The NFL continues to evolve. While preseason Week 3 has historically been the dress rehearsal game for starters, a growing number of teams have made the call to severely limit or remove starters from the game altogether. For all intents and purposes. Week 3 and Week 4 are now designated for ironing out the competition for the final spots on each roster, perhaps building trade value for players who are on the bubble, and giving young players a chance to put together film that might catch the eye of another team.
Do not be surprised if there are real changes to the way the NFL schedule works as the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is debated and finalized. The value of preseason games continues to fall, the cost of injuries in preseason continues to hurt teams’ chances in the regular season, and fans continue to be upset about paying full price for two home preseason games in their season ticket package.
Alas, if you have the stomach for it, there are things that should keep your interest tonight. Unlike Colts teams of the past, the group that will take the field tonight will not only be more talented and have more potential, they will also be battling intensely for final spots on the roster and a chance to make their NFL dream real. Here are some of the big ticket players and match-ups that are worth your focus.
At this point, it is highly likely that the Colts enter the regular season with Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker as their base package starting linebackers. Where things get interesting is just behind them.
Rookie draft picks Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed are both athletic options with potentially high ceilings. Their addition to the linebacker room has placed a lot of players who were facets on the 2018 roster at risk of losing a job. While Okereke hasn’t really done anything to grab headlines in preseason, Speed has been inconsistent. Perhaps they can both show signs of growth with a considerably larger workload.
It is difficult to gauge where the team stands at cornerback to this point. Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore seem like the two guaranteed starters. Rock Ya-Sin has made numerous highlight plays during training camp and has received a ton of praise from coaches not just for his production, but for his maturity and relationship with his teammates.
Quincy Wilson, on the other hand, has earned praise for arriving to camp in the best shape of his career, dropping some weight to improve his quickness and agility. The greatest praise he can receive is that the team appears entirely comfortable lining him up in any spot in the secondary.
Will either of these borderline starters play? If not, look for battle between Marvell Tell and Nate Hairston for what could be only one spot on the roster. Assuming the team keeps Chris Milton for his special teams chops, only one spot might remain and the rookie will have to battle the veteran to get it.
Along the defensive line, the players who have the most to play for tonight are defensive tackles Jihad Ward, Caraun Reid and Sterling Shippy. The only known quantities on the interior at this point are Margus Hunt, Denico Autry and arguably Grower Stewart. The team may keep two other players on the interior and depending on how they end up labeling Tyquan Lewis, these three could be playing for the final spots on the roster. At defensive end, the battle for a final roster spot could come down to Gerri Green against Carroll Phillips.
Only two quarterbacks will take the field for the Colts tonight. Phillip Walker will have a chance to prove that he deserves a permanent spot on the practice squad and possibly an active spot to start the season if Andrew Luck is unable to go.
Chad Kelly has no chance of starting the regular season on the roster, due to a suspension, but he has had an impressive preseason showing when the lights are on. Can he show enough to steal a spot on the practice squad when eligible, or could he even prove enough to give the Colts confidence in moving past the Jacoby Brissett era at backup quarterback?
At wide receiver, Deon Cain, Zach Pascal, Krishawn Hogan, and Marcus Johnson are all keeping for a two or three spots on the depth chart. While Cain is likely a shoe—in at this point, which could be verified if the Colts hold him out to protect him, the other three have valid arguments for a spot on the 53-man roster. Who will take advantage of the additional time in the spotlight?
The biggest battle to close out the 2019 preseason for the Colts is arguably at the final tight end spot. Given Frank Reich’s appreciation for the position, there is reason to believe that the Colts will try to keep four on the regular season roster.
One problem. They have five players who are all legitimate NFL football players at the position.
Look, it’s a good problem to have but what will Chris Ballard do to resolve the issue? One would like to believe he can get some compensation for one of Ross Travis or Hale Hentges before the regular season gets underway. If not, there is a real likelihood that one of these men will play and produce on another team in 2019.
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7pm PM ET on Saturday August 24, 2019
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, IN
Courtesy of 506 Sports, here are the local television listings:
WXIN (FOX/59 - Indianapolis)
WBKI (CW/58 - Louisville)
WFFT (FOX/55 - Fort Wayne IN)
WCWW (CW/25 - South Bend IN)
WTWO (NBC/2 - Terre Haute IN)
WPBY (ABC/35 - Lafayette IN)
WEHT (ABC/25 - Evansville IN)
WCIA (CBS/3 - Champaign IL)
Play-By-Play: Greg Rakestraw
Color Analyst: Rick Venturi
Sideline: Larra Overton
WFNI (107.5FM/1070 The Fan) and WLHK (Country 97.1 Hank FM)
Play-By-Play: Matt Taylor
Color Analyst: Jim Sorgi
Sideline: Jeffrey Gorman
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