INDIANAPOLIS – Saturday’s work at Lucas Oil Stadium was the next necessary step in determining the makeup of a roster that must – absolutely must – be better and do more than recent rosters.
Anything less than a return to the playoffs is unacceptable. And here’s where we remind you the Indianapolis Colts have been on the outside looking in in four of the past five postseasons.
That’s why the coming week is so important. A preseason roster that sits at 80 must be pared to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday. Teams can compile their 16-player practice squad the next day.
Personnel decisions are never easy, regardless the situation. They figure to be especially difficult in a current environment impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no offseason work on the field. Training camps have been restricted. On-field player evaluation has been so much less than in previous seasons.
“It’s not ideal,’’ Frank Reich admitted during the virtual offseason.
As Chris Ballard, Reich and the personnel staff consider who stays and who goes, one thing seems clear: top to bottom, this is the best roster we’ve seen in several years. There are no glaring deficiencies.
“Each year it has gotten deeper and stronger,’’ Reich said.
Yet there are decisions to be made, and injuries will impact those decisions.
It’s entirely possible defensive tackle Sheldon Day (knee) and tight end Trey Burton (calf) won’t be ready for the Sept. 13 opener at Jacksonville, but will be carried on the active roster. That’s two spots.
And what to do with defensive end Kemoko Turay (ankle), who’s on the physically unable to perform list, and rookie safety Julian Blackmon, who’s on the non-football injury list while completing his rehab after tearing his ACL in the Pac-12 championship game in December?
Neither Ballard nor Reich have reached out for our advice – they know our contact info – but we’ll offer it anyway. Here’s our projection for the 53-player roster:
Quarterbacks (3): Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason (R).
Comment: There’s no chance the Colts risk waiving Jacob Eason and adding him to the practice squad. He possesses too much upside, and someone would snatch him up. Perhaps the team has practice-squad aims for Chad Kelly.
Running backs (3): Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jonathan Taylor (R).
Comment: We’ve wrestled with this one. We like going with four, but injuries at other positions might make Jordan Wilkins the odd-man out. Ideally, the Colts carry four running backs and three tight ends, but Trey Burton’s calf injury mucks that up.
Fullback (1): Rosie Nix.
Comment: He’s viewed as a core special teams player. That’s his true value, not necessarily as a fullback. It’s clear the Colts value Nix, but we wouldn’t argue if Wilkins gets this spot.
Wide receivers (6): T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Michael Pittman Jr. (R), Reece Fountain, Dezmon Patmon (R).
Comment: Maybe they opt for five, but the Colts discovered last season you never can have too much depth at this position. The top four are locks, but Nos. 5-6 aren’t. Fountain has mounted a strong closing kick to camp. We round out the group with Patmon, the 6-4, 225-pound sixth-round pick, although Ashton Duhlin might be the choice because of his special teams skills.
Tight ends (4): Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox, Farrod Green (R).
Comment: Did we mention injuries might present a problem? It’s likely Burton won’t be ready for the opener, so do the Colts go into the season with two healthy tight ends – Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox – or carry a fourth until Burton returns? Considering the liberal use of tight ends by Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni, we’re opting for the latter, and we’re opting for rookie Farrod Green.
Offensive line (8): LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly, RG Mark Glowinski, RT Braden Smith, OT Le’Raven Clark, G Jake Eldrenkamp, G Danny Pinter (R).
Comment: This still feels like too few to keep, but additional depth can come from the practice squad. The lack of proven depth at tackle concerns us.
Line (10): DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, Denico Autry, Kemoko Turay, Grover Stewart, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Sheldon Day, Ben Banogu, Tyquan Lewis, Rob Windsor (R).
Comment: One of the deepest areas on the team is dealing with the uncertain status of Kemoko Turay and Sheldon Day. It’s hard to imagine either player being game-ready for the opener considering the lack of work during camp. Because of that, we’re carrying 10. Rob Windsor, c’mon down.
Linebacker (5): Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker Jr., Bobby Okereke, E.J. Speed, Zaire Franklin.
Comment: We really want to keep six, and keep rookie Jordan Glasgow. It’s clear the team believes the sixth-round pick can make a difference on special teams. But we’ve got to steal a couple of roster spots somewhere because of the injuries, and this is one of them.
Cornerbacks (5): Kenny Moore II, Rock Ya-Sin, Xavier Rhodes, T.J. Carrie, Isaiah Rodgers (R).
Comment: We initially had six corners making it, but that was before Marvell Tell III opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. The Colts still might – Lafayette Pitts, perhaps? – but we’ve got them carrying an extra safety until Julian Blackmon is up to speed.
Safeties (5): Malik Hooker, Khari Willis, George Odom, Tavon Wilson, Julian Blackmon (R).
Comment: The strength of this group increased with the addition of Tavon Wilson. Think of adding Mike Mitchell, or Mike Adams. The prevailing question is how long will it take Blackmon to be a factor?
Kicker (1): Chase McLaughlin.
Comment: Rookie Rodrigo Blankenship won the last duel with Chase McLaughlin at Lucas Oil Stadium – he nailed 6-of-7, McLaughlin was 4-of-7 – but we’re still going with the kicker with experience. When the time comes to line up for that 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of a tight game, we prefer leaning on someone who’s been there.
Punter (1): Rigoberto Sanchez.
Longsnapper (1): Luke Rhodes.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.