Ah the fourth preseason game.
The least important of the "not so important" games. However for many players the Thursday night against the Bengals could be the last chance they ever get to wear the horseshoe on their helmet, or any team logo for that matter.
Starters will play little, if any time at all tomorrow night (thankfully). This means that we will get an extended look at backup players/players fighting for roster spots. Below I have highlighted three areas of the team where the players for the final 53 man roster are not yet confirmed. While there are position battles for backup spots across the whole team, the three below are the ones that intrigue me the most.
I think it is fair to say that a favourite for the kick returner job is still yet to emerge for this upcoming season. Four players have had at least one kickoff return so far this preseason:
- Kerwynn Williams has returned seven kicks (longest of 39 yards, average of 21.4 yards)
- Jabin Smabrano has returned 2 kicks (longest of 15 yards, average of 15 yards)
- Cassius Vaughn has returned 1 kick (for 27 yards)
- David Reed has returned 1 kick also (for 29 yards)
From that group it seems that Vaughn’s spot on the roster is safe (as the fourth string Cornerback) whereas the other three are by no means guaranteed a spot on the final 53. As Williams, Sambrano and Reed are all fighting for backup spots, their abilities to contribute on special teams will definitely be a factor when considering whether or not to keep them around for the regular season.
My prediction: David Reed will be the primary kick returner for the first game of the season. The front office traded for him just last week so they clearly see something in him that they like. Reed was also a very good gunner during his time with the Ravens, which will only help his chances. It is also looking unlikely that the Colts will carry four running backs this season (due to including a fullback on the roster). Therefore I do not think there is room on the roster for Kerwynn Williams just yet. Whereas there still appears to be a backup wide receiver spot available (while Lavon Brazill is suspended for the first four games of the season).
A long kickoff return or two against Cincinnati on Thursday could be just the final push that one of these players need to be on the roster on the opening day of the season.
Fifth/sixth cornerback spot
While it appears that the first four starting cornerback spots are set in stone, the fifth (and perhaps sixth spot) are definitely still up for grabs. Fighting for the remaining spot(s) are Marshay Green, Josh Gordy and Sheldon Price. Looking at their cumulative overall grades from Pro Football Focus, it does appear that Josh Gordy is slightly ahead of the other two players in the race to make the roster. Josh Gordy has a grade of +1.5, Marshay Green has a grade of -3.0 and finally Sheldon Price has a grade of -1.6. Josh Gordy has had some playing time at Safety this preseason and when you are fighting for a backup spot, that kind of versatility is only going to help your case.
Just from watching each preseason game once, these players have only really stuck out to me on a few occasions:
- Sheldon Price was beaten comfortably by Da’Rick Rogers on a slant route for a touchdown, against the Bills.
- Marshay Green had a sack week two against the Giants and also caused some more disruption on another blitz during that game.
- Marshay Green also had an impressive punt return of 38 yards against the Browns last week.
My prediction: Josh Gordy was on the roster for the whole of last season, unless I am mistaken. I feel that the other players fighting for this spot have not done enough (yet) to convince the coaches that he shouldn’t be on the roster for this upcoming season. Therefore I believe he makes the team as the number five Corner.
If the team chooses to carry six Cornerbacks this season, then I think that Marshay Green would get that spot due to his ability to contribute on punt returns.
The Defensive Line as a whole
This does appear to be the deepest position group on the team and as such, some decent players will be cut from this position group come August 31st.
These are the cumulative overall preseason grades for this group from Pro Football Focus:
Ricardo Mathews (+4.3), Cory Redding (+3.4), Drake Nevis (+2.1), Martin Tevaseu (+2.1), Aubrayo Franklin (+1.3), Lawrence Guy (+1.2), Montori Hughes (+0.8), Kellen Heard (+0.7), Ricky Jean-Francois (+0.2) and Josh Chapman (-0.7).
Also consider that Fili Moala has yet to participate in a preseason game this year.
Some of these players are already guaranteed to make the team regardless of their preseason performances. Such as Cory Redding, Ricky Jean-Francois, Josh Chapman and Aubrayo Franklin. Rightly or wrongly I also believe that Montori Hughes will make the roster due to the fact that the Colts traded a future fourth round pick to the Browns to draft him in the fifth round this year.
The Colts opening day 53 man roster included six defensive lineman last year. Due to this being quite a deep group I would expect/hope that they instead keep seven players for this upcoming season.
My prediction: If they did choose to carry seven defensive lineman then that would leave two remaining spots to be filled. If Fili Moala can prove that he is healthy again (I think that it is crucial that he plays at some point against the Bengals on Thursday) then I reckon that he gets one of the two spots. Moala appeared to be adapting well to the new defensive scheme last season until his season was cut short by an ACL injury.
I think that Drake Nevis makes the final roster spot due to his pass rushing abilities, especially with the pass rush being such a major concern heading into this season. He got two sacks against the Giants in week two of preseason this year and I feel that he could be very disruptive while the team is in nickel formation.
Other position battles to look out for on Thursday night:
- Number 6 wide receiver spot (fifth spot while Brazill is suspended).
- Number three tight end spot.
- Backup offensive tackle postions.
- Last backup safety spot (Delano Howell vs Sergio Brown).
While the fourth preseason game may not seem that important to me or you, to some people, it could just be the most important game of their lives…