In a little more than a week, the Colts will begin the 2013 NFL Regular Season. Last night the team participated in their fourth and final preseason game, a primetime event at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium. As expected, quarterback Andrew Luck, as well as several other starters like Reggie Wayne, did not not play, which probably explains why the Colts lost to Cincinnati, 27-10 (Bengals starting QB Andy Dalton did take a few snaps in the first quarter). However, players on the cusp of making the roster played like the game would be their last in a Colts uniform. In reality, that will be true for 22 men, for the Colts must trim their team to 53 by tomorrow. Here are some on-the-bubble players who I think deserve to stay based on their play last night and over all this preseason:
Kerwynn Williams – RB, Rookie, Utah State (Colts 2013 7th round pick): Williams has improved with every game this preseason, and he surely left a great last impression on the Colts’ coaching staff after rushing for 92 yards on 18 carries last night. He averaged over five yards per carry, and he can also be utilized on the kick return team. Trading Delone Carter to the Ravens gives Williams an even better chance of joining the Colts’ running back corps with Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, and newcomer Ahmad Bradshaw.
Justice Cunningham – TE, Rookie, South Carolina (Colts 2013 7th round pick): The Colts’ other seventh rounder from this year has also proved himself worthy of a roster spot. Cunningham has good blocking skills but also displayed his catching ability last night, leading the Colts in receiving yards. With both Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener less than reliable right now (Allen did not play at all this preseason while recovering from an injured foot, and Fleener has been battling through both inconsistent play and a concussion), Cunningham could be a valuable insurance asset at the tight end position.
Griff Whalen – WR, 2nd-yr: Griff Whalen has a lot going for him — not just talent, either. He’s also a former Stanford player who has chemistry with Andrew Luck and already knows Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton’s playbook. He’ll need every advantage he can get to make the Colts roster behind Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, though. Whalen played a very nice game last week in Cleveland, catching four passes for 57 yards and averaging over 14-yards per carry, but he didn’t make the most of his final chance to impress last night. He had just two receptions for eight yards in Cincinnati, recording the lowest numbers among the Colts’ active receivers. Now all Whalen can do is wait. However, the fact that LaVon Brazil will miss the first four regular season games due to a suspension certainly helps his cause.
Ben Ijalana – OT, 3rd-yr: Colts fans may not be too familiar with Ijalana; he has not seen much game action in his two years with Indianapolis due to injury-ridden bad luck. Ijalana tore his ACL twice in the same knee, ending early both his rookie and sophomore seasons. However, he was the Colts’ 2nd round draft selection in 2011, and he has lots of talent. In fact, during his first training camp I thought he practiced just as well as, if not better than, first round selection Anthony Castonzo, now an anchor on the Colts’ O-Line. Ijalana played very well last night, holding up well against the run. He is strong, resilient, and has incredible character. His chances of making the Colts’ roster this year are very slim at this point, but he is one to root for.
Larry Asante – DB, 3rd-yr: Asante signed a reserve/future contract with the Colts last December after playing two years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He got my attention last week when he returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown. He then followed up that game by leading the Colts in tackles (8), recording a sack, and recovering a fumble last night. There’s not much more he could have done to make a case for himself.
Caesar Rayford – LB, CFL & AFL veteran: Rayford has undoubtedly been the feel-good story of the preseason. He came out of nowhere (the Arena Football League) to record five sacks for the Colts this preseason. He is physically gigantic (6’7″, 267 lbs) and has quite a presence on the field (If I saw him coming, I’d probably run for my life). He played as well as anyone on defense and has given the unit more attention that it’s had in some time. He may provide just the spark the Colts need. I think Rayford may be the safest bet of the roster hopefuls.
The 2013 Colts roster will be complete tomorrow, and the 53 men who make it will then take on the even bigger challenge of trying to win themselves a Lombardi Trophy. This is going to be yet another exciting football season in Indianapolis.