The fourth and final preseason game for the Colts is usually a worthless, meaningless endeavor that Indy normally just wants to get over with as quickly as possible. Even if healthy, Peyton Manning never plays the fourth preseason game. Dwight Freeney won't play. Robert Mathis won't play. I don't even think Dallas Clark will play.
However, unlike previous years, several first unit players on offense might play in order to help newly signed quarterback Kerry Collins get some reps. Should Manning not go Week One against the Texans, Collins will get the start.
That said, here are my risers and fallers as we enter the final game of the 2011 preseason. Please keep in mind, these are players who have improved or regressed throughout preseason.
I really thought he had no chance to make the 53-man roster. Now, I'll be upset if he doesn't. Baby J looked excellent in camp, and he has played extremely well in preseason both as a runner and as a special teams player. It's pretty clear that, from year one to year two, James had made a leap. Against the Packers, he had a nice run in the second half that showcased a new ability to turn the corner and get up field quickly. He's also improved his pass catching skills. Baby J is nowhere near as good as his famous cousin, Edgerrin James, but he has developed into a decent back.
He came into training camp and immediately got schooled by Dwight Freeney. Since then, he's gotten better and better each week. Against a very impressive Green Bay pass rush, I did not see any pressure come from the left side. Castonzo still is a work-in-progress as a run blocker, but as a pass blocker he has exceptional talent and intelligence. He reminds me a great deal of Will Wolford, who is now a radio analyst for the Colts.
He isn't ready to start, nor is he even ready to play nickel, but I have been pleased with the steady improvement of Kevin Thomas, who missed all of last year with a knee injury. As you may recall, I absolutely bashed the hell out of this draft selection back in 2010. Thomas was an injury prone nobody out of USC, and in his first practice with the Colts... he got hurt! However, from camp to now, I've watched him grow. He is improving his coverage skills, and I've seen him stick a few backs on run plays. Slow and steady is his development, and it's been mostly positive. He should play a great deal against the Bengals.
This FanPost on Brown's lack of field vision is an excellent read, and it might explain why Brown has struggled. He played very well in the first preseason game against the Rams, and since then it has down hill. Phil Wilson has all but given up on him, proclaiming Delone Crarter the back-up RB behind Joseph Addai. This is a big year for Donald Brown. Though unlikely to happen, I personally would not be surprised if he does not survive cutdown day. Carter, James, and Chad Spann have outplayed him, and with Dominic Rhodes sitting out there, it might make sense to give up on the 2009 draft bust.
I written so much on Hughes it is starting to feel like piling it on. Bottom line, he's played a ton of snaps in preseason, yet he has two games with zero tackles, zero sacks, and zero pressures. Not good.
Will Carroll and I agree, if Gonzo is not healthy in time for the Bengals game Friday, the Colts will cut him and his NFL career will likely be over. Gonzo is a cool dude and a man of integrity, but he is also a brittle football player. He needed to stay 100% healthy this preseason to warrant a roster spot. He hasn't done that.
Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions?