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Colts 2017 Roster Outlook: How a Rule Change Is Impacting Players on the Bubble

NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With training camp well under way for the Indianapolis Colts, it is easy to get focused on watching the stars. We tend to look for those guys who are breaking out or who are the locks to start.

Guys like Vontae Davis have shone through camp and that shouldn’t surprise us. Free agent pickups like Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard are watched closely to see if they are going to provide the boon we had hoped for on the defensive side. We look closely at second-year players to see if they have progressed and will provide a stronger role than their previous season. Rookies are scrutinized to see if they warranted their pick.

In all that fuss we can sometimes forget that for 37 men this most grueling and gut-wrenching job interview is not going to end well. Forget being asked standard job interview fare like “Tell me about a time when you overcame a difficult problem and how you dealt with it?”

These guys have to come into what is for many a new city, learn a new scheme, commit a massive and complex playbook to memory, and then go out and impress coaches enough to get a shot at the 53-man roster. If players are lucky, there might be 25-30 spots that are legitimately up for grabs in those open competitions.

Some amount of delusion is involved, certainly. When you look at how tough it is to make an NFL roster you know that this plays a part. Guys convince themselves they have a shot if they work hard enough and have a little luck. Sometimes they are right. Other times they get a bad break and there is little room for error.

In yesterday’s camp practice wide receiver prospect Bug Howard got sent home for a scuffle. On Tuesday we saw T.Y. Hilton mix it up with Vontae Davis and he certainly wasn’t going anywhere.

That is the NFL. When you lead the league in receiving yards you earn some rope. If you are on the bottom of the totem pole you’re there to work, not waste practice time.

It is a hard business no matter how you look at it and coaches have to make snap judgments on players in a short amount of time before compiling their finished rosters. One thing has changed this offseason that works in the favor of those guys who are right on the bubble.

During the offseason, the NFL owners voted to eliminate the first wave of cuts that take a roster from 90 to 75 guys. That cut took place after the 3rd preseason game, but now all 90 players have a chance to stay on until after the preseason has concluded.

To the average person that seems like a pretty small change. But think about how much time these guys actually have to showcase their abilities to coaches. They have limited reps both in practice and in games.

If a guy struggles to digest the massive playbook but has some real skills to contribute athletically, this gives them an extra week to wrap their brain around the mental side of the game. It gives them practice reps and game prep and everything, to have one more shot at making an impression on someone. That is a big deal for those guys who are fighting just to stay in the mix for a spot.

It is easy to lose track of how tough it is to succeed in the NFL, and we don’t have much patience for players to develop, but the reality is that the game is tough to learn and colleges don’t play it like they do in the NFL, so the learning curve is steep.

Giving players an additional week to show their skills might not be very meaningful to us on its face, but the prospect of giving coaches more looks to make sure they are keeping the right guys for the job should make us all feel better. Additionally, this gives Ballard and his staff the chance to see another week of tape on players who are on other rosters and at risk of being cut.

September 2nd at 4 pm is the deadline to cut to the final 53. While we should expect a flurry of activity following the final preseason game, hopefully, this means that Ballard and the coaching staff will get the best players available to help the Colts succeed this season.