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Analysis: Projecting Colts' 53-man roster

There's always a surprise or two or three -- Tyler Varga? -- when trying to predict who the Colts will keep on their 53-man roster.

The dreaded phone calls start being dialed Friday. Time for a lot of Indianapolis Colts to turn in their playbooks.

While the NFL-mandated deadline to reduce the roster to 53 players is at 4 p.m. EDT Saturday, most of the process of parting with 22 players will be completed a day earlier. There’s always the possibility of more roster shuffling after scanning the waiver wire, and teams can start signing 10 players to the practice squad by 1 p.m. EDT Sunday.

Here’s the best educated guess on the Colts’ 53-man roster:

* Quarterback (2) — Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck. The only question is will third-string Bryan Bennett be brought back to the practice squad. He struggled with turnovers in preseason, and general manager Ryan Grigson has taken a look at other passers to run the scout team in the past.

Running back (4) — Frank Gore, Dan Herron, Josh Robinson, Tyler Varga. After hearing owner Jim Irsay gush about Varga during Thursday’s TV broadcast of the preseason finale, the fourth back was added. The initial thought was Varga, an undrafted rookie from Yale, would be signed to the practice squad. But Herron’s shoulder injury and the rookie Robinson coming off a concussion suggests the Colts will want to keep four backs. Vick Ballard couldn’t stay healthy and Zurlon Tipton is still eligible for the practice squad. He spent much of his rookie season there before being promoted to the active roster late.

Wide receivers (5) — T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, Donte Moncrief, Duron Carter. The only question seemed to be if Carter would start playing like he has in practice and at training camp. The rookie delivered Thursday to cement his spot.

Tight ends (3) — Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Jack Doyle. No real surprises here. It’s possible the Colts could go with four tight ends, but that doesn’t seem likely, given other needs at positions impacted by injuries.

Offensive line (10) — Anthony Castonzo, Lance Louis, Khaled Holmes, Todd Herremans, Jack Mewhort, Joe Reitz, Jonotthan Harrison, David Arkin, Hugh Thornton, Denzelle Good. Thornton is injured, but there doesn’t seem to be too much guesswork here.

Defensive line (7) — Kendall Langford, David Parry, Henry Anderson, Zach Kerr, Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes, Kelcy Quarles. The expectation is for defensive tackle Arthur Jones to be placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. Head coach Chuck Pagano confirmed Thursday that Jones needs ankle surgery, but the team has yet to announce a timetable for the defender’s return. That means the Colts will want to rotate guys in that defensive tackle spot and try to keep them fresh. So Quarles makes the squad.

Linebackers (9) — Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, Erik Walden, D'Qwell Jackson, Jerrell Freeman, Nate Irving, Amarlo Herrera, Jonathan Newsome, Bjoern Werner. As much as Werner doesn’t seem worthy, the hunch is the Colts aren’t ready to give up on the 2013 first-round pick. It’s possible they keep Cam Johnson, too, because it sounds like the Colts don’t expect Mathis to be ready to return from his Achilles tendon injury until Week 2 on Sept. 21 against the New York Jets at home.

Cornerbacks (6) — Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, Darius Butler, D’Joun Smith, Jalil Brown, Sheldon Price. That Toler is dealing with a neck injury and his status uncertain for the opener opens a spot for Price, although he suffered a concussion in the preseason finale. If it’s not him, it’s possible the Colts add a player on the waiver wire.

Safeties (4) — Mike Adams, Dwight Lowery, Clayton Geathers, Colt Anderson. If another is kept instead of a sixth cornerback, take your pick between Dewey McDonald or Winston Guy. 

Specialists (3) — Kicker Adam Vinatieri, punter Pat McAfee, long snapper Matt Overton. The “Fourth Down Army” is one of the NFL’s best special-teams trios.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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