A position-by-position look at the Colts (and changes probably are coming)

Indianapolis Colts

Lucas Oil Stadium (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts have settled on their 53.

For now.

Before everyone offers praise or criticism to the roster Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and their personnel support staff have fashioned, we need to keep one thing in mind: change is almost certainly looming.

It should surprise no one if two players on the active roster are moved to the short-term injured reserve list Sunday. We’re talking about defensive tackle Sheldon Day (knee) and tight end Trey Burton (calf).

Day, the Warren Central H.S. product, did not participate in any of the Colts’ padded practices during training camp after undergoing knee surgery. Burton strained his left calf in the Aug. 29 practice at Lucas Oil Stadium, and Reich said the injury will likely keep him out at least “the first couple of weeks, for sure.’’

The NFL altered IR in this COVID-19 pandemic environment. Instead of a player missing at least eight games if placed on IR once the season begins, now it’s just a three-game absence.

If Burton is moved to IR, the Colts probably will claim a tight end off waivers or sign a veteran free agent.

A reminder: many of the players cut Saturday will return Sunday when Ballard forms his 16-man practice squad. A twist to this year’s practice squad is it can include six players with unlimited experience.

A few tidbits from Cut Day:

  • keeping Rodrigo Blankenship over Chase McLaughlin extends the Colts’ streak to 22 seasons with at least one undrafted rookie making the opening-day roster. That’s the NFL’s longest active streak.
  • nine rookies are still standing.
  • of Ballard’s 38 draft picks since 2017, 27 remain. That includes 23-of-30 over the last three drafts.
  • only six players pre-date Ballard’s arrival in ’17: Anthony Castonzo, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle, Ryan Kelly, Le’Raven Clark and Luke Rhodes.

A position-by-position look at the current 53-player roster:

OFFENSE (24)

Quarterbacks (3): Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason (R).

Comment: No surprises here. Chad Kelly always was going to be the odd-man out after Ballard invested a fourth-round pick in Eason. The strong-armed QB out of Washington will be given every opportunity to be the guy who replaces Rivers, whenever Rivers walks away. If everything goes as planned, that’s after 2021.

Running backs (4): Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jonathan Taylor (R), Jordan Wilkins.

Comment: Again, no surprises, especially after the team released fullback Rosie Nix. Mack and Taylor form one of the NFL’s best one-two punches – ok, one-one – while Wilkins has proven to be a valuable backup. We’re interested to see how creative Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni can be in getting Hines his touches.

Wide receivers (6): T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Michael Pittman Jr. (R), Ashton Duhlin, Dezmon Patmon (R).

Comment: This is a solid group, especially at the top. That, of course, is with Hilton and Campbell putting an injury-plagued ’19 behind them. Look for Pittman to start opposite Hilton and Campbell to get serious reps out of the slot. If Pascal is the No. 4 guy, that’s not too shabby. Patmon’s potential and size (6-4, 225 pounds) were too intriguing to expose him to waivers. Duhlin has two career receptions, but is a core special teams player.

Tight ends (3): Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox.

Comment: They’re not done at this position. If the Colts place Burton on IR – that seems a given – it’s hard to imagine them going to Jacksonville with just two tight ends. Maybe they bring back Ross Travis. Or Hale Hentges. Each was with the team last season and is familiar with Reich’s offense.

Offensive line (8): LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly, RG Mark Glowinski, RT Braden Smith, OT Le’Raven Clark, G Danny Pinter (R), OT Chaz Green.

Comment: We’re not going to waste your time talking about the starting five. It’s without question one of the NFL’s best groups. The question throughout camp always focused on how well position coach Chris Strausser could develop reliable depth. Pinter, the fifth-round pick out of Ball State, appears to be Joe Haeg’s successor as the o-line’s movable part. He played guard and center during camp after starting two seasons at right tackle and another at tight end at Ball State. Clark and Green are the backup tackles. Clark has appeared in 35 games with 12 starts in four seasons with the Colts, but did not take a regular-season snap in ’19. Green has started seven of 22 games since 2015 while spending time with Dallas, New Orleans, the Raiders and Denver. He, too, didn’t step on the field for a snap last season.

DEFENSE (26)

Line (9): DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, Denico Autry, Grover Stewart, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Sheldon Day, Ben Banogu, Tyquan Lewis, Taylor Stallworth.

Comment: The loss of Kemoko Turay (PUP) and possible move to IR for Sheldon Day are significant hits to the position. Even so, the room remains one of the team’s strongest. Big things are expected from DeForest Bucker and Justin Houston, and no player at any position had a better camp than Tyquan Lewis. Al-Quadin Muhammad is one of those underappreciated but highly-valued players.

Linebacker (7): Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker Jr., Bobby Okereke, E.J. Speed, Zaire Franklin, Matthew Adams, Jordan Glasgow (R).

Comment: This is another ultra-strong position. Don’t believe us? They kept all seven. The starting group of Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke is the Colts’ best trio in recent memory. The depth figures to log heavy minutes on special teams. That’s undoubtedly the reason Jordan Glasgow made the cut.

Cornerbacks (5): Kenny Moore II, Rock Ya-Sin, Xavier Rhodes, T.J. Carrie, Isaiah Rodgers (R).

Comment: For this area to excel, Xavier Rhodes needs to approach the level he achieved a few seasons ago with the Vikings. We expect Rock Ya-Sin to take that next step in year 2. Also, is this the year Kenny Moore breaks through and gets some Pro Bowl consideration? Isaiah Rodgers might be the front-runner to return kicks.

Safeties (5): Malik Hooker, Khari Willis, George Odom, Tavon Wilson, Julian Blackmon (R).

Comment: Another good group. The overriding question is how long before Julian Blackmon is up to speed? He’s roughly nine months out from surgery to repair a torn ACL.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

Kicker (1): Rodrigo Blankenship (R).

Comment: For the first time in their Indy era, the Colts are putting their opening-day trust in a rookie kicker. Blankenship and McLaughlin waged a spirited training camp battle, and it goes to the rookie.

Punter (1): Rigoberto Sanchez.

Longsnapper (1): Luke Rhodes.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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