The Colts made nine moves this week, signing their entire eight-man practice squad — quarterback Josh Betts, defensive tackle Joe Bradley, guard Mike Elgin, running back Justise Hairston, receivers Onrea Jones and Trent Shelton, tight end Gijon Robinson, and center Pat Ross — as well as defensive end Ben Ishola to the 2008 roster.
Once the season ended for Indianapolis, they had one week to sign each practice squad players — Ishola was an international development practice squad player — to a 2008 contract. They acted fast, signing all nine men by the end of business on Monday. Each brings something different to the table and each took a different path to the Colts.
Josh Betts at Miami of Ohio
Betts has a long and distinguished history with the Indianapolis practice squad, having played out the past two seasons there, acting as an emergency third quarterback should anything happen to Jim Sorgi or Peyton Manning.
He is very familiar with the offense at this point, and the Colts have yet to fail to re-sign him. They only risk losing him if a team adds the former Miami of Ohio standout to its regular roster. He is a good insurance policy that Indianapolis hopes to never have to use.
Ishola originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins after the 2006 NFL Draft. He played collegiately at Indiana, suited up for the Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europa, and was born in Hamburg, Germany. While he lacks prototypical size at the position (6 feet, 3 inches, 241 pounds), he still has decent quickness and, if he bulks up a bit — his frame could certainly take on the extra weight without a noticeable drop-off in speed — he could at least be in the conversation to add depth at defensive end, which is certainly a position that was exposed this season as being shallow.
Robinson went undrafted in 2007, signed with the Colts, was released on Sept. 1 and almost immediately added to the practice squad on Sept. 2. He spent the entire season there, which is impressive, considering the number of transactions Indianapolis was involved in throughout 2007 and the high turnover on the eight man squad. While definitely undersized for the position at 6 feet, 1 inch, 255 pounds, he does possess some speed and the ability to get into the deep seam quickly that the Colts covet.
And he may be better suited as a fullback or H-back, where lack of height and ball skills are not as important as tenacity at the point of attack — which is something he definitely possesses.
The bad news for Robinson is that Indianapolis has quality, talent, and depth at the tight end position and rarely utilizes a fullback, so he will most likely not be in their long-term plans. The fact remains, though, that they quickly re-signed him after his release and were sure to hide him and keep on the practice squad through an injury-laden season, so the Colts personnel department probably sees something in the young man that others do not.
Like Robinson, Shelton was released in the cut down to 53 players, but was quickly added to the practice squad on Sept. 2. He was subsequently released on Sept. 18, then re-signed on Oct. 10. It has been a bumpy ride for the Baylor product, but at least he knows where he is going to be next season.
He fits the profile for a Colts receiver from a size perspective (6 feet, 202 pounds), but failed to record a blazing 40 time (4.58) at his Pro Day. With his highest output in yards (452), receptions (39), and touchdowns (four) not exactly scintillating, either, it's certainly easy to figure out why he didn't blow scouts away. But, the feeling on Shelton is that he is an intriguing young player with upside that plays faster than his stopwatch time.
Given the recent youth movement at the receiver position, he stands as good a chance of anyone not named Anthony Gonzalez, Marvin Harrison, or Reggie Wayne of making the opening day roster for the 2008 season. Perhaps another off-season of OTAs, mini-camps, and a training camp is what he needs to bring his game to the next level.
Bradley was fighting an uphill battle to get drafted, considering that he played against a lower level of competition in college and is vastly undersized to play the position at 6 feet 4 inches, 265 pounds. While he possesses a good initial burst, he does not have the kind of quickness that the Colts would be looking for in a player his size. It's true that they have gone to smaller fronts in known passing situations, but they are probably better off with Raheem Brock or Ed Johnson in the game, possibly even sliding Robert Mathis or Josh Thomas into the the tackle position. At this point, Bradley is simply too small to hold up at the point of attack and not quick or explosive enough to blow by a guard or center, especially at the NFL level.
Guard Mike Elgin was originally drafted by the New England Patriots in the 7th round (247th overall) out of Iowa. He played center in college, but given his height (6 feet, 4 inches), frame, tenacity, and ability to add weight — he graduated Iowa at an undersized 277 pounds — he was moved to guard by the Patriots and that seems to be a good fit for him.
Elgin has quick hands, good feet, and has the kind of nastiness and disposition that teams look for in a guard. While it's strange to talk about being 277 pounds as though it's a disease, his lack of bulk and lower body strength are the primary reasons why he has not been able to stay on an active roster. He needs some time in the weight room and some time at the buffet table, but it is difficult to teach a player to approach the game with kind of zeal and intensity with which Elgin approaches it.
Justise Hairston at Rutgers
AP Photo/Lisa Poole
A Central Connecticut prospect, Hairston was taken with one of the New England Patriots' sixth round choices in the 2007 draft. He was placed on the injury reserve on the first day of Patriots of training camp on July 27 and subsequently waived (after reaching a settlement) on Sept. 15. After passing a physical with the Colts on Oct. 3, he was signed to the practice squad, then released on Oct. 20, then re-signed on Oct. 22, then released again on Oct. 25, finally was re-re-signed on Oct. 27, and completed the season on the practice squad without incident or release.
He spent only his senior year with the Blue Devils (he transferred from Rutgers after spending the early part of his college career buried on the depth chart), but certainly made the most of his opportunity, averaging 168 yards rushing per game (277 carries for 1,877 yards and 20 touchdowns). While he does not possess blazing speed (4.55 in the 40), he has decent size (6 feet, 1 inch, 220 pounds) and is a tough inside runner.
Jones was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 9. Jones played college ball at I-AA Hampton and was one of five players from that school invited to the Scouting Combine in February. However, due to his collegiate experience coming against a lower level of competition, lack of a blazing 40 time (4.42), and lack of production at Hampton — for his career, he had only 96 receptions for 1359 yards and 7 touchdowns — led to Jones going undrafted. He was signed by the San Diego Chargers, released at the 53-man cutdown on Sept. 2, signed by the Packers on Oct. 19, was almost immediately released again on Oct. 22, and was waiting for the phone to ring until the Colts signed him.
Jones possesses the type of size (5 feet, 11 inches, 202 pounds) that Indianapolis looks for at the position, but is not a very quick or sudden player, as evidenced by his times in the 10-yard dash (1.56) and the 20-yard dash (2.65). He is still fairly raw, but has kind of speed and footwork that could eventually make him successful at the NFL level.
During the entire preseason, he registered only one catch for eight yards, so he is most assuredly not ready to step into a starting lineup, even in a sub package. But, the Colts have shown the ability to teach players on the taxi squad and mentor them into being serviceable in the league. For Jones, though, he will need some time and training.
Pat Ross with the Seahawks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
A three-year starter at Boston College, Ross is certainly more accomplished as a run blocker than he is in pass protection. At 6 feet, 4 inches, 295 pounds, he already appears, from pictures, to have reached maximum density, and is probably too light to play either guard position. He needs to spend some time in the weight room.
At the 2006 Combine, he registered a fairly lackluster showing of 23 bench presses and it certainly doesn't appear that he has improved upon that number since.
The biggest factor to consider is his quickness. Ross ran a 4.99 40 at the Combine, but also scored well in the 10-yard dash (1.72), the 20-yard dash (2.90), and especially the short shuttle (4.50). If a player can run the short shuttle in a time that is about half a second faster than their 40, that means they have quick feet and excellent lateral movement; provided, of course, that they don't run the 40 in 5.5 or 6 seconds.
He seems to be a better fit for an offense that asks its interior linemen to do more pulling and trapping than the Colts do, but there's also the consideration that Jeff Saturday doesn't seem to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. For right now, he's an intriguing prospect at a position of need.