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INDIANAPOLIS – The more receivers the better. That has to be the Indianapolis Colts' motto when it comes down to eventually trimming this roster.
Otherwise, how will the coaches separate and make a decision between Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers?
Common sense says four spots are locked with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and rookie draft pick Donte Moncrief. If the Colts keep only five receivers, as some speculate, then the choice is Whalen or Rogers.
Do they choose the dependable, but unspectacular Whalen or the spectacular but undependable Rogers? It's a choice between the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Whalen or the 6-3, 215-pound Rogers. One has known the quarterback for years, the other has shown he can make quarterback passes into high-wire catches. Whalen rarely drops a pass. Rogers has yet to earn that reputation.
“Every day, no matter if I'm a starter or a sixth-string receiver, I feel like I'm fighting for a job,” Rogers said.
That job, at least from Rogers' viewpoint, is there for the taking if he can prove he has matured as a receiver on the field. He came to the Colts after the season started last season, so this has been his first offseason and training camp with total concentration on the Colts' approach, and the time spent working with quarterback Andrew Luck.
“Really, I've been working on my consistency and being where I'm supposed to be for the quarterback when I'm supposed to be there,” Rogers said. “(That's) so they can trust me and have faith that this guy knows what he's doing.”
Whalen and Rogers both had their moments in the Colts' preseason loss to the New York Giants on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Whalen caught five passes (and was targeted eight times) for 32 yards and a touchdown from Luck. Rogers caught a 14-yard touchdown strike from Matt Hasselbeck and had another big play called back because of offensive pass interference.
Judging by playing time, Whalen is ahead of Rogers on the depth chart. He also handles punt returns, so that gives him some extra value. And there's no measuring the amount of trust Luck has in Whalen, given the fact they played together at Stanford University.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said no decision has been made on whether to keep five or six receivers on the active roster. Whalen and Rogers would both be attractive pick-ups for other teams if they were waived when the roster reaches 53 players.
“It's going to be extremely difficult because you see those guys making plays and doing great things,” Pagano said. “They've all had their moments. Griff is Griff, and Griff is solid and consistent and he goes out there and does a nice job and makes plays. Da'Rick made some plays (Saturday). I know he had one called back for an OPI, but he did a nice job there on the touchdown, great release and catch for a touchdown pass.”
Whalen would seem to have a better chance because he's a more proven commodity. Whalen caught 24 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns last season, becoming especially valuable toward the end of the season as the offense adjusted to life without Wayne. Rogers caught 14 passes for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season.
There are a number of other young receivers in camp, but breaking into the top six for any of them would require a tremendous leap in the next two weeks.
“There are a lot of guys just trying to make a case for themselves, so these next couple weeks are going to be very, very important for all those guys,” Pagano said. “Obviously, we're in a position now much better than any time since we've been here as far as the roster goes and the cut downs.”
There are many choices to be made, including numbers in each group. For example, should the Colts keep two fullbacks or one, given the option of putting tight end Dwayne Allen in the backfield? Sometimes it rides on players' special-teams value, which is why Whalen has an extra edge as a backup receiver.
“It's going to be extremely difficult to get to that final roster just because the talent level and the competition is so much better,” Pagano said.
Rogers has shown improve maturity on the field and a better understanding of the offense. That growth, he says, comes from the company he keeps.
“Every day when you look at Reggie Wayne, you look at T.Y. Hilton and you look at Hakeem Nicks, that's motivation as it is,” Rogers said. “All those guys have achieved great things with two of them winning Super Bowls. How could you not be motivated?”