The Indianapolis Colts were finally at full strength on offense against the New Orleans Saints, and yet, both the top receiver and top rusher were “bubble players” — guys hoping to make the final roster cuts coming later this week. Griff Whalen led all receivers with two receptions for 40 yards (no receiver had more than five targets, and that was T.Y. Hilton). Dan “Boom” Herron led all rushers, with 68 yards in eight attempts, including one huge breakaway. Both guys have been highly visible this preseason and have earned their spots.
Preseason football can be so brutal to watch at times that it’s easy to forget that, for many players, it’s an audition process. By Tuesday, Aug. 26, all teams have to cut their rosters down to 75 players, ahead of the fourth and final round of preseason games on Thursday. By Saturday, Aug. 30, all teams have to be down to 53 guys. That’s part of why we won’t see many starters this week; those roster spots are already determined.
Whalen is doggy-paddling in a deep receiver pool. Reggie Wayne has taken that critical “first hit,” Hakeem Nicks is playing with something to prove, and Hilton appears to be the axle on which the entire team turns. Newly-drafted Donte Moncrief hasn’t gotten a lot of face time, but people are too excited about his potential to cut him loose. That leaves a fifth (maybe sixth?) spot for (cue the dating game music) Whalen, Da’Rick Rogers or sleeper Josh Lenz.
A lot of people are high on Rogers. The cynical and blunt among us might insinuate that Whalen wouldn’t even be in Indianapolis was he not old Stanford buddies with Andrew Luck. But that doesn’t negate the solid work he’s done, both on offense and special teams, in preseason and as he’s bounced between practice squad and active roster in seasons past. He may not be the most talented guy on the roster, but he’s been consistent.
Meanwhile, Herron led the running back struggle wagon for a second time this preseason. Trent Richardson‘s difficulties have been well-documented, though I thought he was looking pretty good in limited attempts (and in my opinion, the Colts need to ease up on the rushing attempts anyway). Vick Ballard was touted as the Great Future Hope, but he’s back on IR, as he has been for too much of his career. Ahmad Bradshaw got his “first hit” out of the way after scary neck surgery, but his limits are still undetermined. All this combined leads some observers calling for Herron to not only make the team, but to start. Maybe cool the Boom-jets on that a little; he hasn’t played much against starters.
Both Herron and Whalen have proven themselves on offense and special teams. They’ve done everything asked of them. They’ve earned their spots, if nothing else than to keep them from contributing on a team somewhere else.