The preseason is now over, and the one big event that stands in between teams and the regular season now is the roster cutdown. By this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET, all 32 NFL teams will need to have their rosters cut down from 75 players to 53 - meaning that this weekend, we’ll see over 700 moves being made as guys are cut.
The second wave of cuts is typically the hardest one, and for the Indianapolis Colts that will certainly be true. They’re dealing with a lot of injuries, and as I highlighted in my 53-man projection yesterday, the injuries will absolutely impact the moves the team makes this weekend. There are many tough decisions that will need to be made, but let’s highlight the five biggest ones:
5. Backup quarterback
In the grand scheme of roster development, the backup quarterback position isn’t incredibly important for the Colts. If Andrew Luck goes down, the Colts will be in trouble no matter who the number two is. But Stephen Morris undoubtedly made the decision tougher, and head coach Chuck Pagano even acknowledged after the game on Thursday that the team will have to consider their options. Will they keep three quarterbacks? That seems very unlikely, especially with the injuries elsewhere. So they may have to choose between Scott Tolzien - who they signed as their backup this offseason and who has spent a few years in the NFL - and Stephen Morris - who clearly outplayed Tolzien in preseason and has more upside.
4. Fourth wide receiver
The Colts also have a decision to make at wide receiver for depth purposes. T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Phillip Dorsett are the top three on the depth chart without any question, but the depth after them is still unclear. Quan Bray probably will make the team as the fifth receiver, but it’d only be for his return abilities. That would leave Chester Rogers and Tevaun Smith as the top options for the fourth receiver spot, and that’s not an easy decision to make. Not only will the Colts need to consider which of the two to keep, they also will need to consider all their options - including perhaps keeping six receivers or perhaps cutting Bray and keeping both Rogers and Smith. The Colts have good talent at the top of the position, but the fourth receiver spot is still one the that’s important to get right.
3. Third running back
Frank Gore is 33 years old, and the Colts really didn’t make many moves this offseason to add much depth behind him. They made a couple of minor free agent signings in Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman, while they also signed Josh Ferguson as an undrafted free agent. All throughout camp and preseason the depth spots behind Gore have been up in the air, and that led to the team signing Stevan Ridley last week. In short, there are plenty of decisions to make at running back. Turbin likely was impressive enough this preseason to secure the number two job, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. The team really seems to like Ferguson; Ridley hasn’t had much of a chance to get adapted to the Colts’ offense; and Todman did some good things on offense and even more on special teams. Todman could be considered the favorite right now, though it’s anything but certain.
2. Backup cornerbacks
With injuries, this one is crucial. Vontae Davis is unlikely to be healthy to start the season, leaving Patrick Robinson and Antonio Cromartie as the starters. But the depth after them is confusing in large part because of the injuries. The top candidates - Darius Butler, D’Joun Smith, Jalil Brown, and Tevin Mitchel - have all been dealing with injuries this preseason as well. It could really come down to whoever is healthy enough to play to start the season. Keep in mind too that in addition to those four guys already mentioned, Frankie Williams has also been impressive this preseason. So the decisions at cornerback will be very difficult, mainly because of health. Chuck Pagano mentioned the other day that the Colts have until Saturday at 4 to get a better feel for health situations, and cornerback was likely one of the areas he had in mind. More than anything else, the Colts just need to figure out who the best healthy players are.
1. Depth linebackers
The toughest roster decision this weekend, however, could very well be at linebacker. The Colts have competition for depth spots at both inside and outside linebacker, and there are plenty of candidates who are intriguing and who have done good things this preseason. At inside linebacker, the team will be looking for backups behind D’Qwell Jackson and Nate Irving (with Sio Moore injured), and Antonio Morrison, Josh McNary, and Edwin Jackson seem to be fighting for two spots. Since Morrison is likely to make it, the team will probably have to make a decision between McNary and Jackson. Then at outside linebacker, there’s no proven player beyond Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and Erik Walden. Curt Maggitt, Trevor Bates, Earl Okine, and Ron Thompson are some of the candidates there, and in particular Maggitt, Bates, and Okine seem to have a real shot at making the team. It will be hard for the Colts to keep all three around, however, due to injury situations at other positions, so they will have a very tough decision and will likely need to part with at least one intriguing and talented player.