Every off-season brings new faces to NFL rosters. For the Indianapolis Colts, this year was particularly exciting because a new general manager brought with him sweeping changes and a massive free agent class to add to a full compliment of draft picks. To say that Chris Ballard has been active since he took over the Colts front office would be an understatement.
No matter how well-intentioned the professional and collegiate scouts, the only way the Colts have an idea of what they really have in a player is to take the field for practice and put them up against other prospects in preseason games. It usually takes some time to develop familiarity in a new system and to develop as a young player so there is an expectation that some players will not start showing their value until later in the process.
Also, despite best intentions, a huge key for any roster to have a chance to come together is for the players to stay healthy. As with most teams, the Colts have failed to get through the summer without injuries that will most certainly have an impact on final decisions for valuable spots on the roster.
The following players stood out for both good and bad, and fans should keep an eye on how the team proceeds over the next few days as it relates to each player’s future.
Offensive Tackle Le’Raven Clark
Clark made impressive strides in his rookie season and not only started the final four games in 2016, he played rather well. The hope was that he would continue on the same trajectory and find himself as the presumed starting right tackle for the Colts this year with the promise to help solidify a line that has desperately been needing development and improvement — so the Colts can keep Andrew Luck and his surgically repaired shoulder upright.
This summer really could not have gone much worse for Clark. As expected, he entered summer camp and training camp as the starter. By Week 2 of the preseason he had lost his starting job. In the final preseason game he got meaningful work playing against a lot of players who are likely to be out of a job in a few days and he performed poorly.
Don’t be surprised if he is an early cut.
Tight End Darrell Daniels
Heading into the final preseason game I felt better about Henry Krieger-Coble filling out the tight end position than I did Daniels. I still think there is a strong likelihood that Doyle, Swoope, and Williams are the top three at the position but Swoope’s injury may well necessitate a fourth tight end to start the season.
If you’re just judging Daniels on his early production at tight end, you might not come away all that impressed. However, when the bottom of the roster decisions are made utility becomes extremely important. Daniels has been a solid special teams player on coverage units and was everywhere on special teams against the Bengals.
Wide Receiver Kamar Aiken
With so many injuries at other positions on the roster, I think the team might have a hard time keeping six wide receivers on the opening day roster. Both Donte Moncrief and Chester Rogers fill the role of a bigger receiver who can offer a red zone target. I expect both will make the team and that Hilton and Dorsett are also likely on the roster. So, then, Aiken would be competing with Natson and Bray for the final spot on the roster. Both of the latter players offer dynamic ability in the return game. Aiken does not.
Defensive Tackles T.Y. McGill and David Parry
Both of these players made meaningful contributions on the defensive line in 2016. Parry in particular was the most utilized defensive lineman on the team. Both players saw considerable work in the final preseason game and neither blew anyone away taking on the Bengals third and fourth string offensive line.
McGill in particular is an intriguing player who might be more explosive as a potential inside pass rusher than anyone else on the roster. The team desperately needs players who can generate a pass rush and so it is hard to suggest that he might not make the roster but — again due to injuries elsewhere — I am not convinced that Ballard can keep all of the good players on his defensive line. He may be only able to keep six.
If that is true, Hunt could be kept over McGill for his abilities on special teams and Stewart may be retained over Parry because he is a longer-term prospect who has showed some early promise.
Safety Darius Butler
It might sound crazy due to health concerns and a general lack of depth at the safety position in particular but it’s at least worth mentioning that the Colts have insisted that Butler has made a full time move to safety. If true, it is fair to say that Butler has done nothing to make anyone excited about what he can do in his new role during training camp and the preseason.
He was considered a prospect to move back to the nickel cornerback role but Nate Hairston has player very well and is the clear front runner for the spot. Safeties Matthias Farley and Malik Hooker are certainly ahead of him on the depth chart and outside of a veteran presence for the unit and in the locker room, it appears more likely that Butler will only enter the game after key injuries. The Colts may well target a safety on waivers or as a trade opportunity and Butler could be the odd man out.