We're conditioned by media and the league office in general to consider the preseason as 'meaningless.' Of course, this is simply not true. Preseason football games are vital to any winning football organization that wants to develop younger players who are new to the team. Preseason is also important for veterans players to get readjusted to hitting, tackling, bringing guys to the ground... all the things you cannot do in practices.
But don't take my word for it. If you want to know just how critical preseason is, listen to Bill Polian pontificate on the subject as part of his interview with team radio play-by-play man Bob Lamey on the 'Colts Friday Night' show for 1070 The Fan:
We don't know what our guys are going to do when the lights go on. I always point to Jacob Lacey, among many, many others, but Jacob is a prime example: At this time last year, going into the first preseason game, Jacob Lacey was an undrafted collegiate free agent who was last on the depth chart, which parenthetically points out how meaningless the depth charts are. But, he just blossomed and made plays during the preseason. And, by the time we hit the third preseason game, it was now, 'Well, let's find out what Jacob Lacey can do with the first team. Because, he's played himself off the third and the second.' And, of course, we found out that he was good enough to help us go to the Super Bowl. That happens every single year. You do get the occasional player like Antoine Bethea who steps on the field from day one and you say, 'Well, that's a starter.' Austin Collie was that guy last year. But, far more often than not, you have players like Jacob Lacey who show up during the preseason and you say, 'Wow! We really got something good here.' All the more reason of course for those four contests because you want to give them the opportunity.
I could make the point that if Polian believes preseason depth charts are "parenthetically meaningless," then why do the Colts offer one? If it's to placate the media, isn't this club supposed to "not care" what the media thinks?
Whatever. I won't get into that silliness. I'll just focus your attention on the meat of Polian's excellent statement: Preseason is very important. And if you are a player like Javarris James, Ray Fisher, or Vuna Tuihalamaka, this first preseason game is pretty much your last chance to show the club you are worth keeping. The team will have twenty practices by the time of kick-off for the preseason game tomorrow against the 49ers. They know what these players bring to the practice field, but that is not enough. Again, quoting Bill Polian (aka, the guy who will have a hand in crafting the final 53):
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.
The "they" is likely the coaching staff. After the jump, we talk about a few players who absolutely must do something positive in preseason, or they're done.
Last week this time, we noted four players who needed to show something in practice during the second week of training camp, or they were done. One of those players (Andy Alleman) was cut one day after we published our article. While the other three (Javarris James, Vuna Tuihalamaka, and Ray Fisher) did look better in practice this week to our Tweeting fans in the stands, that doesn't mean their spots on the 53-man roster or the practice squad are 'locked.' Consider them still on the hot seat.
Today, we'll focus on another group of players who also need to prove something, or they too will be without steady income when early September rolls around:
Brandon King, CB
Other than a report from two days ago, I have heard nothing about King. Based on the "parenthetically meaningless" depth chart, he's fourth behind Terrail Lambert, Deshea Townsend, and Jerraud Powers. If the roster cutdown were today, King would be a goner. Many have suggested that King could be this year's Jacob Lacey. As Polian stated, Lacey was last on the depth chart last year heading into preseason game #1. Last year this time, Stampede Blue had Lacey as someone who might maybe make the practice squad. King is in that position now. If he wants to avoid that, and make the final 53, he must start shining in preseason. Because the first game often features many fourth and fifth string players, King will get his chance.
Devin Moore, RB
The Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell did a feature today on Brandon James, the kid many people, including yours truly, feel will win the punt returning job for the Colts. James also returns kicks. If Moore wants to make the final 53, he must supplant Brandon James. It is literally that simple. Moore is small for a running back (5'9, 201 pounds), but he runs with authority and has tremendous speed. If he gets to an edge on a stretch play, he gone! But since the Colts already have three established backs (two are first round picks), Moore absolutely must make his mark via special teams. He will get his chance tomorrow.
Ricardo Mathews, DE
Don't think for a minute that just because Mathews was drafted that the Colts won't seriously consider cutting him. Last year, the team surprisingly jettisoned 4th round pick Terrance Taylor, a player many thought would eventually become the team's anchor at defensive tackle. Camp reports tell me Mathews has not impressed. Drafted to play "rush end," or defensive end on running downs, we are seeing people like Eric Foster, Fili Moala, and John Chick used at this position in practices instead of Mathews. Unless he shows in preseason that he can lock down his end on rush downs and engulf the ball carrier on a consistent basis, Mathews will be a cutdown causality.
Marlon Favorite, DT
At 6'1, 317 pounds, Favorite is a lot like Terrance Taylor was last year (and, obviously, that didn't work out, which does not bode well for Favorite). While reports out of camp tell us Favorite hasn't looked bad, that's not the kind of review that will keep you on a team that seems pretty strong at the DT position. Mitch King is getting lots of reps with the first and second team at the DT spot. However, there really is no back-up for Antonio Johnson, the under tackle in the Colts 4-3 Tampa-2 defense. Favorite seems ideally suited to win that job. He's big, strong, and can (in theory) engulf blockers. In preseason, he needs to prove it. If he does, he likely wins the job. If he doesn't, pink slip.
If you have other players you think need to prove something this weekend, list them, and the reasons why, in the comments.