There’s a welcomed sense of finality after the Indianapolis Colts have played their last preseason game.
After watching the Colts lose 9-6 to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, I came home and watched this field-goal fest again to offer some perspective on this exhibition season coming to a close.
The Colts will trim the roster from 75 players to 53 by 4 p.m. EDT Saturday. Then don’t be surprised if there’s some additional roster turnover after every NFL team does the same and the waiver wire is overloaded.
I’ll take a crack at the projected 53 later Friday.
Here’s what jumped out from watching the game again, as well as what was gleaned from a few postgame interviews:
So many are pulling for running back Vick Ballard, but the reality is he tweaked a hamstring again. The Colts tried to use him as a workhorse — he had nine rushes for 29 yards (3.2 yards per carry) and caught three passes for 12 yards. Then he pulled up gimpy again in the second quarter.
An early 12-yard rush had Colts fans fired up. The Colts had three offensive line starters in front of him in right tackle Jack Mewhort, center Khaled Holmes and left guard Lance Louis. But if you take away that 12-yard gain, he managed just 17 yards on his other eight carries. He was unable to convert a third-and-1 rush on the opening series. All this against mostly Bengals’ backups, too.
The fact that running back Dan Herron also injured his left shoulder complicates the running back picture. Frank Gore and rookie Josh Robinson are going to make this squad. Herron should, too, providing his injury isn’t serious. Ballard was coming off season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons, then couldn’t stay healthy in preseason. It sure seems like he’s played his last game in Indianapolis.
His postgame interview was brief, the low tone of his voice seemingly telling. It sure sounded like he knows what happens next. At one point when asked about his comeback and another setback, he paused and just said, “Next question.”
Asked about how proud he was of coming back from two serious injuries (knee, Achilles), Ballard said simply, “It’s OK, but I want to keep going.”
Hopefully he gets that chance somewhere.
Reserve running back Tyler Varga, the undrafted rookie from Yale, led the team with 37 yards rushing on nine carries (4.1 yards per carry) with a long of 19 yards. He also caught two passes for 17 yards.
While he might be a sleeper pick to make the final roster — the Colts have a league-record streak of 16 consecutive seasons with an undrafted player making the final 53 — I won’t be surprised if he’s signed to the practice squad.
Also on offense, rookie wide receiver Duron Carter made some plays, most of them later on, to finish with a team-high five catches for 85 yards. This was more like the player the Colts saw in training camp. His night included a 42-yard reception. Expect him to be retained as the fifth wide receiver.
It was disappointing to see wide receiver Griff Whalen without a single pass target. The fourth-year pro probably won’t make this squad, which will disappoint some fans who love how the overachieving underdog has persevered in recent years.
On the defensive side, credit rookie cornerback D'Joun Smith for a TD-saving tackle in the second quarter after cornerback Sheldon Price got burned on an inside slant and failed to make the quick tackle. Smith, a third-round pick, got his first start and was credited with five tackles.
Rookie safety Clayton Geathers also stood out, especially for his fumble-causing stick on tight end Tyler Kroft in the second quarter. Geathers is a fourth-round pick who had a hitter's reputation in college and showed it on this play. He also recovered another fumble and finished with five tackles.
The Colts started rookies David Parry and Henry Anderson on the defensive line. Parry is the fifth-round pick out of Stanford who is pushing for playing time at nose tackle. Anderson is the third-round pick, also out of Stanford, who can play end or tackle.
While the stats don’t suggest much production — Parry was credited with one assist — both were noticed at times. Anderson helped set up a Junior Sylvestre sack by closing an open lane to cut off Bengals passer A.J. McCarron. Both players got decent push at times up the middle. Parry showed his agility, flowing right on one play to take on a double team as well as shedding a blocker to get in on a tackle on the opening series.
What’s interesting is the Colts finished the game with last season’s starting nose tackle, Josh Chapman, as well as defensive tackle Montori Hughes on the field. Head coach Chuck Pagano was asked if Parry should be considered the starter, but Pagano downplayed the playing time as basically wanting to see more of Parry early.
Chapman, who had only one tackle in three preseason games, was credited with five stops this time.
Another draft pick, sixth-rounder Amarlo Herrera, showed up early as the inside linebacker blitzed inside to collapse a run that defensive tackle Earl Okine finished up for an 8-yard loss. Herrera, who is listed on the unofficial depth chart as D'Qwell Jackson's backup, finished with four tackles.
Sylvestre, an undrafted rookie out of Toledo, was clearly the most visible Colts defender with six solo tackles, a forced fumble and the sack. But he exited early in the final quarter with an ankle injury.
Pagano was asked about how difficult a decision it will be on keeping or cutting either Herrera or Sylvestre. His response seemed to suggest at least one of those players won’t stick.
“It’s going to be tough,” the coach said. “They’ve both showed signs at different points throughout training camp and in preseason games. They both have had some moments there where they’ve shined, so it’s going to be a tough, tough deal.”
Sylvestre led the Colts in preseason with three sacks and tied for No. 1 in tackles with safety Colt Anderson at 20. Anderson had six stops and likely cemented a spot as a backup. He led the Colts in special-teams tackles last season, so he has increased value.
One other defensive bright spot was inside linebacker Nate Irving getting his first game action in August. He’s coming off a season-ending knee injury from last season in Denver. The Colts wanted to get him a few snaps and he was credited with one assist in two series of work.
On the flip side, 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner got the start at outside linebacker and showed he’s still got a long way to go. He looked lost at times. The stat book credited him with one quarterback hurry.
If it were any other player, I’m thinking the Colts would cut him. But the hunch is general manager Ryan Grigson isn’t ready to admit he missed on the first-round pick.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.