade — presumably at another position. When this trade occurs, Chad Spann will be demoted to the practice squad and the team will bolster depth elsewhere.
If that trade does not occur, one of these running backs should be cut and added to the practice squad anyway. Five running backs is too many unless one is going to be a returner. Spann proved in preseason that he is not ready to do that.
This is the group I hoped would be retained. While some are concerned about Anthony Gonzalez’s health, and for good reason, I do not think any of the players immediately available were superior options. While they might be “healthy” options, they did not provide enough of a counterbalance in talent to legitimize the final wide receiver roster spot.
Additionally, while some fans apparently value Blair White’s abilities much less than I do, I think he has a real chance to be a special receiver. Anytime we project a player’s abilities we can be wrong, but I feel pretty good about my track record with receivers and think he is the kind of player who is absolutely perfect for Manning’s demanding offense.
With the first three receivers locked in place, I cannot see how the team could have fared better at the position. Only David Gilreath had a remotely viable case for the spot because of his punt return abilities. I am somewhat surprised that he was cut, but it’s not heart-breaking — nor season-altering — in the long run.
There are four shoe-in tight ends on the roster who make perfect sense. Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme, Brody Eldridge, and Justin Snow are kept for their individual skill sets. Clark is a Pro Bowl receiving tight end in the prime of his career. Tamme is his primary backup who was a special teams leader over the two seasons leading up to his stint as Clark’s replacement in 2010.
Eldridge is the blocking tight end, H-Back who has experience as a full back and offensive lineman from his college years. He is a valuable tool that you should keep around. Justin Snow is one of the league’s most tenured and most valuable long snappers who deserves his spot in order to ensure that the kicking game will function — a part of the game that is often undervalued.
Mike McNeill, on the other hand, makes little sense. This is not a knock on McNeill who showed real promise as a pass-catching tight end in his own right, but why keep a poor man’s Jacob Tamme when he is already a poor man’s Dallas Clark? There are more valuable ways to use this roster spot and it makes no sense for McNeill to stick long term. Coltzilla predicts that McNeill will be placed on the practice squad sooner rather than later.
The only big surprise on the offensive line is that the Colts would choose to retain Jamey Richard over Kyle DeVan. Over the last three seasons Richard has been the primary backup to Jeff Saturday at center. This preseason he was supplanted by former second round pick Mike Pollak — who admittedly looked much better at center than he ever has at guard.
Now the most reliable offensive lineman over the last two seasons, a guy who has taken the starting spot from Pollak twice (Richard never did) is on the streets looking for a job while Richard remains. It makes no sense to me.
For the first time in years, the Colts defensive line created genuine issues during cuts. There were so many young, talented, and experienced options available that whoever got cut would probably be a little disappointing. What few fans predicted is that Tommie Harris would be among those cuts, given his relatively productive preseason performances.
The deal with Harris is that he is a former Pro Bowl defensive tackle who was at one point considered the league’s best. Now, he is coming off of consecutive seasons riddled with injuries and the word out of Indianapolis is that he expected to be treated like the number one defensive tackle from the get go. It didn’t go over well, and his skills at this point in his career, frankly, do not support that kind of treatment.
Where things actually get a little confusing is that both Ollie Ogbu and Ricardo Mathews were cut. This leaves Drake Nevis, who may well be the most disruptive defensive tackle on the team (including Harris when he was there), as the backup nose tackle. It would have made some sense to let a player at another position go to keep one of Ogbu or Mathews to play that supporting role behind Antonio Johnson.
What makes it not surprising is that the Colts have a long history of going “light” at nose tackle, in order to carry more penetrating under tackles on the team. Nevis, Moala, and Foster all fit the penetrating role and they were all retained.
Nothing about the defensive ends surprised me but admittedly, losing John Chick does burn. He is the kind of player that fans fall in love with for obvious reasons. He has persevered throughout his career, through a debilitating medical condition, and out-performed his competition in preseason. If he manages to clear waivers and end up on the Indianapolis practice squad for a consecutive season, the Colts front office should consider itself lucky.
There were no surprises at linebacker. Every player that deserved a roster spot stuck. This is a very talented group that should inspire a great deal of confidence from fans in Indianapolis.
Somehow, even with Jacob Lacey starting — and not convincing fans he deserved to do so — this group is actually relatively strong. Powers is the kind of player that could easily compete for a Pro Bowl bid. Tryon may be one of the league’s more underrated backups.
Behind them, there is a lot of youth — but athleticism and potential. 2010 third round pick Kevin Thomas flashed potential in preseason and should continue developing throughout the year. Chris Rucker showed that he was a late round steal, in that he is more talented than his draft pedigree suggests. Terrence Johnson was a player who flashed ability, even with limited opportunities, and may be higher on the depth chart than fans would ever predict.
I don’t know how the Colts manage to do it every year, but their defensive backfield is far more talented than experts would ever guess.
Antoine Bethea is a perennial Pro Bowler who is still not valued as high by most around the league as he should be. Melvin Bullitt has filled in admirably as Bob Sanders had to sit much of the last three seasons on the sidelines. Bullitt is not a Pro Bowl candidate but is solid enough to not blow games for the Colts.
First-year player David “DaC” Caldwell played solid football throughout the preseason. He has attempted to mold his game after the aforementioned Sanders and has resembled “The Eraser’s” talent on a few occasions. He is a sound tackler, hard worker, and has field vision that allows him to make plays — particularly against the run.
His preseason counterpart Joe Lefeged looks like the next undrafted gem for the Polian cartel. He is excellent in run support, took over parts of the Bengals game, a sound tackler, and a striker. If Lefeged develops from his current level of competition it will not surprise Coltzilla at all if he takes over for Melvin Bullitt permanently in 2012.
There is little reason to be concerned about the talent available in the Colts secondary.
There are some real question-marks in the decisions made by the Colts front office Saturday evening. However, there are some likely moves yet to be made that could very well bolster the positions of greatest concern. Even without those moves, this roster is a highly competitive and talented group of young players.
The Colts window may well be closing with some of its most productive veterans growing in age, but a youth movement is underway at other positions to find their predecessors. 2011 may provide a chance for some of those young players to carve out a place and a name for themselves. The NFL should be on notice, when the Colts are finished with their roster, they will be a force to be reckoned with.