Five to Watch: Colts at Bengals

With the final preseason game upon us and the cutdown to 53 players coming on Saturday, here are five guys that need to step up in order to keep their jobs.

1. Taj Smith: Heading into the preseason, Smith was a guy to watch because he might steal away the third receiver job away from Austin Collie or Pierre Garcon.  Now, he will need a big game in order to remain on the roster.

Collie and Garcon established themselves early on in the preseason and have built on that momentum.  Smith has languished, only touching the ball once — on a kick return — and has only been targeted twice.  The Colts have already severed ties with one promising project in Roy Hall.  Smith may be the second casualty, as the move towards expecting results, not promises and upside, as the games start to be played for real.

Can Painter do enough to create a roster spot for himself?
Scott Boehm/Getty Images

2. Curtis Painter: Painter has been a pleasant surprise so far this offseason and preseason, quickly picking up the offense, staying with the play, not turning and running, and keeping his eyes focused up the field, all with the guile and savvy of a more veteran player. However, Jim Sorgi has a stranglehold on the backup job, so Painter likely has too much to overcome in order to supplant Sorgi.

The wrinkle is this: If Painter does well enough that Indianapolis wants to keep him around, then they can waive him and sign him to the practice squad.  But if does well enough that other teams will want him on their team, then the Colts won't be able to waive him and will need to keep him on the roster.

Aside from the fans in attendance and those watching from home, the other stakeholders that will be tuned into Thursday night's slot of games are general managers and scouts from around the league.  Quarterback depth is very thin all across the NFL.  If Painter catches the eye of some GM or scout — and having a big game will cement his status as a young player on the rise — then Indianapolis won't be able to waive him if they want to keep him.

They could always take a chance, but with Sorgi's lingering hamstring issue and the fact they can't keep only two quarterbacks on the roster forever, waiving Painter will probably be too much of a risk for Bill Polian to take.

3. Freddy Keiaho: Now that Philip Wheeler has been inserted in the starting lineup, Jordan Senn continues to impress, and Ramon Humber has been turning heads, Keiaho now finds himself on the outside looking in.

The Colts originally did not retain Keiaho this offseason, signing him well after the start of free agency when he found himself without any other interested suitors.  Tyjuan Hagler is in basically the same position, but has seen some work as Clint Session's backup and can play both outside linebacker positions in the defense.  Gary Brackett, the captain of the defense, isn't going anywhere and Indianapolis will probably only keep six linebackers heading into the season.

They've cut ties with Keiaho before and although he has a history with the team, he also has the most unfavorable injury history of the players in the running for roster spots.  He needs to make a big impact, playing against the second or third team for Cincinnati.

If nothing else, he can catch the eye of a team that passed on him earlier this year, such as the Buffalo Bills, that might be looking for quality depth.

4. Eric Foster: The goodwill that Foster accumulated last season seems like it was five seasons away.  Indianapolis is looking to get bigger up the middle in an attempt to fix their run defense and, as a carryover from the "soft middle" of 2008, Foster's goodwill from last season is pretty much destroyed.  He still has more starts than anyone at the position not named Ed Johnson, though, so the coaching staff will give him a fair shake, even if he's also a carryover from the Ron Meeks era.

He obviously does not have the type of build that they are looking for from an interior defender on running downs and base packages, but, if he is able to show that he can get to the quarterback, he could line himself up to be an emergency option at nose tackle and under tackle, as well as a sub package option for when the defensive line can pin their ears back and rush the passer.

At this point, he's a long shot to make the 53-man roster, but he still has a chance.

5. Josh Thomas: Although he has an extensive history with the team and knows the system, he also has an extensive history of only being a player that the Colts look to when all other options are exhausted.  He's a quality run defender and has proven himself to be a reliable option as a last option, but he is also a player that has to show he can get to the quarterback.

All signs point to him not being able to deliver, but he's also lasted this long.  Maybe he has one more life left in him and can show enough to prove himself worthy of a roster spot.

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