Practice Squad Update: Feb. 17

With an eye towards the 2010 season, the Colts re-signed six players to the practice squad. Brad Keller takes a look at who's coming back and what they bring to the table.

The practice squad for 2010 is somewhat set, as Indianapolis has signed six players: Quarterback Drew Willy, wide receivers Taj Smith and John Matthews, guard Jaimie Thomas, linebacker Brandon Renkart, and cornerback Terrail Lambert.

They also signed defensive lineman Mitch King, wide receiver Dudley Guice, defensive end John Chick, offensive tackle Gerald Cardogan, and running back Devin Moore to future contracts, so those guys may play into the practice squad equation as the offseason continues.

Willy played his college ball at Buffalo, where he was a four year starter, but the highlight of his playing career came in the MAC championship game following the 2008 season, where he led Buffalo to an upset victory over heavily favored Ball State.

Willy was invited to the Scouting Combine in 2009 and was projected as a late round prospect due to his lack of ideal size at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds and questions regarding his arm strength. He went undrafted last April and was signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Ravens. He lasted OTAs, mini-camps, training camp, and most of the preseason before being waived on August 31st, 2009.

Willy faces an uphill battle if he wants to move up the depth chart in Indianapolis
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The Colts signed him to the practice squad on December 9, promoted him to the active roster on December 26, and signed him to a future contract on February 11 of this year. He and Curtis Painter will probably get a lot of reps early in the offseason as Jim Sorgi recovers and Peyton Manning works with the first team, but he faces a long road if he is intending to be anything but an emergency option on the taxi squad.

Sorgi seems to have a strong hold on the backup job and Painter showed enough — and knows the system well enough — that he will have a serious leg up on Willy for the third spot at quarterback, provided Indianapolis keeps three quarterbacks. What Willy does have in his favor is that he has plenty of practice squad eligibility and the Colts can stash him there for quite a while as he develops.

Smith's odyssey has been well-documented at ColtPower and he was at least on the sidelines for the Super Bowl even if he was in street clothes. Matthews was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Colts following the 2009 NFL draft and spent most of the season on the practice squad.

It is very possible that Indianapolis will spend the offseason trying to develop both of these receivers as special teams aces given the performance of former Colt Courtney Roby for the Saints in the Super Bowl. They both can contribute on coverage teams and Smith does have enough speed to pitch in as a returner on kickoffs.

Smith, though, has taken a fairly precipitous fall since last offseason, having gone from an early candidate to win the third receiver job to afterthought and spectator. There is still time for him to turn things around, though, before the 2010 season kicks off in September and Matthews will be there to push him.

Thomas was drafted in the seventh round by Indianapolis in the 2009 draft and had a fairly forgettable offseason and preseason. He spent the 2009 season on the practice squad and was also the recipient of a future contract, but definitely needs to continue to work on his game if he wants to remain with the team.

Thomas played tackle at Maryland and admittedly had a rough transition to guard at the NFL level. But, if history has taught us anything, it's that the Colts will give anyone a shot along the offensive line provided they can play. Charlie Johnson and Kyle DeVan unseated Tony Ugoh and Mike Pollak, respectively, in 2009 despite the disparities of draft position among the players involved. If he gets to work and shows the coaches that he can play this game at this level at this position, he will get a shot.

Renkart is going to embark on his third attempt to catch onto an NFL roster during the 2010 offseason. He was signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and bounced around on practice squads before signing a future contract of his own with Indianapolis for 2010. He is a bit big to play in the Cover 2 defense that the Colts deploy at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, but he could definitely make his presence known on special teams.

Lambert will attempt to get in the cornerback mix in 2010

The Adam Seward experiment did not work out, though, so he is going to have his fair share of detractors on the coaching staff in the locker room. If he is able to overcome that and prove that he can help this team win games, he will be covering kicks on Sundays. If he can't, he won't.

Lambert fits the mold of what Indianapolis looks for in the cornerback position at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds. He is a fast, athletic player, but his game is in need of some refining and he is much better suited to man coverage than the Cover 2 zone that the Colts deploy. However, he also has tremendous closing speed and can be taught the scheme. What cannot be taught is his natural speed and quickness, which come in handy when playing the cornerback position for Indianapolis.

He spent some time on the practice squad in 2009 and was even called up to the regular roster for a couple weeks, but didn't see any action. He already knows the system and was deemed capable enough to be on the roster, so it is likely that we have not heard the last of Terrail Lambert in 2010.

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