Making the Call on the Indianapolis Colts' Hardest Remaining Cuts
The preseason is home to many things.
Many focus on the teams, how the top teams look, what the scores (at least for the first-team units) are and the "eye test." Others watch for live action as players to try to get a last-minute edge in fantasy football.
But the real purpose of the preseason, at its core, is to give more live-action scenarios for the lower half of the roster. The Indianapolis Colts, like every other team, have to cut the roster from 90 players to 53 by the time the season starts, and it's game situations that are the final comparison.
So with two games down, how do some of the players near the cut line look? Who will still be in Indianapolis once the cuts roll in, and who will be looking for work elsewhere?
S Dewey McDonald
Prior to the preseason, safety Dewey McDonald would have been given an extremely low chance to make the final roster. With more experienced players ahead of him (Mike Adams, Colt Anderson) and his name not earning attention in camp, McDonald seemed like another body to fill space.
But two consecutive strong performances by McDonald in the preseason has thrust his name into the conversation, especially if Delano Howell's reported neck injury is more serious.
If Howell is forced to miss the season, McDonald has a chance to beat out Anderson and David Sims to join Mike Adams, Sergio Brown and LaRon Landry in the top four. McDonald has been very dependable thus far, making every tackle and having the eighth-best grade from Pro Football Focus of any safety in the league with a positive-2.8.
McDonald has been playing very well and could continue to force his way onto the roster, but an attempt to get him onto the practice squad would make more sense here.
CB Loucheiz Purifoy and CB Marcus Burley
The battle for the fifth cornerback position is fascinating. Sheldon Price, who was in that spot at the end of last season, has seemingly been pushed aside by Marcus Burley and Loucheiz Purifoy.
After having a few minor issues against the New York Jets, Purifoy bounced back with a strong game against the New York Giants. Purifoy was active in run defense and generally did a strong job of keeping his man contained. Sure, he did get helped a bit by the lack of quality quarterback play, but there is nothing I can do about that.
Burley has quietly had one of the defense's best training camps and preseasons. Over the last two games, Burley has a positive-3.1 grade from Pro Football Focus, the highest of any defensive back.
Verdict: Cut Burley, Keep Purifoy
Burley has played slightly better over the last two weeks, but Purifoy has more upside and recognition. If he is cut, he'll likely get claimed. Burley, on the other hand, may be able to be sneaked onto the practice squad. Purifoy also can contribute as a returner.
LB Andy Studebaker
Linebacker is going to be an interesting dilemma for Indianapolis come cut-down day.
The team needs to keep at least nine linebackers all around between the inside and outside group.
There are several players that are locked in to make the roster: Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, Jonathan Newsome, D'Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman. The Colts could keep 10 linebackers, but nine seems more likely. So, the team could only keep four of the following players: Henoc Muamba, Kelvin Sheppard, Josh McNary, Andrew Jackson, Andy Studebaker and Cam Johnson.
Studebaker's versatility is huge here. He's listed as an outside linebacker, but like McNary, the Colts use his pass-rushing ability on the inside as well. Studebaker may not be the pass-rushing threat that Johnson is, but his ability to sit back and play the middle is key for this coaching staff. Studebaker currently leads the team in stops this preseason.
Verdict: Cut Studebaker
It pains me to say this, but I just can't find room for another linebacker on this roster. Unless McNary's injury is more serious than the Colts have been letting on, the need for an edge pass-rusher is greatest. Johnson has been strong against the run and in pass rush, and he's gotten to the quarterback a few times.
WR Da'Rick Rogers and WR Griff Whalen
Two of the most polarizing figures on the Colts, wide receivers Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers couldn't be more different.
One is a 5'11", sub-200-pound slot receiver from Stanford University, while the other is 6'3", 214 pounds and came to the NFL through Tennessee and Tennessee Tech. Whalen is a sure-handed but physically limited possession receiver who has strong chemistry with Andrew Luck. Rogers is a constant threat to make a big play but is still raw as a route-runner and has had maturity questions in the past.
They've both had their moments in this preseason.
Rogers has caught critical passes in both games, a 45-yard bomb against the Jets to set up the team's only touchdown and a 14-yard touchdown against the Giants. Rogers also forced a pass interference penalty against the Giants, something that he did several times during the regular season last year as well. Whalen was quiet during the first week of the preseason but caught five passes for 32 yards, including a five-yard touchdown pass, against the Giants.
Verdict: Keep both
Keeping six receivers is not guaranteed, but with the depth the Colts have at the position, it would be a shame not to utilize it properly. Both Rogers and Whalen play such different roles that both are needed. Whalen can't do what Rogers can, and vice versa. Either one would probably get claimed off waivers, although Whalen would probably have a higher chance of sneaking through.
Whalen simply isn't going to get much better than he is right now. His greatest asset is his chemistry with Andrew Luck, and that won't be there for another quarterback. Rogers, on the other hand, has almost limitless potential and the coupling of size and speed that teams covet at the position. Players that can do this are worth investing in.
TE Weslye Saunders
How many tight ends do the Colts need?
That's the question that has lingered over the preseason as Pep Hamilton's tight end-heavy offense has operated. Can they get away with just three tight ends, or do they need a fourth?
Currently, Weslye Saunders and Jack Doyle are the third and fourth tight ends. Doyle is a more complete player, but Saunders has more big-play ability in the passing game. Doyle has been the more highly regarded player by Pro Football Focus, leading all Colts tight ends with a positive-0.3 grade. Saunders, on the other hand, has the group's worst grade at negative-3.3.
Saunders also has a history of substance abuse violations and suspensions.
Verdict: Keep Saunders
If the Colts keep just three tight ends, Saunders is likely out, simply due to Doyle's more impressive play and lack of off-field issues. But the Colts may go with four tight ends, possibly at the expense of a fourth halfback or a fullback as Stanley Havili recovers.
All statistics and snap counts come from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. All training camp observations were obtained firsthand by the reporter unless otherwise noted.