INDIANAPOLIS – Another preseason is behind the Indianapolis Colts. Now comes one of the more difficult phases of structuring a playoff contender.
Rosters must be trimmed to 53 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. That means roughly 860 personnel moves will flood the NFL landscape with talent that was deemed good enough to develop during the offseason and preseason, but either wasn’t good enough to take into the regular season or suffered some level of injury.
“Got some tough decisions ahead of us,’’ Frank Reich said after the 27-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium.
At the risk of looking foolish Tuesday evening, here’s our projection for Colts’ preseason roster.
We expect punter Rigoberto Sanchez (torn Achilles) and safety Armani Watts (ankle) to be placed on the season-ending injured reserve list.
We expect Shaquille Leonard to be removed from PUP and added to the 53. Leaving the All-Pro linebacker on PUP is a possibility, but would mean him missing at least the first four games of the season, probably more. The better option, if the medical staff clears him, is activating Leonard so he can at least practice. He might still would miss the first game or two, but his return wouldn’t be as protracted.
We also anticipate Chris Ballard being active on the waiver wire. Maybe an offensive lineman, a tight end, a linebacker or a safety.
We took a quick tally, and we’ve got nine rookies making the initial cut to 53.
OFFENSE (24) *x-denotes rookie
Quarterback (3): Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Sam Ehlinger.
Comment: We struggled with this one because Ehlinger only steps on the field this season in a worst-case scenario. But Ballard and Reich really like his upside as a future backup, and probably won’t roll the dice by waiving him with the intent of bringing him back to the practice squad. Normally, we’d waive Elhinger and keep our fingers crossed. A reminder of his preseason productivity: 24-of-29, 10 yards per attempt, four TDs, a 147.8 rating. Oh yeah. Ehlinger was the Colts’ leading rusher with 71 yards on six attempts, including the 45-yard scramble/TD against the Bucs.
Running back (4): Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Phillip Lindsay, Deon Jackson.
Comment: We’d be comfortable with Lindsay taking over for JT in the short term. We lean toward Jackson at No. 4 for his special teams possibilities.
Wide receiver (6): Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Alec Pierce-x, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, Keke Coutee.
Comment: We kept Coutee over Dezmon Patmon, even though Patmon led the team with nine catches, 171 yards and one TD. Coutee showed he could be a viable backup punt returner if the coaching staff piles offensive touches on Nyheim Hines as expected and lessens his special-teams role. If there’s a critical game or moment in a game, toss Hines back there. Also, Coutee would be a decent backup for Campbell working out of the slot.
Tight end (3): Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Jelani Woods-x.
Comment: We prefer keeping four at the position, but Drew Ogletree’s season-ending knee injury altered the equation. Considering how Reich values the position, this could be an ideal spot for a waiver claim.
Offensive line (8): G Quenton Nelson, T Braden Smith, C Ryan Kelly, T Matt Pryor, G Danny Pinter, T Bernhard Raimann-x, G Will Fries, T Dennis Kelly.
Comment: Eight is not enough, and it might actually be seven. Kelly had a knee procedure during training camp and did not practice. Will he be ready for Sept. 11 at Houston? This is another ideal spot to add a discarded player or two.
Line (10): T DeForest Buckner, E Yannick Ngakoue, T Grover Stewart, E Kwity Paye, E/T Tyquan Lewis, E Dayo Odeyingbo, E Ifeadi Odenigbo, E Ben Banogu, T Curtis Brooks-x, R.J. McIntosh.
Comment: The front-line group potentially is among the best the Colts have fielded since the Freeney-Mathis days. And we like the initial depth with Lewis, Odeyingbo and Odenigbo (Just a warning: We promise we’ll mess up those names a time or three). The interior depth makes us nervous. Also, we’ll find out how the coaching staff views Banogu, the 2019 2nd-round pick who had a hard time getting on the field with ex-coordinator Matt Eberflus. Banogu’s three-year bottom line: 34 games 17 tackles, 2.5 sacks, six quarterback hits.
Linebacker (6): Shaquille Leonard, Bobby Okereke, Zaire Franklin, E.J. Speed, JoJo Domann-x, Sterling Weatherford-x.
Comment: The final two spots probably will be determined by which backup LBs are more productive on special teams. Coordinator Bubba Ventrone must retool a portion of his coverage units following the departures of George Odum, Matt Franklin and Jordan Glasgow. We gave you our explanation on why Leonard probably will be on the 53. Weatherford, a Hamilton Heights H.S. product, led the defense in total tackles (22) and solos (15). He also was third with three special teams tackles. That trailed rookie safety Trevor Denbow (six) and rookie linebacker James Skalski (five).
Cornerback (5): Stephon Gilmore, Kenny Moore II, Brandon Faycson, Isaiah Rodgers, Tony Brown.
Comment: We might prefer keeping a sixth corner and four safeties, but we’re not enamored with whom that sixth corner would be. So . . .
Safety (5): Julian Blackmon, Rodney McLeod, Nick Cross-x, Rodney Thomas II-x, Trevor Denbow-x.
Comment: We’re comfortable with Blackmon, McLeod and Cross, who probably starts ahead of McLeod. But Thomas and Denbow might be viewed more as special teams candidates. Maybe some team offers a better option on cut-down day.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker (1): Rodrigo Blankenship.
Comment: He easily won his training camp competition with Jake Verity and was perfect in preseason games. Blankenship converted 39, 46- and 24-yard field goals, and all four of his PATs. Now, he has to show that consistency when it matters.
Punter (1): Matt Haack.
Comment: The last-minute replacement for Sanchez. At least Haack made a good first impression. He punted five times against Tampa Bay and averaged 50.6 gross and 48.0 net.
Longsnapper (1): Luke Rhodes.
Comment: None needed for the 2021 first-team All-Pro, although at least one of his snaps against the Bucs was a tad high.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.