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10 Colts needing big preseason Week 1 performances

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp

Finally we are about to see some ‘real’ football. Granted it is the preseason, and Week 1 of the preseason at that, but there are so many questions that we need to begin to see the answers to and this is the first opportunity we’ll get to finding some resolutions.

Thus far through the practices, both, the good and bad have been pretty evident, but again, it’s just practice. Some of those who aren’t really standing out are still difficult to get a clear bead on after only two weeks of practice, but hopefully we’ll soon see some clarity to what we have with the Indianapolis Colts roster.

Most of the Colts starters are well in place, but a lot of the backups and depth pieces are yet to be determined. Sunday’s preseason game won’t yield all of the knowledge we need to determine all of these spots, but it’ll go a long way towards seeing how they perform under the lights.

It’s not really even ‘live bullets’ per say, but more like paintballs at this point. The positives and negatives don’t really count, but they’ll help getting the players where they need to be, and hopefully teach them what not to do – which is just as important.

Glossing over the roster, there are a handful of guys who really need good performances this Sunday. They have to prove they deserve to move up the roster, belong where they are as a primary backup or at least that they still deserve to be in contention to make the roster.

Here are 10 Colts who need Sunday as much, or more than anybody else.

Sean Spence

When Spence was signed, there were a large majority of fans and analysts alike who assumed he would have a large role in the defense likely even be a starter. Thus far into camp, though, Spence has nearly become an afterthought. Antonio Morrison has improved significantly, which many including myself questioned his ability to do, and even Edwin Jackson has become a virtual starter in sub packages.

Rookie Anthony Walker appears to be doing enough to get a spot in the rotation at some point, but Spence remains a ways down the depth chart. His camp has been underwhelming and his one-year contract with per game active bonuses doesn’t offer him much in the way of job security.

Spence badly needs to show up in a big way to prove that he deserves to remain on the team and can legitimately battle for a roster spot. His experience, and possibly showing that he’s a gamer could add to the context in which the coaching staff and front office are viewing him and give him some cushion in his push for the roster and possibly playing time if it continues.

Margus Hunt

Hunt has been surprisingly solid through camp thus far. Many have spoken about his being misused in his time in Cincinnati and that he offers more to the Colts as a defensive end in the team’s scheme. He’s got an even bigger chance to prove what he can offer this Sunday.

Kendall Langford was released Wednesday and there isn’t much else in the way of depth at the position. Rookie Jhaustin Thomas is his only real competition at the moment, but I would expect another roster addition at the position soon. Hunt has a step up on whoever could potentially be coming in due to his time with the team in camp so far, and his learning of the playbook.

If there was the perfect time for Hunt to woo those decision makers, Sunday is it. A good game could give him more room than most to secure a roster spot, a bad one could ramp up the search for more competition along the defensive line.

Jeremy Vujnovich

Vujnovich has been a pretty important piece throughout the offseason training program and through camp for the Colts. Brian Schwenke and Jack Mewhort had been out at times and Vujnovich was selected to fill in at guard earlier in the summer and has been the backup to Anthony Castonzo thus far through camp.

His versatility offers him some wiggle room most aren’t fortunate enough to have, and his performance to this point has been pretty solid as well. Adam Redmond, Fahn Cooper and Andrew Wylie – amongst others – are all looking for the same opportunity to shine Sunday, and whoever offers the most for what the Colts need will have a leg up on the others who fall short.

Vujnovich has an opportunity to actually start the season on the 53-man roster as opposed to the majority of it on the practice squad. He cannot afford to fail to impress with so much about the offensive line being a question mark – he needs to stand out in the crowd, not fall back into it.

Troymaine Pope

Pope has been one of the quieter running backs in camp. We’re hearing about Frank Gore, Robert Turbin as well as Marlon Mack and even Josh Ferguson. By all accounts, it seems as though Mack has taken the third spot on the depth chart, but Ferguson is still in the running for the roster.

Pope and Ferguson now have an interesting battle to partake in going forward. Ferguson and Pope have both taken reps as returners, and neither has really offered much in years past to their respective teams. Our own Jake Arthur has become a fan of Pope in recent days primarily noticing how relentless he is with his opportunities, and that has been one of the primary weaknesses of Ferguson in his short NFL career.

Very few offer the shear speed of Ferguson, but Pope offers the ability to work between the tackles and has enough speed without question. A lot will be on the table for Pope this Sunday. His reps need to promote his combination of speed and power, and if given the chance in the return game he must prove that he could compete to be the team’s No. 1 option in order to get their attention. Not time to waste anymore.

Henry Krieger-Coble

Krieger-Coble came in as Mo Allie-Cox was waived and subsequently placed on IR. With the roles of Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope and Brandon Williams being pretty defined, his ability to do it all must be on display if he intends to make the team. He’s shown his ability to make difficult receptions while adjusting late to the ball and now his blocking and route running need to be highlighted.

He’s shown the willingness to go head to head with anyone on the defense while run blocking and he’s actually been pretty effective as well. Of course there’s no guarantee that the team will carry 4 tight ends, but he has as good a shot as anyone if his abilities continue to be on display.

Sunday is paramount for him to lock in the No. 4 spot on the depth chart and possibly even challenge for the No. 3 role throughout the remainder of camp. He’ll get plenty of chances Sunday, but he’s got some interesting competition in Darrell Daniels trying to take that spot on the roster as well. It should be fun to watch.

Kamar Aiken

To my own disdain, I haven’t seen anything impressive from Aiken to this point. Even from other’s point of view who are covering camp, the consensus has largely been that he has only had one good practice so far. Even then, it wasn’t anything spectacular.

Aiken has a long road to earning a significant role in the rotation from here on out, from the outside looking in. He has yet to show the speed in the breaks in his route to create separation, or at the line of scrimmage even for that matter. He’s got nice hands typically, but has suffered from some drops at times in camp.

As underwhelming as Phillip Dorsett had been early in camp, Aiken has done nothing to take the lead in the battle for the No. 4 spot on the depth chart. He, similar to that of Spence at linebacker, needs to show the coaching staff that he’s a bit of a gamer and less of a camp warrior. If he can’t though, he’s in trouble going forward.

Barkevious Mingo

Mingo hasn’t really stood out much at all in camp. He’s been okay, but certainly nothing worth thinking he’s in play for a significant position role this year. Stranger things have happened from camp to season, but his best possibility remains to prove he is a special teams keeper and hope that he can improve throughout the season as a position player.

There isn’t a ton of competition at the SAM linebacker position, but right now he’s behind Akeem Ayers who has looked pretty good. Mingo is above only rookie Garrett Sickels who has had some nice moments, but nothing consistent. That said, Sickels has been a player spoken about by Chuck Pagano without prompt from the media and that’s always somewhat telling in the end.

Mingo has a lot of experience in the league, but has failed to become an impact player anywhere he’s been. Now is the time for him to at least earn a spot by remaining ahead of Sickels by shining Sunday. If he can’t, he runs a real risk of being pushed aside and having Sickels surpass him on the depth chart. The team is already pretty comfortable releasing dead weight and that’s exactly what Mingo is if he can’t impress.

Nate Hairston

While being fifth-round selection at a position of need, Hairston has been getting some action at right corner as opposed to working in the nickel spot as most may have expected. Raw is very much the right word to describe him at this point, but he’s very athletic and has the right traits to learn on the move.

He’s currently Vontae Davis’ backup with Darryl Morris working as the No 1 nickel corner. Hairston has steadily gotten better in coverage, he likes to mix it up in run support, but he will take a while to smooth out the kinks. His major role may indeed come from the special teams unit with his positional standing likely looking towards next year in possibly making an impact.

He’s got a ton of competition right now. Tevin Mitchel, Chris Milton, Dante Blackmon and Tyvis Powell are all capable and will be fighting for a position on the roster as well. Hairston needs to continue to improve daily and show that he’s a shoe-in on special teams in order to remain during roster cuts. When your first five are Davis, Rashaan Melvin, Morris, Mitchel and Quincy Wilson right now there’s very little room for error. Sunday, and every other preseason game as well, will be huge for his outlook this year.

Tyvis Powell

As mentioned above, Powell has a lot to gain this weekend. He’s got the physical tools you want from a defensive back in today’s game. He’s got great length and physicality as well as special teams and positional versatility that most of the defensive backs don’t have.

Powell is a real worker always looking to improve his technique and fundamentals. I regularly saw him running over to Greg Williams or Jeff Popovich following a play to get affirmation on his technique or to ask another question even if the coaches were praising what he’d done. While he’s not the fastest of the group he’s more of a strider and covers a good amount of ground with his wing span.

He’s going to be fun to watch to see where exactly the team feels he best supports the defense, but regardless of position, Powell needs to get himself noticed with the competition coming to a bottleneck on the backend.

Luke Rhodes

Rhodes is really interesting, but he hasn’t popped in camp – simple as that. He has been working as a long snapper and has also been getting a good amount of reps at linebacker. He does have additional special teams abilities, but making yourself necessary is more than just being solid.

With Spence on the perimeter of the battle right now, Rhodes needs to take advantage of his preseason snaps he’s fortunate enough to get. He is one from the position who can, both, cover and be a reliable tackler in the run game. However, he needs to be more of a run stuffer just the same.

Tackling down field isn’t going to help his case much, the Colts already have guys who can do that. Getting opposing running backs at the line of scrimmage and defending passes from the linebacking corps is something the Colts have struggled to maintain and will get him all the attention he needs to challenge for the roster.