For 22 players currently on the Indianapolis Colts roster, tonight’s preseason game with the Cincinnati Bengals could very well be the first time that many of them will be playing in a National Football League game.
NFL teams trimmed their rosters to 75 players last Monday. They have to be down to 53 players by Friday afternoon. Whatever happens tonight — both good and bad — at Lucas Oil Stadium (7 p.m., WNDY) will go a long way in determining their immediate futures.
“You know every one [preseason game] is important. The last one is just as important as the first one. I’ve been around the league 11 years now, and I’ve seen guys come out of nowhere the last week and make a case for themselves,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said earlier this week.
“Either from a special teams standpoint, or on offense and defense and make it really hard on the coaching staff and the personnel people to determine who is going to make that 53rd spot, so to speak. So it’s really important for all those guys.”
Case in point. In 2003, rookie wide receiver Brad Pyatt entered the final game of the preseason on the outside looking in. Pyatt, an undrafted free agent from Northern Colorado, was trying to crack the Indianapolis roster any way that he could.
In that game, also against Cincinnati, the Arvada, Colo., native had a couple of notable kickoff and punt returns. His performance impressed then-Colts coach Tony Dungy so much, Pyatt eventually made the Indianapolis regular-season roster.
Later that season — in the Colts’ fifth-game against defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay — it was Pyatt’s long kickoff return that helped kick start a wild late fourth quarter comeback in a 38-35 overtime win.
“There’s a formula [for deciding on the final regular-season roster], if you will, on both sides of the ball and special teams. Typically special teams is easy, you usually get three specialists. That’s the easy one. Then offense and defense you try to balance it out,” Pagano explained.
“And then special teams plays a role in that as far as backup linebackers and your backup running backs and wide receivers and how those guys affect special teams. So, there’s a certain number on each side of the ball, and special teams, that you’re looking for to round that 53 out.”
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n Facing the Bengals — The Colts come into tonight’s game with a 1-2 preseason record, dropping the last two games on the road to Pittsburgh and Washington. Indianapolis won its only other home preseason matching, knocking off the St. Louis Rams 18 days ago.
While he wasn’t sure just how long the first offensive and defensive units would end up playing against the Bengals, Pagano still wants to come away with a win and set a positive tone heading into the regular-season opener at Chicago on Sept. 9.
“Looking back at last week’s game, we’ve got to clean up some things. Execution [is important]. We’re looking for timing and things like that, but we want to execute better. See how they respond as far as running the football on offense and stopping the run when those guys are out there, so we’re going to challenge them in that regard,” the Colts coach said.
“And then, like last week, these guys have got a front four that can put pressure on you, as well as they love to blitz linebackers and secondary personnel. We’ve got to do a great job in the pass protection part of it. But then, for the young guys, this is really their last opportunity, obviously to go out and showcase themselves and make a case for themselves as far as making this team.”
In addition to an improved performance across the board, Pagano wants to come out of this evening’s matchup as healthy as possible. The Colts are already hurting at several key positions with nose tackle Brandon McKinney out for the year with a knee injury and inside linebacker Pat Angerer sidelined for at least six weeks with a fractured foot.
“I think any game you want to come out clean, and we’ve had our fair share [of injuries] so we’d love to get out of this one as healthy as possible. But there’s still some question marks out there, and there’s still some guys out there fighting for jobs. Like I said before, a lot of those back end of the roster spots that guys are fighting for and it’s going to be determined on special teams,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of young guys, obviously, getting a lot of playing time in this last ball game. Like I told them this morning, we’re going to prepare to go win this football game, and we’re going to play well and take the next step. There’s nothing that we would like more than to play well and win the football game at home and start off the regular season on a good note.”
n Roster move — In a late roster move Tuesday evening, the Colts claimed wide receiver Kashif Moore and waived-Injured wide receiver Jarred Fayson. If Fayson goes unclaimed, he will revert to the Colts’ Injured Reserve list.
Moore (5-9, 180), a rookie who played collegiately at Connecticut, was recently released by Cincinnati.
n Indiana State connections — They’ll be plenty of former Sycamores around Lucas Oil Stadium tonight.
Bengals rookie wide receiver Justin Hilton, who signed with Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent after a two-year career with ISU, was waived by the Bengals on Wednesday evening.
Cincinnati offensive assistant Kyle Caskey is a former Indiana State offensive line and tight ends coach, working on the staffs of Lou West and Trent Miles. He’ll be one of the Bengals assistants in the press box.
Kyle Monroe, an ex-Indiana State defensive back and the son of former Sycamore running back Ken Monroe, has been hired by the Colts to work with the team’s media relations department on game days this season.
n Youth football teams honored — Tonight marks the Colts’ USA Football Month Game. In conjunction with USA Football, the Colts awarded tickets for the Cincinnati game to numerous local youth football programs.
Forty youth players will be on-field with the Colts for the National Anthem. Prior to this evening’s kickoff, the Colts also will present a $10,000 check to benefit local youth and high school football.