Bengals at Colts
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Thursday
TV: WFFT, Ch. 55
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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There's bound to be some sleeplessness in Indianapolis tonight.
For rookies and younger Indianapolis Colts, and even some veterans, the next two days will be filled with tension and anxiety. NFL teams must cut their rosters from 75 to 53 players Friday.
For some players, it's here tonight, gone tomorrow. That's as harsh as it sounds, and unavoidable.
“In a nutshell, you can't go out there and lay an egg because it could be the end,” Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis said, remembering his rookie season. “It's really your resume, so you want to put good film out there.”
While it will be the end in Indianapolis for some of the Colts tonight, it doesn't mean the end completely.
“This goes to 31 other teams,” Mathis said. “If one team chooses not to keep you, there are 31 other teams that are looking at you. You want to put good film out there.”
Plenty of players can breathe easy tonight, as the Colts play the Cincinnati Bengals at 7 p.m. in Lucas Oil Stadium. Players such as top pick Andrew Luck and veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne will see a little playing time and call it a preseason.
Others, such as rookie quarterback Chandler Harnish out of Norwell High School, or second-year wide receiver Kris Adams, will try to play their best and hope the coaching staff delivers good news Friday.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who said this week the staff hadn't decided whether to keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster, said the last game isn't necessarily the deal-maker. But it could be.
“Every (preseason game) is important,” Pagano said. “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.”
Pagano said the team follows a formula for creating the 53-man roster, although there are always exceptions to the general rule on players at each position.
The Colts always limited their roster to two quarterbacks during the Peyton Manning era, but this is a new staff and a new philosophy. So Pagano could decide to retain Luck, Drew Stanton and Harnish on the active roster.
While it's possible the team envisions Harnish and other players as possible practice-squad players, they have to be unclaimed by other teams before that could happen.
“Typically, special teams is easy, you usually get three specialists,” Pagano said. “That's the easy one. Then offense and defense you try to balance it out. 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.”
Mathis, a fifth-round draft pick as a rookie in 2003, remembers his final preseason game well.
“I played the whole game because it's make or break,” Mathis said. “That's whether you make the team or not. You take any and every rep you can get in that last game.”
The hard part, Mathis said, is hearing the 22 names that will be trimmed from the Colts' roster on Friday. It could end up being even more if the Colts pick up some other teams' released players. The Colts have the first pick to sign any released players after the 53-man rosters are set.
“It's hard because you build relationships from OTAs to training camp to the last day of cut day,” Mathis said. “It's always hard because…you see these guys more than you see your own family. It's always hard and unfortunate, but I guess that's just the way the business runs.”
The players who are released tend to be names on a transaction list for many fans. But careers are at stake and dreams can be crushed in a single meeting with the coach.
Next week, when the NFL kicks off, the pageantry and fun will be in full gear and we'll all soak it up.
There's just one more painful process to go before that happens.