INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. –It’s one of the most dreaded days on the NFL calendar.
In one massive, dream-destroying – or at least dream-delaying – afternoon, the league’s 32 teams will inform 1,184 players to turn on their playbooks. Many will be claimed off waivers – we’re expecting Chris Ballard to be extremely active – or land on a practice squad.
Saturday figures to involve hours of internal discussion at the Indianapolis Colts’ Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
We’ve always believed a general manager and head coach could settle on the vast majority of their 53-player regular-season roster two weeks into the preseason. They’ve had the entire offseason and a couple of games to evaluate and analyze, to wear out the fast forward/rewind button on the remote.
That being said, there’s always tough decisions on those last few roster spots.
“Certainly last impressions always help,’’ coach Frank Reich said, adding Thursday night’s preseason finale at Cincinnati “will be important.’’
So many questions remain in settling on the Colts’ 53:
- Who’s the starting right tackle? J’Marcus Webb? Joe Haeg? Braden Smith? Denzelle Good, who’s dealing with a knee injury?
- Who are the 4th and 5th receivers? Kasen Williams? Reece Fountain? Zach Pascal? Seantavius Jones? K.J. Brent, another player with a knee issue?
- The Colts have six tight ends on their preseason roster, but are likely to carry four. Does that last spot go to Darnell Daniels, who’s probably the best blocker of the group? Or to Erik Swoope, who possesses down-the-field receiving skills?
Reich and Ballard also aren’t satisfied with what they’ve got at cornerback, which led to Sunday’s trade with Green Bay that added Lenzy Pipkins.
Injuries will impact the final 53. It’s entirely possible the Colts will keep a few players dealing with short-term issues that might keep them out of the opener. Running back Marlon Mack (hamstring), safety T.J. Green (hamstring), linebacker Anthony Walker (groin) and Good come to mind.
That’s potentially four spots reserved for players unable to help against the Bengals.
There will be no lull after Ballard and Reich jettison 37 players. The next step: perusing the waiver wire.
There will be a few “bubble’’ players whose elation – “Hey, mom, I had the team!’’ – is muted when Ballard claims and is awarded four, five, six guys off waivers.
Remember, the Colts sit third in the waiver pecking order.
“I think that’s Chris’ M.O.,’’ Reich said. “I don’t want to speak for him, but what I love and appreciate is I think generally speaking, he’s aggressive. He had an aggressive mindset to make this team better.
“We’re not going to be active just to say we were active. It’s going to be all things that are very calculated to make the team better.’’
No one should be surprised if Ballard and his personnel staff look on the waiver wide for a running back, receiver, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, linebacker(s) and cornerback.
In his first year as general manager, Ballard claimed five players: running back Matt Jones (Washington), cornerbacks Pierre Desir (Seattle) and Kenny Moore II (New England), guard Ian Silberman (Oakland) and wideout Matt Hazel (Washington).
As it stands, Desir and Moore at the starting cornerbacks.
Also, let’s not forget Ballard’s bold move Sept. 2 when he traded 2015 first-round draft pick Phillip Dorset to New England for quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
That’s a long-winded way of saying don’t become enamored with the makeup of the Colts’ 53-player roster Saturday evening. It’ll change.
Here’s our projection of how the roster might look when the initial cuts are made.
PROJECTED ROSTER CUT TO 53
(* – denotes rookie)
Quarterback (2): Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett.
Comment: Luck’s right shoulder is sound and Brissett continues to prove he can take a beating. There’s absolutely no reason to keep a third.
Running back (4): Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines*, Jordan Wilkins*, Christine Michael. (Robert Turbin suspended for first four games of season).
Comment: This is an area that cries out for help, especially if Mack misses the opener. The loss of Turbin for four games is massive.
Wide receiver (5): T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant, Kasen Williams, Zach Pascal.
Comment: We tried to make a case for keeping fifth-round pick Reece Fountain. We failed. This is another group that would benefit from a waiver-wire addition.
Tight end (4): Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Ross Travis, Erik Swoope.
Comment: We feel confident on the first three. The fourth spot probably hinges on whether the coaching staff wants another receiving option (Swoope) or a blocker (Darnell Daniels).
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: Good’s status might alter the list. We’re not sold on Clark, but the tackle position remains a mess. That might cost Deyshawn Bond a spot on the 53. Austin Howard basically cut himself, and represents a swing-and-miss by Ballard in free agency (a one-year, $3.75 million deal with a $1.3 million signing bonus.
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: We’re probably keeping one more at the position than the Colts will, simply because we’d rather have the 10th lineman than another lackluster linebacker. The biggest question is whether Ballard parts ways with Basham, his 2017 third-round pick who has had a very quiet preseason, other than the blocked punt. Delaire is making it tough for the coaching staff to cut him.
Linebacker (6): Darius Leonard*, Najee Goode, Skai Moore*, Anthony Walker, Tyrell Adams, Zaire Franklin*.
Comment: Unless we’ve missed something, this remains, defensively speaking, an area of great need. This group shares six career starts. Leonard has given every indication he’s a keeper. No one should be surprised if the waiver wire addresses this position.
Cornerback (6): Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, Chris Milton, Lenzy Pipkins.
Comment: Another area where injuries might be a factor. Wilson (hand) and Hairston (hamstring) aren’t 100 percent. It’s hard to imagine Ballard trading for Pipkins one day, and cutting him less than a week later.
Safety (4): Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, T.J. Green, Matthias Farley.
Comment: A strength of the roster, even with Green week-to-week with a hamstring issue. Hooker and Geathers have the potential to be a long-term force.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri.
Punter: Rigoberto Sanchez.
Longsnapper: Luke Rhodes.
Comment: None needed.