Colts Rookies and Young Players Expected to Play Extensively Against Bengals Thursday
INDIANAPOLS – There is, Javarris James will tell you, just one approach.
James, the Colts' free-agent rookie running back, said while there is little question Thursday's preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals is very, very imant, there's little to be gained from thinking of it that way.
It is a football game, James said.
And he said that's as much importance as he will try to attach to it.
"You just approach it like any other game," James said as the Colts (0-3) prepared to play the Bengals (2-2) in the 2010 preseason finale at Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday at 7 p.m.
"I don't try to put too much pressure on myself, because once you put a lot of pressure on yourself like that, you think too much and you don't go out and play like you know how to play.
"I've been playing this game for a long time. I'm just going to go out and have fun."
Such is a major theme around the Colts this week during the week leading to the final preseason game, a game Colts President Bill Polian said recently is crucial to player evaluation.
The Colts for the last decade have had a reputation for not only keeping free-agent rookies and lesser-known players, but asking those players to play key roles. Linebacker Gary Brackett, safety Melvin Bullitt, defensive tackle Eric Foster and cornerback Jacob Lacey all made the team as undrafted rookies.
With starters often playing sparingly if at all in the preseason finale, Polian and Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell each said the game is critical for young players trying to earn a roster spot.
"Performance is the indicator," Caldwell said. "I think although it's a difficult time, it's really based upon how an individual actually performs is what really counts. . . .
"It's more of a body of work. You take everything into consideration. You try to make an assessment of how they'll fit in and if they make your team stronger and that type of thing. We look at every single aspect."
Still, while coaches and rookies said the ideal approach for rookies in the fourth preseason game is to approach it calmly and without worrying about making the team, veterans who have been in the situation said that approach is difficult to take.
Bullitt, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2007, was spoken about in complimentary fashion throughout the off-season and preseason that season. Still, he said there were nerves entering the finale. On Tuesday, he recalled playing the entire game – special teams and defense – then telephoning his family to tell them he had played well.
Bullitt said he speaks with younger players the week of the finale.
"I always talk to them," Bullitt said. "I tell them, 'Look, just go out and play football. You'll be all right.''
"I tell them that, but it's easier said than done," he said. "They're like, 'You know, you don't know what's going to happen.' You really don't, so you have to go out there and play your best."
Jeff Linkenbach, a rookie offensive tackle, signed as a rookie free agent from Cincinnati. He has played extensively in the preseason and has worked at left and right tackle, as well as guard.
"You honestly try not to think about it," Linkenbach said. "You try to go out and get better each day and let the dominoes fall. I don't think anybody can say they completely block it out. Just focus on each and every day. . . .
"You try to treat it like anything else. It's one more day to get better."
John Chick, a defensive end who was the Canadian Football League Defensive Player of the Year, has played extensively during the preseason, and has drawn praise from teammates and coaches. He said his approach is to "do your thing, hopefully improve and give it your all."
"Everyone's going to be a little nervous," Chick said. "The locker room has a different feel to it, especially with a few guys being let go this past week. But if you let it get to you, you're not going to play your game. You just have to be confident in yourself and go out and give it your best."
Chick said while a player hopes he is judged by the entire preseason and camp, he said coaches and front-office personnel "also want to see that you can improve and get better each week."
"It's definitely part of the evaluation process," Chick said. "They want to see how you prepare for the last week. They don't want any assumptions."
James, the cousin of Colts all-time leading rusher Edgerrin James, said his first games playing this preseason have helped prepare him for Thursday.
"It feels good," James said. "The first game, I was just kind of nervous and got the jitters out a little bit. After that, I just felt like one of the guys and I've just been trying to make the best of my opportunity. . . . .
"It's a learning process. I know I'm not going to know the whole offense after one day. Each week, I've been getting better and limiting my mistakes in practice and in games."
Still, while players such as James have worked to perform throughout the preseason, the extensive opportunity expected Thursday makes the preseason finale particularly important.
"It's a big game for me," James said. "This is basically my season for me right here. After this game, this is where they make all the decisions. I understand I'm going to be able to play a lot this game. I'm just going to try to showcase my talent."
And Bullitt said that's the best approach, to play as well as possible without worrying about the result – something that while easier said than done is still critical.
"Just do what you've been doing," Bullitt said. "Do you what you've been doing all training camp, the whole season, the whole preseason. Don't treat this game any different. But like I said that's easier said than done, because guys know this could be the last time they put the shoulder pads on."