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Preseason Week 3 Preview: Colts at Packers

The Indianapolis Colts are about to head into the most important preseason game of the year for coaches, players, and overall team development.  While every team approaches preseason games differently, the Colts emphasize giving young players the opportunity to shine and earn a roster spot.  The only exception to this rule is the first half of the third preseason game each year, which promises to feature more of the first team offense and defense than the other three preseason contests combined.

Fans who find the exhibition games painfully boring or unrewarding should reconsider their perspectives for the first half of tonight’s game against the Green Bay Packers.  Peyton Manning will focus on locking in his timing with his receiving weapons, and players at the skill positions will run as hard, as fast, and work as hard as they would in a regular season game for the first time since February.  Temper expectations though, as the Colts are unlikely to tip much of their hand in an exhibition matchup, and will likely continue to run vanilla routes and plays.

Although the photo above could be used in a much better and more topical post (and probably will be in the future), it should get Colts fans excited about seeing what Manning can do in 2010.  As mentioned prior, some of that work will begin against Green Bay.

There are a few players squarely on the bubble of making the regular season roster who should draw attention from Colts fans this evening.  John Chick and Ervin Baldwin are leading the competition at defensive end for spots behind Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Jerry Hughes.  The question is, will the Colts retain five true defensive ends?

The team may choose to retain only four true defensive ends, and rely on hybrid players who are capable of playing defensive tackle and defensive end for the remaining defensive line depth.  Indianapolis has reasons to be high on both Chick and Baldwin, but the two may go a long way in staking their claim for the final roster in the contest against Packers.

Mitch King and Ricardo Mathews are in a similar situation.  Both players are capable of playing multiple roles on the field.  Mathews was drafted specifically to be a potential replacement for Raheem Brock.  King was signed because he showed potential as an interior pass rusher, which the Colts would like to use definite passing downs.  He is also fast enough and light enough to move to defensive end on running downs if the team should require it.

The early edge goes to King, as he is playing with the second string defensive line, and takes snaps with the offense as a fullback and eligible receiver in short-yardage and goal-line sets.  The problem for King on offense is that Eric Foster and Cody Glenn both have experience as fullbacks with the Colts, and the team could consider his size, speed, skill-set and attributes so similar to Foster that they need keep only one of the two.  Right now, King does not look poised to unseat Foster.

There is a chance that the Colts could keep only the player who looks best as a short-yardage defensive end.  King and Mathews should get a lot of time over the next two games to stake their claims.

Adam Terry may be in a stiff competition with undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Linkenbach for a spot on the regular season offensive line.  What Terry has in experience, and should have in physical ability, is limited by recurring knee issues.  Linkenbach lacks experience but showed that he can play guard and tackle in the Colts offense.  His performance in Toronto was worthy of real consideration for the regular season roster.

Ray Fisher will need to make the most of his opportunities, both on defense and in the return game.  The emergence of Devin Moore in Toronto, along with the team leaning heavily on Brandon James as a returner during much of training camp, severely hurt Fisher’s stock for a roster spot this year.  Even if he looks good in the return game, failing to perform well in the secondary could leave him on the outside looking in because Terrail Lambert and Deshea Townsend are the clear front runners for the fourth and fifth cornerback roster spots.

If it comes down to a poor defensive option versus two potential offensive weapons on the ground and as receivers (B. James and D. Moore), with minimal difference in return ability, Fisher will have to hope for a spot on the practice squad.  These final games are crucial for his cut day survival.

Finally, Blair White, Taj Smith, and Samuel Giguère have two final contests to settle a competition for what will likely be one roster spot.  White has looked impressive in training camp and made an outstanding catch against the 49ers in week one that screams “special player.”  Smith struggled in the 49ers showdown only to burn Buffalo’s Ellis Lankster last Thursday on two deep receptions in a row, including one for a 43 yard touchdown.  Giguère has been the biggest disappointment of the three, failing to stand out as a receiver, or live up to his promise in the return game.  Strangely though, Giguère has received more hype from the team than either of his competitors.

Fans who are interested in getting a good look at who will win the camp and preseason battles for the final roster spots on the 2010 Indianapolis Colts should focus intently on the final two preseason games.  The rookies have had their chance to get a taste of NFL competition and speed.  The team has spent months priming them for this opportunity.  There will be no excuses remaining for roster hopefuls if they fail to perform now.  Watch tonight as the first team leads the way and shows the youngsters how it is done.