The Indianapolis Colts will take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight to wrap up the 2015 preseason by taking on the Cincinnati Bengals in the most meaningless game of them all. This is the fourth preseason game - in other words, it's the one in which most of the starters do not play at all and instead is a game reserved for backups trying to make the 53-man roster.
For most people, this game is the one to skip. College football starts up tonight, and that's always a great option to watch. But, for those who can't wait to watch a team of players such as Bryan Bennett out on the field tonight, there are actually quite a few players we will be keeping our eye on. The final roster cutdown from 75 players to 53 players is due by Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET, making this the last chance for several of these bubble players to make an impression.
For fans, and when it comes to the standings, this game is absolutely meaningless. But for the players who will be on the field tonight? It could mean everything. Here are five players (or position battles) on the bubble who we'll be watching closely tonight:
Tyler Varga, running back
Varga burst onto the scene last week in the Colts' preseason win over the Rams, rushing for 16 yards and a touchdown (2.7 yards per attempt) and catching 3 passes for 19 yards. "What's so special about those stats?" you may ask. And the answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing. But it wasn't his numbers as much as it was the way he ran - Varga fought for extra yardage, wouldn't give up, and showed that grit that makes players endearing to fans. Also, considering the fact that the fourth running back spot is a wide open race right now (if the team decides to keep four and not three backs), Varga likely became the slight favorite for the spot with his tough running last week. He needs another good performance tonight, however, if he really wants to have a good chance at making the roster, and he'll be one of the key players to watch.
Duron Carter, wide receiver
Let me preface this by saying this: I think Duron Carter will make the team, and I am fairly confident about that. But he absolutely has to be considered "on the bubble" at this point because he simply hasn't done much in preseason. He was one of the stars of training camp and showed off the potential that makes him exciting, but so far in the preseason he has been very quiet, besides for a couple of nice grabs last week with the first team offense. Perhaps part of the discussion of Carter being on the bubble is about whether the Colts keep five or six wide receivers, because if they keep six I don't see any way one of them isn't Carter. But if they only keep five, that means that Carter, Griff Whalen, Vincent Brown, and even to a lesser degree Quan Bray are all competing for one spot. Carter is the clear favorite for that spot, but he needs to step up in the game tonight. Going along with that, I think that Whalen is currently the favorite for the number six receiver spot, so he needs to step up tonight as well. The receiver position will be one to keep an eye on tonight, and that starts with Carter.
Sheldon Price, cornerback
Some of you might put Jalil Brown here instead, and that's fair. But Brown was one of the stars of camp and has done some good things in the preseason as well, such as his interception last week. Another cornerback who has impressed so far, however, has been Sheldon Price. He has definitely caught the eye of the coaching staff and could be looking to earn a spot. Depending on the severity of Greg Toler's injury and how long he might be out, the Colts could decide to keep six corners, which would likely put both Brown and Price on the 53-man roster. But if they decide to only keep five, then it likely will be either Brown or Price. As of right now, I'd say that Brown is the frontrunner for that position, but Sheldon Price could change that by a great performance tonight.
Defensive Linemen (Earl Okine/Kelcy Quarles)
So I realize that this isn't about a specific player, but I think you'll understand where I'm coming from in just a minute, so keep reading. Yesterday, a report from NFL Media's Ian Rapoport said that Colts starting defensive tackle Arthur Jones will need ankle surgery that will, at best, put him out for half the season and potentially jeopardize the entire year. That wouldn't be good. And that might open up a spot for someone else. Even if we're not including Jones, however, the team still has several linemen who are likely to make the team: Kendall Langford, Josh Chapman, Henry Anderson, David Parry, Montori Hughes, and Zach Kerr. That's six guys, and that could be all the Colts decide to keep. But others, like Earl Okine and Kelcy Quarles, have had pretty good preseasons and could now look to make a push for a spot on the roster. And even guys like Anderson, Hughes, and Kerr will need to step up tonight, as there's always the chance the Colts look somewhere outside their locker room for help filling in for Jones, if he does indeed miss significant time. So not only could guys like Okine and Quarles be playing for a job tonight, guys like Anderson, Hughes, and Kerr could be playing for their role moving forward in the defense.
Inside Linebackers (Amarlo Herrera/Junior Sylvestre)
Lastly, we've got the inside linebacker position, and I'm specifically talking here about Amarlo Herrera and Junior Sylvestre. The two rookie linebackers have both impressed the Colts in the preseason and are looking to stick around as a depth player. Herrera has seen a lot of reps and is a player who defensive coordinator Greg Manusky already trusts to handle the defensive calls, something that certainly works in his favor. Sylvestre, on the other hand, just shows up and goes to work each game, as he is continually all over the field making plays. There is always the chance that the Colts keep them both, but that would mean keeping five inside linebackers since Jerrell Freeman, D'Qwell Jackson, and Nate Irving all seem to be guaranteed a spot. So, in reality, with injuries occurring elsewhere, it's entirely possible that the Colts are only able to keep one of these two rookie linebackers, and it could be tonight's game that is the deciding factor.