The Colts will face the Bengals in their final 2013 preseason game tonight at 7pm ET.
While the third game is the most "usable" from an analysis standpoint, the fourth game offers one last look at players fighting for a roster spot (or a practice squad spot).
No, it's not a game to evaluate starters. We honestly don't even know which starters will be playing, and those who do likely won't play more than a series or two.
But for fringe players, this is their last chance to make a lasting impression. While some cases have already been made (see Rayford, Caesar), other players in that 48-60 range have yet to separate themselves from the pack, in either a good or bad way.
So who are we (and the coaches) watching this week? Coincidentally, the three biggest battles all come on defense.
Cornerback: Marshay Green and Josh Gordy
The battle for the fifth and final cornerback spot is still alive and well.
Gordy has the clear advantage with a year in Pagano's system and the flexibility to play safety if necessary. But Green has looked to have a bit more upside (improving each week in the preseason), and Gordy's ceiling looked to be reached last season.
Right now, the battle likely goes to Gordy. Green needs a big game tonight in order to have any shot at the final roster. If he has an average game, it's back to the waiver wire for Green.
Safety: Delano Howell and Sergio Brown
Another toss-up in the secondary, and another case of newcomer vs. 2012 special teamer.
Howell has impressed this preseason, especially when given extra playing time as Brown sat with a hamstring injury. The undrafted free agent has earned PFF's highest grade for Colts' defenders this preseason, showing up strong in both run defense and coverage.
Unfortunately for Howell, his playing time has dwindled as the other safeties (namely Brown and Lefeged) have healed.
Brown's biggest advantage over Howell is his special teams prowess: Brown was one of the team's top special teamers in 2012. Of course, Howell hasn't looked bad on special teams this preseason either, leading the team with three special teams tackles.
Like the cornerback battle, the incumbent has the advantage, but an impressive performance in this final game could flip the two.
Defensive Line: Ricardo Mathews and Drake Nevis
How many 3-4 defensive ends can the Colts afford to keep? That's the question as the team ends the regular season with one of the deepest groups of interior linemen they've had in years. Somebody talented is going to be cut either way.
The starters are set: Ricky Jean Francois and Cory Redding. After that it's a bit more difficult, as Fili Moala, Drake Nevis, Ricardo Mathews, Montori Hughes and Lawrence Guy are all contending for what is likely three spots (at most).
While Hughes has arguably been the worst performer so far, the Colts also have the most to lose with him. As the only Grigson draft pick of the group, and one that the second-year GM traded next year's fourth-round pick for, Hughes isn't going to be let go so easily. Although he has been injured for much of the preseason, Fili Moala played well last season prior to injury, and the coaches like him.
So with one spot open, Nevis, Guy and Mathews are left. I have Mathews and Nevis a notch above Guy, and I think it comes down to them. Nevis is probably a better fit in a 4-3, but has played well in the preseason, with his always-strong run defense and a few penetrating sacks.
But Mathews has played extremely well in his own right, and has more ideal length for the scheme. I wouldn't be surprised to see either make it (or get cut), and am a fan of both players. If one player stands out against Cincy, it could make the coaches' decision for them.
Got home late. Has Ben Ijalana played at all? Mike Chappell of the Indystar predicted he wouldn't make the roster. :( While Chappie is of course simply a news pundit, he's also no dummy, and while he's hardly the last word, his learned opinion is enough to make me concerned.
Well now, I just wait and they mention him. And just as they do, he has a pretty monster block, driving his guy backwards *hard*.
Yeah, announcers, you do wanna root for him. He's not expensive to keep, and I wouldn't characterize the injuries as conforming to a pattern. I'd be upset if he doesn't make it (but at the same time, I can easily see him getting cut, despite not liking the idea).
@ColtsAuth_Kyle surprised no one is talking about getting a look at Khaled Holmes as one of the things to look for. was he ruled out?
@ColtsAuth_Kyle God help me, I am.
I'm not sure how much this game really matters to the coaches. These guys are going to playing against other guys that will be bagging groceries or coaching high school next week. Look at Williams (who is also battling for a job), he's looked pretty average when he played with the first team O, but pretty good against subs. I think the positions are pretty much decided already. Horrible game. At least we'll get to see some of this on Hard Knocks next week!
@smonroe Speaking of that show, what's the scoop on why the Colts have not been asked thus far? I would think with Luck and company, it would be most interesting for anyone to watch.
@buymymonkey @smonroe I'd love it and hate it at the same time. It's my favorite reality show, but I really love how the Colts are so under the radar. I can sum up just about every mention of the Colts this preseason on ESPN and the NFL Network: "Andrew Luck is good. Now, on to a breaking story on who's going to be the Jets second string QB!"
What are the probabilities of and restrictions towards getting Marshay Green, Delano Howell and Montori Hughes on the practice squad?
"Baby HUGIE" aka Montori Hughes is a rookie with lots of potential upside but in bad need of development, seasoning and just another year to simply mature. Given Hughes checkered college career it is likely Grigson saw Hughes as 2014 pick in the first place and has a practice squad spot already reserved for him. I doubt any team steals Hughes from our practice squad when they know he still a ways away from being 53 man roster ready. Keep Nevis! Mathews I believe has already played well for Colts coming off the "Couch Squad" and given that injuries are part of the game, may yet again.
Something tells me that Delano Howell as a Stanford alumni may have a bit of an edge over Sergio Brown. While Howell may not have yet shown the Colts a lot on special teams, certainly he played some special teams at Stanford given its rather limited team roster size due to its high academic standards. Lots of NFL prospects coming out of the big time college programs have never played on STs and have an attitude about doing so. If Howell displays anything tonight on STs, he makes the 53 or he is unlikely to make the PS without getting snatched away. Likewise Sergio Brown as a Notre Dame grad is likely a smart guy but Howell has more upside.
Marshay Green vs Josh Gordy , Green has a better nose for the ball and is a better ST player.
Perhaps Brown and Gordy join Mathews on the "Couch Squad" since I believe they are all PS ineligible.
I love Drake Nevis. When he is in the game; he is a difference maker. Seems like he fell out of the good graces with Colts Coaches somehow. But the only thing that has been able to slow down this fellow is an injury.
Hughes IMO has shown nothing worth a roster spot. Nobody's going to steal him off the PS, just cut him and stash him for a year, or find a convenient "injury" for him. Cutting Nevis to keep Hughes would be trading a bird in the hand for a bush that looks like a bird.