The football preseason is now among us and we need something to look forward to in these ‘friendly’ games, because the W’s and L’s don’t matter. Here are some position battles going on for the Indianapolis Colts that may be interesting to watch through the month of exhibition games.
Reggie Wayne, Derrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton are the Colts starters at the wide receiver position; I can guarantee it, barring an injury.
However, injuries do occur and the Colts are going to need depth behind those three, and that depth is very murky at this point.
LaVon Brazill was slotted as the most likely fourth receiver at the end of last season, but after his four game suspension, it’s not even a definite he’ll make the team this year. It’s not just the fact that the sixth-round pick got himself suspended, but also because he has not been performing well so far in training camp.
Although he did play well at times during the season last year, his lack of performance on the practice field in 2013 and absence of discipline off it, shows he’s not fully committed to being the best player he can be. And the Indianapolis Colts have players vying for Brazill’s spot who are willing to put in that extra effort.
For example: an undrafted free agent rookie from last year, Griff Whalen, who was Andrew Luck’s teammate at Stanford, is showing he may have the chops to develop into a solid slot receiver. Whalen was playing well last year before he had a season ending injury in the pre-season.
He’s picking up where he left off, as I’ve heard nothing but praise for Whalen throughout training camp. He has showcased his major strengths to be reliable hands, and solid route running; the two most important attributes in a receiver at any level.
Whalen’s strengths, stature, speed, and undrafted free agent status reminds me of another, veteran, football player by the name of Wes Welker. I’m not saying he is the next Welker, but he sure has the attributes to at least be a solid slot receiver, the position in which Welker thrives in.
Whalen’s Welker-like potential and his work in the off-season so far make him a sure bet to make the team, along with the fact that Coach Chuck Pagano said Whalen is making himself “necessary”. He’ll still have to prove himself in the pre-season, but at this point he’s solidified himself as the fourth receiver on the Colts roster.
Players who are vying for the fifth, and probably final, receiver spot on the 53-man roster: Brazill, Jeremy Kelley, Nathan Palmer, Jabin Sambrano and
Lanear Sampson. Brazill got playing time last year, Kelley brings much needed size to the receiving corps (6-foot-6 225-pounds), Palmer was getting high praise after OTAs, Sambrano could also contribute on special teams by returning kicks, and Sampson has been getting some snaps with the first team.
Sampson will, most likely, be cut and signed onto the practice squad, so the fifth spot comes down to Kelley, Palmer, Sambrano and Brazill. Sambrano is not completely out of it, however he does have a longer shot of making the roster than the other three. I think Brazill’s suspension hurts him, and as he won’t be counted against the roster till week 5 anyways, one of the other two receivers will open the season on the roster. Jeremy Kelley will occupy that spot. Reason being, Palmer’s biggest asset is speed, and between Derrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton, we already have plenty of speed in our receiving corps. Although Palmer actually has a better shot than Kelley at this point, Kelley has had a solid training camp and will bring much needed size to our wide receiver group, and quarterback Andrew Luck can utilize that and make Kelley look like a better receiver than he already is. As long as he continues his solid training camp and has a good pre-season he could go from an arena football league player to being on an NFL roster in one year.
Predicted wide receivers for opening weekend (in order): Reggie Wayne, Derrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, Griff Whalen, Jeremy Kelley
Needless to say, this will be a heated battle to watch heading into the regular season. Enjoy, and Go Colts!
For an analysis on the running back battle click here.