After a thorough look at the performers in the first two games of preseason, this post hopes to focus on what to look for in today's game, along with the rest of the preseason. The people listed below are either on the hot seat for a roster spot, in competition for a practice spot, or potentially in a position to earn a roster spot against steep odds. In terms of those who fall into those categories, I believe these players are the ones who should be watched the closest.
Key has done some good things in the first two preseason games. That said, the safety group is deep. Jennings, Powers, Hughes, and Lacey have made a better impression and have more experience at cornerback. Accordingly, he needs to really turn heads against the Lions in order to have a prayer at making the regular season roster. Even so, if he keeps up his current level of performance he may find his way onto the practice squad.
Graham is another player who's flashed ability on defense so far this preseason. On one play he nearly picked up a sack on a blitz. On a couple of other plays he has showed solid tackling ability and laid hard hits. Graham is fighting for his job on special teams. To this point he's not been a special teams standout. He will need to be one to close out the preseason if he hopes to find his way onto the regular season roster.
Mike Tuailiili -
Against the Vikings Tauiliili looked really strong on defense. He displayed a great deal of quickness and laid hart hits on his opponents. In the Eagles game he did not stand out as much as Humber but still played solid football. If he can keep it up, he may put himself in a position to fight for the last linebacker roster spot.
Keiaho has been a major disappointment to this point in the preseason. As it is, Keiaho is now playing with the second string defense and against second offenses. On this platform he should be standing out as one of the most dominant defenders on the field. Instead, he's not done anything worthy of notice. For someone who cleared waivers and sat in free agency for many weeks, not performing like a former starter who is playing against inferior competition is a bad sign. He needs to step it up against the Lions.
Camp fodder? Practice squad hopeful? An outside shot at breaking the roster? His performance against the Lions will go a long way in determining where he stands.
Johnson intrigues me but the defensive line competition is deep. Can he still hold onto a spot as a back-up pass-rusher? His performance on defense and particularly on special teams against the Lions will go a long way in determining his future with the Colts.
Thomas is one of the fan favorite whipping boys. He's not a "pass rusher" and plays defensive end for the Colts. What a waste! Right? Actually, in the Eagles game he made a strong solo stop against the run and shared a sack with Melvin Bullitt. He has long been the best pure run stopping defensive end on the team, though some argue otherwise. Can he find his way back onto the roster?
Where does Dawson fit on the current roster? It is clear the interior defensive line has added a lot of bulk. It is also clear that the defense is being more flexible with the defensive end rotation. If a player is going to stay on the team as a pure run stopping defensive end is Dawson a better option that Eric Foster? I would say not. If a player is going to stay on the team at defensive tackle he would likely be a pocket penetrating under tackle option. Is he a better option than a player like Raheem Brock or Eric Foster in that role? I would say not. Where does he fit? Maybe he can make that clear against the Lions.
Grady has been stellar in his first two games. Another strong performance against the Lions may legitimize his shot at a roster spot in the regular season.
I know Taylor was a draft pick and last year we lacked bulk on the interior of the defensive line. This year, however, there is more bulk and experience ahead of Taylor in the nose tackle mold than fans could have ever projected. Unless Taylor shows something special again the Lions, it may be in the team's best interest to put him on the practice squad while someone like Adrian Grady stays on the roster for the regular season.
With Roy Hall on the IR a potential opening at WR has presented itself to Taj Smith. To this point Smith has not shown anything as a receiver. He looked very fast in the Eagles game as a gunner on special teams coverage units. Still, whether he can hold down a roster spot as a gunner a lone is yet to be seen. It would behoove him to show something in the passing game.
I have been impressed by Matthews thus far in the pre-season. Understandably, he has had only a few opportunities to get involved in the offense. Catching passes from a rookie quarterback who is playing behind back-up offensive linemen who has struggled is no walk in the park. Still, Matthews has made the most of every opportunity he has had to this point. If he has more opportunities in the last two weeks and makes the most of them, he could push his way onto the roster.
If he doesn't magically turn into a returner or find a way to turn heads with the ball in his hands on offense, he'll be looking for a new home in a few weeks.
Tom Santi - Santi needs an opportunity to get on the field in the last two weeks of the preseason. I think he has a lot of potential and showed the most of our young tight ends last year. I hope he can get healthy and make his presence felt before the start of the regular season.
If Ugoh wants to start and secure a future in the NFL, he will need to step it up a great deal against the Lions. If he does not, Johnson will move solidly into the starting role. Moreover, Ugoh may be officially moved to guard and could lose his job after cuts before the season starts.
He is on the chopping block for any mock roster I can come up with or find. He will need to prove he can play in the NFL before the start of the regular season or he may lose his job to DeVan and Thomas.
The future heir to Saturday? If the Eagles game is any indication, he might be. The Lions game could start a pattern.
Dan Federkeil -
With the influx of more talent on the interior of the offensive line and seemingly little work for Federkeil or faith in his abilities on the outside, does he still find a way onto the regular season roster? It would be in his best interest to distinguish himself in the last two weeks of the preseason.