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As Indianapolis prepares for their final preseason game, the start of the regular season is tantalizingly close. First, the Colts play Tampa Bay this Saturday. It will be a very different game to their thriller at the business end of last season. Like all preseason games, what the Colts learn from the match will be more important than the result. And there are still many questions the Colts hope to answer.

 

 
With the starters (but not Jonathan Taylor) playing up to half a game this week, one of the key questions is, of course, whether the starters can emerge unscathed and uninjured from the encounter. Fans will be particularly nervous about the status of key players like DeForest Buckner, Quenton Nelson, and Michael Pittman Jr.

The argument in favour of playing the starters for significant parts of preseason games is to try and break the Colts’ two curses of losing in week 1 (against Houston) and Jacksonville away (week 2). As I mentioned after the Buffalo preseason game, we won’t fully know whether the gamble has paid off until week 3 is fast approaching. In the meantime, the season-ending injury to Rigoberto Sanchez this week will have done nothing to ease Colts fans’ injury worries. If the rest of the team’s starters can remain uninjured until Sunday, it would go a long way to help fans relax and suggest Reich’s gamble will pay off.

Beyond that issue, there are a number of depth roster spots that could be sealed with a strong performance on Saturday. Perhaps the most exciting competition is for the final wide receiver spot, or spots. One possible silver lining to the unfortunate injury to standout rookie tight end Drew Ogletree is that it could allow Indianapolis to keep an extra WR on the roster.

With Pittman, Campbell, Pierce, and Dulin having seemingly secured their roster spots, it had looked like a straight battle between Dezmon Patmon and Michael Strachan for the final spot. Strachan has been exceptional since he started training camp after his injury. His best moment so far came on a three-catch drive that culminated in a touchdown against Detroit.

 

 
Not to be outdone, Dezmon Patmon had an impressive game himself, racking up 103 receiving yards. Almost half of them came on one long touchdown after blown coverage. Patmon also scored a crucial touchdown in a meaningful regular-season game in the win over Arizona. It was a win that seemed at the time to pave the way for Indianapolis to make the playoffs, but we know how that ended.

 
Had the competition come down to Patmon vs. Strachan, I suspect Patmon’s regular season experience would have given him the slight edge. In the wake of Ogletree’s injury, I expect them both to make the roster as Ballard keeps six wide receivers. It helps that both Patmon and Strachan are such big and physical receivers. Both have the kind of body type that would be well-suited to being tight ends and should allow them to do some of the things Ogletree would have been asked to do in the passing game.

Carrying an extra WR would mean the team is unlikely to keep 3 QBs on the roster, although I’m skeptical Ballard would have ever rostered 3 QBs. Despite some of the hype around Sam Ehlinger this week, Matt Ryan and Nick Foles are clearly QB1 and QB2, respectively, for the team. That would leave Ehlinger on the practice squad unless another team claims him.

That’s not to underplay how well Ehlinger has played this preseason and developed in a year. He’s clearly beaten Coan to cement the QB3 spot and enjoyed some impressive moments, including the long touchdown to Patmon I mentioned earlier.

However, some fans need to cool their expectations on him beating out Foles or anointing him Ryan’s eventual successor. But the Texas alumnus still has plenty to play for in the snaps he’s given on Saturday. A strong performance could win him a spot on another team’s roster or help convince Reich and Ballard he can be the team’s QB2 in the years to come.

Arguably the strongest area of the Colts roster is linebacker. It is a shame we haven’t seen Shaquille Leonard in pads yet, and we wait nervously to see how many games (if any) of the regular season he will miss. We know Leonard will be elite when he is healthy, especially if he’s fully fit this season, unlike last year. But beyond Leonard, the LB room has looked encouraging. The Blue Stable had the pleasure of interviewing Bobby Okereke before training camp, and he’s certainly looked good since. He’ll start alongside Leonard, having new roles under Gus Bradley’s new scheme.

In Leonard’s absence, Zaire Franklin has performed well, whilst EJ Speed has shown encouraging signs he can translate his excellent special teams performance into strong all-around play. Even UDFA’s JoJo Domann and Sterling Weatherford look likely to make the final roster. Many (myself included) were excited Indianapolis was able to sign both immediately after the draft, so it’s not a shock they’ve performed well. But it is impressive that both appear set to make the roster. I’d have to share my colleague Destin’s surprise if they don’t both make it.

The two final roster spots potentially up for grabs on Saturday are probably the RB3 and CB5 spots. Phillip Lindsay has likely secured the RB3 spot, but Ty’Son Williams could still have an opportunity to take it from him. The Colts CB room looks impressive overall, with Moore and Gilmore at the top of the depth chart and Rodgers and Facyson battling it out for the orthodox CB2 spot. There are, however, questions over the CB5 spot. A couple of players currently on the roster are in contention. Still, it’s also possible Indianapolis will look to bring in someone else, especially if someone they like gets cut by another team.

Beyond those roster battles, what else will the Colts’ staff be hoping to see on Saturday? Frank Reich has declared Matt Pryor the winner of the LT battle, which is what we expected. However, the game should still be invaluable in helping Pryor continue to adjust to the left tackle spot and for Raimann to continue to learn the position in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if either gets any snaps against Shaq Barrett, who will pose a great challenge to whichever he plays.

Finally, one of the areas that continues to interest me most during the preseason is the Colts’ defensive line depth. I’ve written this year about how good I think the unit can be following the trade for Ngakoue and with Paye entering his second year. The starters of Ngakoue, Stewart, Bucker, and Paye appear set, but there are still depth questions to be answered. These will be important given the team will rotate their pass rushes to keep their starters fresh and effective.

At defensive end, Odeyingbo and Lewis are the two primary rotational options. Both have had strong moments this preseason, and both are capable of playing on the interior of the defensive line in clear passing downs. Despite being hit by injuries this offseason, Tampa Bay has a strong offensive line. Saturday will be an opportunity for Lewis and Odeyingbo to impress Reich and Bradley and for the team to work out how best to use them both. Ben Banogu will also have the chance to make his mark but will likely have to perform in the regular season to change people’s perceptions of him.

There were criticisms of the Colts’ interior defensive line depth players for their performance against Detroit last weekend. The likes of Curtis Brooks and Eric Johnson will want to show they can play better against the Buccaneers. Although both are rookies who were drafted in the later rounds so should be given the time and understanding to develop. Many of the IDL’s issues came against Detroit’s rushing game. It could be that the Colts’ rush defense is worse this year as Bradley’s scheme prioritizes rushing the passer and stopping the passing game. That would mark a significant departure from the approach under Eberflus last year.

Which roster spots do you think are most up for grabs on Saturday? Which players are you most hoping for a good performance from? Let us know @TheBlue_Stable

 





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SebastianBench

I'm a Colts fan from the UK. I started supporting the Colts when me and my brother bought Madden 08 and I choose The Colts because they had the best offense and worst defense in the game. My passion for the Colts and the NFL has really bloomed over the past five years and continues to go from strength to strength. For this I can thank finding the right friends and the magic of NFL Redzone. Twitter: @BenchSebastian

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