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Decision time looms on Colts’ 53-player roster; here’s our best guess

Colts GM Chris Ballard

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The bottom-line advice for every player in the NFL: control what you can control.

Now, 2,880 players on 32 teams control nothing.

Thursday night brought an end to the preseason and gave way to two days of behind-closed-door discussions at the Indianapolis Colts’ West 56th Street complex. Who to keep? Who to let go? Which players need to be placed on the injured reserve list? Who might be available on the waiver wire after preseason rosters of 90 are trimmed to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday?

It’s worth reminding everyone the roster the Colts’ announce Saturday afternoon will have been done in pencil. After last year’s cut, general manager Chris Ballard claimed five players off waivers. Two – Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore II – might be his starting corners for the Sept. 9 opener against Cincinnati.

That same day – Sept. 2 – Ballard also traded 2015 first-round draft pick Phillip Dorsett to New England for quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Decisions, decisions.

“They’re tough decisions because there’s close battles,” coach Frank Reich said following Thursday night’s 27-26 preseason win over the Bengals in Cincinnati. “But then they’re tough decisions because these are guys that you’ve come to love and respect.

“You’ve worked hard for six months with them, and you know it’s not easy. The message is if you do happen to be one of the guys to get cut, you stay alive, you keep fighting. In this league, a lot of people go through it, so ‘It’s not over’ is the message. You keep fighting and you believe.”

Reich should have brought tight end Jack Doyle to the front of the room as he addressed the players in the Paul Brown Stadium locker room.

In May 2013, the Cathedral H.S. standout signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted rookie. The Titans waived him three months later when rosters were trimmed to 53.

Just as the Titans were preparing to sign Doyle to their practice squad, the Colts claimed him off waivers. He diligently worked his way up the Colts’ depth chart and the last two seasons has emerged as the position’s most reliable and productive player. He caught 80 passes last season, the second-most by a tight end in team history, and went to the Pro Bowl.

Oh, and in March 2017, Doyle signed a three-year, $19 million contract.

It’s not over. Keep fighting.

In preparation for Ballard’s shaping of the 53-player roster, here’s our updated guesstimate.

One caveat: we won’t be surprised if the Colts keep rookie defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis on the 53, then put him on IR the next day with a designation to return. That would require Lewis, who’s dealing with a foot injury, to miss the first eight games. Other factors that might complicate matters are knee injuries to tight end Ross Travis and offensive tackle Denzelle Good; hamstring injuries to safety T.J. Green (now released) and cornerback Nate Hairston; linebacker Anthony Walker’s groin injury and an injury to cornerback Quincy Wilson’s right hand.

Drum roll, please.

UPDATED PROJECTED ROSTER CUT TO 53 (* – denotes rookie)

OFFENSE (24)

Quarterback (2): Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett.

Comment: A strong showing at Cincinnati (19-of-31, 263 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) cemented Phillip Walker’s spot on the practice squad. And no, we’re not concerned about the foot injury that kept Luck out of practice last week.

Running back (4): Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines*, Jordan Wilkins*, Christine Michael. (Robert Turbin suspended for first four games of season).

Comment: Michael lowered our anxiety level a tad in the preseason finale (5 rushes, 41 yards, a long of 32; 1 reception for 20 yards), but we’d still feel better if Turbin was available and Mack wasn’t dealing with a hamstring injury.

Wide receiver (5): T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant, Reece Fountain*, Zach Pascal.

Comment: Reich insisted last impressions were important, and Fountain proved that. We initially had the fifth-round pick missing the cut, but he showed he belonged with 3 catches for 32 yards at Cincy. He also nearly made a diving catch on what would have been a 30-plus yard reception. Pascal clinched a spot with his receiving-special teams versatility.

Tight end (4): Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Darrell Daniels, Erik Swoope.

Comment: Things have changed since our first version. Travis exited the Bengals game with a knee injury and Daniels sustained a shoulder injury while contributing on special teams. We’re guessing Travis’ knee injury is more than minor, and lands him on IR.

Offensive line (9): T Anthony Castonzo, C Ryan Kelly, G Quenton Nelson*, G Matt Slauson, G Braden Smith *, T/G Joe Haeg, T Le’Raven Clark, T Denzelle Good, J’Marcus Webb.

Comment: No change from our original version, although it’s possible Good’s status alters things.

DEFENSE (26)

Line (10): E Jabaal Sheard, E John Simon, E Kemoko Turay, E Ryan Delaire, T Al Woods, T Tyquan Lewis*, E Tarell Basham, T Denico Autry, E Margus Hunt, T Hassan Ridgeway.

Comment: No change. But as we mentioned, we won’t be surprised if Lewis winds up on IR-designated to return once rosters settle at 53. And Reich described Basham’s knee injury as “minor.’’ We’ll see. Delaire has made it difficult for the coaching/personnel staff to cut him. If Lewis goes on IR, another interior presence is needed. Maybe Grover Stewart? Maybe the waiver wire?

Linebacker (6): Darius Leonard*, Najee Goode, Skai Moore*, Anthony Walker, Tyrell Adams, Zaire Franklin*.

Comment: No change, although we won’t argue if Ballard keeps Matthew Adams, a seventh-round pick, over Tyrell Adams. Again, this is a prime area for waiver-wire help.

Cornerback (6): Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, Chris Milton, Lenzy Pipkins.

Comment: No change, but let’s see how injuries impact decisions.

Safety (4): Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, T.J. Green (Update: Released on 8/31) , Matthias Farley.

Comment: No change.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

Kicker: Adam Vinatieri.

Punter: Rigoberto Sanchez.

Longsnapper: Luke Rhodes.

Comment: None needed.