Special to the Tribune-Star
The preliminaries are over. As soon as Thursday night’s 27-10 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up, the Indianapolis Colts player personnel department and coaching staff set about the arduous job of deciding the team’s final roster cuts.
All NFL teams have to trim their rosters from 75 players down to the regular-season maximum of 53 no later than 6 p.m. today.
“It’s really tough, because over a short period of time it doesn’t take long to build relationships with all these players. Coaches do. Players in the lockerroom, they become their family. It’s extremely hard, and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for a lot of them. They’ve probably been dreaming about this opportunity their whole life,” coach Chuck Pagano admitted after the Bengals game.
“For some of them, they’re going to get some disappointing news. Everybody’s going to have to give disappointing news across the league over the next 24 to 48 hours. Does that mean their NFL career and the dream is over? No. What you put out on the field the last three weeks and what you put out there [Thursday night], you’re not only trying to make our club, you’re trying to make 31 other clubs. Everyone is being evaluated.”
The Cincinnati game was the Colts’ preseason finale, which meant that backups and rookies got the bulk of the playing time. For many players considered to be on the bubble, in terms of making the regular-season roster, it was their last chance to impress the Indianapolis coaching staff.
Pagano doesn’t look forward to letting players go, especially those who have been on the team since the end of last season. It’s one of his least favorite jobs.
“Just considering what they have sacrificed and what they have given from a time standpoint, all the hard work and effort they put in since the offseason program started with lifting and running and all the meeting and practice time, the OTAs and mini-camp. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, and more. It’s tough,” he said.
• Injury list — The Colts came out of the Cincinnati game a bit dinged up.
“[Inside linebacker] Kavell Conner had an ankle. He came back and played a little bit and then we held him out in the second half. [Wide receiver] David Reed, a concussion,” Pagano explained.
“[Rookie offensive tackle] Emmett Cleary on a kickoff return had an ankle but came back and played. [Rookie cornerback] Daxton Swanson pulled a hamstring. One of the goals, obviously, is to come out [of the preseason] as healthy as you can.”
• Williams helps his cause — Rookie running back Kerwynn Williams had a team-high 92 yards in 18 carries, which was the highest single-game rushing total for a Colts running back this preseason. He also had 65 yards on three kickoff returns.
Indianapolis seems to be set with its top three running backs — Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown. The question is whether the Colts will keep four running backs on their regular-season roster. If Willliams sticks, it will be because of his multi-talented skills as a running back, receiver and kickoff returner.
Pagano, though, came away impressed with what he saw out of the seventh-round draft pick from Utah State.
“He did a heck of a job. He’s got good vision and is tough as nails for an undersized guy. He’s got the heart of a lion. He’s produced. He’s produced really every week and made big plays. He’s been productive,” the Colts coach said.
“Again, he’s put enough out there so you have to give it some heavy consideration. At the end of the day I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ll have to wait until the dust settles. I thought he competed and ran hard.”
• End of preseason — For the second consecutive year, the Colts concluded the preseason with a 2-2 record. Indianapolis posted wins over the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns while dropping games to Buffalo and Cincinnati.
The Bengals improved their all-time preseason record over Indianapolis to a 14-8 mark, while breaking a Colts’ two-game winning streak.