Kickoff: Colts at Cincinnati, 7 tonight
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A fourth preseason game means little to the Indianapolis Colts starters. But for the players on the edge of the 53-man roster, there's no bigger game on the schedule.
Colts third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish can attest to that.
“It's one of the most important weeks that we have, especially in the preseason, because this is kind of our last showing for the scouts and the coaches and everyone in between,” Harnish said. “It's our last impression and you want to leave everyone with a good impression going into the final cuts.”
Harnish started the 2012 season on the active roster before eventually being waived and signed to the practice squad. He began last season on the practice squad. So he's had the thrill of being part of the initial 53-man roster and the disappointment of being waived.
The Colts, and all NFL teams must cut to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday.
Here are five examples of Colts players on the bubble:
Chandler Harnish, quarterback
It seems unlikely the Colts would keep three quarterbacks, with Andrew Luck the franchise QB and Matt Hasselbeck the veteran backup. Harnish, the Norwell High School alum, has one more possible season on the Colts practice squad if he is cut and not signed by another NFL team.
It's important to note the Colts have invested a lot of time developing Harnish, having him as part of the quarterback room for more than two years. They seem to be grooming him to be Luck's backup after Hasselbeck is done.
“This is a huge opportunity for myself, although I've gotten a lot of playing time this preseason, which I'm very blessed to have and very fortunate,” Harnish said. “But again, like I said, the last hurrah, if you will, the last impression we'll get with our coaches and with people like Mr. (Ryan) Grigson, so you want to go out and play well.”
Harnish has completed 19 of 36 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in three preseason games. He also has three rushes for 29 yards.
Zurlon Tipton, running back
The Colts appear to have locked into Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Boom Herron as their top three running backs, so it's debatable whether they will keep a fourth, especially if they keep fullback Mario Harvey.
Tipton, a rookie out of Central Michigan, has 24 carries for 64 yards (2.7 per carry) in the preseason so far. The numbers aren't there, so the question could be whether he can excel on special teams. That's a standard requirement at the tail end of the roster.
Dewey McDonald, safety
A rookie out of the University of California (Pa.), McDonald received some praise from Colts coach Chuck Pagano that hinted he has a shot at making the roster. It's a long shot, however, since the safety spot includes LaRon Landry, Mike Adams, special teams ace Sergio Brown and the injured Delano Howell. Howell's status will factor in.
McDonald might be competing with Colt Anderson, a fifth-year player out of Montana, for that last safety stop.
Jack Doyle and Wesley Saunders, tight ends
Looking beyond Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, it seems likely Doyle and Saunders are in a battle for that third spot, although converted basketball player Erik Swoope remains a wildcard. Saunders has three catches for 29 yards, Doyle two catches for 18 yards, so that's a wash. Doyle appears to be the better blocker, with Saunders the more explosive athlete.
"This offense is very good for tight ends," Doyle said. "It's good for versatile tight ends, so that's something I'm trying to be able to do. I'm trying to show that I can do a little bit of everything."
Swoope has done a nice job in his limited time. He's a project, but the Colts risk losing him if they waive him in anticipation of putting him on the practice squad.