Lots of players needed to step up last night, make plays, and hope someone noticed. For several players, last night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals was as much an audition for other teams as it was for the Colts. In general, the Colts likely had their 53-man roster set before the ball was ever kicked off at Lucas Oil Stadium last night. But, certain people who absolutely needed to step up and make something happen to even be considered for the practice squad DID step up.
Tom Brandstater had the best quote of the night [emphasis mine], summing up perfectly the second half of the Colts 30-28 loss to the Bengals in a final preseason game that showed the Colts reserves have a ton of pride along with a ton of talent:
The guys played awesome around me. They were running on fumes. All of them. With heart. From the line to the receivers, it was fun to be around guys who were really trying to win a job on this team. That's the purest form of football for me. Guys digging deep to try and make a living. I'm happy for everyone who played well.
After the jump, we talk about some of those players who did indeed play well.
Tom Brandstater, QB
Brandstater won the back-up job last night, at least in my mind. Sorry, but I really don't care what people have to say about Curtis Painter. Defend him all you want, but you will look silly in the process of doing so. Last night was one of his better games of the preseason, but that certainly isn't saying much. He completed less than 50% of his passes. The only positive out of his game I saw was that he didn't turn the football over, but even THAT is deceiving. Painter had two throws that should have been picked but weren't because the Bengals reserve DBs stink.
Meanwhile, Tom Brandstater (who had only two-and-a-half months to learn the entire Colts offense) was working behind a much shoddier o-line than Painter. He had the atrocious Adam Terry at left tackle and was playing with fourth string receivers. All Brandstater did was throw three touchdowns, score on a two-point conversion, and complete 10-18 passes. Despite a shaky line, receivers with stone hands, and a sense he was playing for his job, Brandstater put on a show.
If we are to hold Bill Polian to his own words:
You can get something from the practice field, but not everything. They don't keep score at practice. They only keep score when the lights go on.
If we follow that as our guideline, there is absolutely no way Curtis Painter should be the back-up quarterback over Tom Brandstater. In four preseason games, Painter has gotten many more reps than Brandstater. With those reps, Painter's thrown only one touchdown, four INTs, fumbled three times, and completed barely 50% of his passes. This is in addition to all the other horrible games Painter played last year.
Meanwhile, Brandstater, with fewer reps and inferior talent around him, threw four TDs, scored on a two-point conversion, tossed on pick, committed one fumble, and completed 66% of his passes this preseason.
With the 'lights on,' Brandstater delivered. Painter didn't. If Painter makes this team over Brandstater, then the line above from Bill Polian means absolutely nothing. It's a somewhat false statement that isn't consistently backed up. Painter was awful in training camp and has been awful in preseason. Bob Lamey claimed back in June that Painter had turned some kind of corner. Clearly, he hasn't.
Brandstater, however, has been quite good. He should be the Colts back-up for 2010.
In the end, I trust the Colts and their ability to judge quarterback talent and performance. But if I were Jim Irsay and Caldwell selected Painter over Brandstater, I'd call him into my office and ask him to provide me with a thorough reasoning as to why. For me personally, if the Colts keep Painter, it's for pride. It would be because they invested a 6th round pick in him, and don't want to admit he's garbage even though he clearly is.
Brandon James, WR
I said before the game James needed to have a Devin Hester type night to even be considered for the practice squad. How did the kid from Florida respond? He scored three friggin touchdowns, and made another score on a two-point conversion.
Well done, lad!
As both a widedout and as a special teams returner last night, Brandon James played brilliantly. As bad as he was against the Packers, he was the exact opposite against the Bengals. The caveat for James is that his worst game of preseason came against starters in Green Bay; starters he will face regularly if he is picked to stay on the 53-man roster.
I still think the fumble for a touchdown in the Packers game will get him cut, but the Colts will likely retain him on the practice squad. Last night's game solidified that in my mind.
Blair White, WR
The trail of
sweet sweat you saw leaving Lucas Oil Stadium's locker room was from Taj Smith and Sam Giguere. That's because Blair White just passed both of them on the 'depth chart,' making White very eligible to make the 53-man roster.
White has been everything the Colts look for in a receiver. He runs great routes. He catches everything thrown at him. He plays 100% on every down. He's tough. He's smart. He makes plays.
Does he have speed? No. The 53-yard slant catch he hauled in from Painter showed just how slow White is. He embarrassed the safety defending him by making a great 'wiggle' move only to see that same safety chance him down form behind and tackle him after White had run for 40-something yards. But, the Colts do not necessarily value speed at the WR position. Speed without hands is useless. While Taj Smith and Sam Giguere have very good speed, they have been inconsistent catching the football.
White has been a model of consistency. He's outplayed all the reserve wideouts and he has a very, VERY good chance of making the 53-man roster in my opinion.
Ray Fisher, CB
For me, last night Ray Fisher solidified himself on the 53-man roster. He averaged 25 yard a return on kicks, and even popped a 33-yarder. As a gunner, he was consistently getting down the field and making plays on returners. As a corner, he made two tackles and was not burned for any big plays (unlike Terrail Lambert, who was awful last night and might have played himself off the team).
Like Brandon James, Fisher's only knock all preseason was a muffed punt (against the Bills. However, unlike James' muff, Fisher's was not scoped up and run into the endzone by the opponent. It's worth nothing that both Fisher and James seem to genuinely be rooting for each other despite competing for the same job.After fisher's 33-yard kick return, he was greeted almost immediately by James.
Fisher showcased his much discussed versatility last night. He makes the 53 based on that versatility.
Ricardo Mathews, DT
He was everywhere last night. In the backfield. Pressuring the QB. Stuffing run plays. Causing havoc. It has been a lot of fun to see Mathews develop during these last two games. Last night, the big boy who played college ball at Cincinnati recorded four tackles and a sack. I don't think his play has warranted a spot on the 53, but the Colts should definitely keep his on the PS. His play the last two games has earned him that.
Javarris James, RB
'Baby J' came to play, and on some runs I could swear the kid had #32 on his jersey instead of #35. Certain cuts he made, the way he glided through holes in the zone blocking, it reminded me of Baby J's cousin, Edgerrin James.
Javarris has run hard all preseason. For me, he's outplayed Mike Hart. However, unlike Tom Brandstater clearly outplaying Curtis Painter, Javarris has only slightly outplayed Hart. Since the Colts very much like Hart, and since Hart is such a valued special teams player, I don't think they will cut him and promote Baby J to short yardage back.
Again, this doesn't mean Javarris has played poorly. He's played very well this preseason. Last night, he ran with authority and purpose, gaining nice chunks of yardage and moving the chains. The Colts should keep Javarris on the PS. He's earned it, and if there is an injury at running back, Javarris is more than capable to stepping in and making plays.
Later today, I'll post my updated prediction for the 53-man roster. What were your thoughts and observations last night? Post them in the comments.