INDIANAPOLIS — The daily internal competition is fierce. There are only so many roster spots at each position.
And that’s especially true as Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and their support staff mull over their receivers.
Do we keep five? Six?
Decisions at one position impact other areas. But so do practice reps and, more importantly, how Player X and Player Y handle themselves in game situations.
Rosters must be trimmed to 80 on Tuesday and the cut to 53 is Aug. 30.
The clock is ticking, and another three hours of invaluable game time evaporated Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts dropped a 27-26 decision to the Detroit Lions.
“When the ball comes your way, make a play,’’ said Dezmon Patmon.
And he did: five catches, 103 yards, a 50-yard back-pedaling, fall down, roll-into-the-end zone touchdown.
It was the first time a Colts’ wideout piled up 100 yards in a preseason game since Reggie Wayne in 2011 (six for 105 and one TD against Green Bay).
“There’s no time to waste,’’ Mike Strachan said. “The season is right around the corner. The first game is coming up in Houston so I have to be ready for that.’’
And he was: three catches, 45 yards, a 15-yard TD. It must be mentioned Strachan was removed from the physically unable to perform list (PUP ) on Tuesday.
“Blessed to be back,’’ he said.
Back and smack dab in the middle of the pursuit of one of the final wideout spots.
But while the competition among wideouts is spirited, it’s also a competition among friends. These guys spend hours upon hours with each other.
“We’re all friends on and off the field,’’ Patmon said. “We go out, eat dinner together.
“It’s a competition, but at the end of the day we’re all guys out there.’’
So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the team’s No. 1 wideout – Michael Pittman Jr. – horned in on Patmon’s post-game gathering with the media. His stall was to the right of Patmon’s, which was to the right of Strachan’s.
At one point, Pittman squeezed in with his video recorder pointed at Patmon.
Pittman: So, what is it like being the slowest receiver of the corps?
Patmon, smiling: You would you have to ask Michael Pittman Jr. that question and get back to me.
Yuck, yuck, yuck.
But seriously, Pittman was one of the more demonstrative cheerleaders as Patmon and Strachan shared highlight afternoons.
“I thought they played great,’’ he said. “I think they made the most of what they got. All of them, I thought they played great. I was excited for them.
“It’s going to be tough when it comes to you know what.’’
You know what referred to the final roster cuts. For at least one afternoon, Patmon and Strachan made the decision at wideout more intereting.
“It’s a great problem,’’ Pittman said, “but again, it’s hard because we’ve got so many great guys.’’
Patmon and Strachan each needed to assert themselves, for different reasons.
Patmon has had a relatively quiet training camp and had just one catch for 18 yards in the preseason opener at Buffalo despite being on the field for 36 snaps, most among wideouts.
“He just seemed confident, playing with some confidence with the ball in his hands and running good routes, making a play, instinctive plays.’’
The 50-yard touchdown required several different elements from Patmon. It was made possible by quarterback Sam Ehlinger flowing to his left to avoid pressure – “Scramble drill, that’s just backyard football,’’ Patmon said – and finding his receiver all by himself around the Lions’ 5-yard line.
“I was backpedaling for like 10 yards,’’ Patmon said, smiling. “Then I fell and I was like, ‘All right, I don’t see blue (the end zone). I know I’m close.’
“I just rolled over. I’m glad I got it.’’
Before the 50-yard TD, Patmon had consecutive 23- and 20-yard receptions on the game’s opening drive from Nick Foles.
The urgency for Strachan was due to missing the first 10 practices of training camp after undergoing surgery in the spring to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. He was thrown into the deep of the pool during the Colts’ joint practices with the Lions Wednesday and Thursday, and took another authoritative step Saturday.
On his touchdown, Strachan ran a corner route to the left and gathered in a perfectly-thrown pass from Ehlinger.
“It’s seemed like he’s gone from zero to 60 in a second,’’ Reich said. “There was a couple of weeks back I was thinking, ‘I’m not even sure he’s going to be ready to practice until the season opener.’
“Then, all of a sudden he made a speedy recovery and next thing you know, he’s out there catching a big-time touchdown in this game today. Credit to Mike and credit to our training staff.’’
There was one downside to Strachan’s big day. He celebrated by tossing the TD football in the air and never found the football.
“Couldn’t find it,’’ he said.
More from Sam
It seems as if we need to mention Foles is Matt Ryan’s backup. He started against the Lions and completed 5-of-6 passes for 56 yards on the Colts’ opening drive that ended with Jake Verity’s 26-yard field goal.
But Ehlinger continues to be a fan favorite, and with good reason.
Against Detroit, he completed 9-of-11 passes for 136 yards, touchdowns to Strachan and Patmon, and a 157.8 rating. The best rating possible: 158.3.
“Sam’s been great,’’ Reich said. “He came up big today on a couple of big plays, had one or two early mistakes but that’s what he does.’’
Ehlinger has done that two games in a row. Against the Lions and Bills, he’s 19-of-22 for 224 with four TDs and a 148.7 rating.
How does he view the QB pecking order?
“Well, I think the roster spot and things of that nature, how the numbers work out, is completely out of my control,’’ Ehlinger said. “So, really my focus has been on what I can control, and what I can control is my mechanics and increasing my knowledge of the game, soaking up information from Matt Ryan, probably going to be a Hall of Famer.
“I have a great opportunity to learn from two guys that have done it, and not becoming frustrated with the situation and knowing in the long run if I want to play in this league for 15 years, I should spend really the first three learning.’’
Lewis back on the field
It wasn’t a defensive masterpiece by any means. Detroit finished with 332 total yards, including 174 on the ground, and converted 11-of-18 third- and fourth-down situations. The Lions’ game-winning drive consisted of 18 plays, covered 85 yards and drained 9 minutes, 32 seconds off the clock.
But on an individual level, Tyquan Lewis was on the field for the first time since tearing his right patellar tendon Oct. 31 against Tennessee.
“Felt great to be back out there,’’ he said.
Lewis is one of the more versatile linemen for coordinator Gus Bradley. He can play both end spots, the 3-technique and even played one snap at nose tackle.
Lewis was credited with one tackle for loss.
This and that
Reich rested most of his starters, but there were a few exceptions.
Parris Campbell and Alec Pierce were given some early work. On the offensive line, Matt Pryor started at left tackle while right guard Danny Pinter started at center.
The defense came up with its sixth takeaway in two games – cornerback Tony Brown’s interception off a deflected pass. Dayo Odeyingbo had 2 sacks and Ifeadi Odenigbo 1.
Cornerback Brandon King suffered a hamstring injury while defensive end Kameron Cline exited the game with a concussion.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.