Final Roster Cuts Present 'Tough Couple Of Days' For Colts' Coaches

Thursday’s preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals was the last chance for several members of the Indianapolis Colts’ 90-man roster to prove they’re worthy of a spot on the Week 1 roster. Now the coaching staff faces a 4 p.m. Saturday deadline to cut from 90 to 53 players.

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CINCINNATI — Carroll Phillips racked up another couple of sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Krishawn Hogan was catching passes all over the field — a team-best four of them, to be exact.

For the Indianapolis Colts, Phillips' and Hogan's play in Thursday night's preseason finale victory over the Cincinnati Bengals are a perfect representation of just how difficult the next couple days will be for head coach Frank Reich and his staff as they face a 4 p.m. ET Saturday deadline to get to their initial 53-man regular season roster.

"As every coach in this league knows, this is a tough couple of days right here," Reich said after the game. "This is what we agonize about. We have had 90 guys working since March-April, coming in here, working hard, and we're going to have to part ways with some guys. So that's tough."

Facing a "final audition" of sorts, Reich said those who were out on the field for the Colts on Thursday "made it tough" as the staff returns to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center to pour over the game film and start the process of finding the right mix of players for the team's regular season opener Sept. 8 on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers.

"There (was) a lot of good stuff out there on tape," Reich said. "We'll digest all that, look at it real closely and then make those decisions Friday and Saturday. But was really pleased with the effort, and how they came out and played tonight."

Phillips, for example, applied pressure on the quarterback the entire preseason. He had two sacks and a fumble recovery in the Colts' first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, and on Thursday night he added another two-sack performance, earning the trifecta on the second such play by sacking quarterback Jake Dolegala, forcing a fumble and then diving on the football at the Cincinnati 16-yard line.

Kicker Cole Hedlund would knock in a 30-yard field goal four plays later to extend the Colts' lead to 10-3 with 6:57 to go in the third quarter.

Phillips, who spent part of the 2018 regular season on the Colts' active roster, hopes his quality preseason will lead to a spot among a very deep defensive line group heading into 2019.

"Carroll's had a great preseason," Reich said. "And (is) making this really tough."

Hogan, meanwhile, continued building upon a solid body of work over the past month. A big target out of the slot at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds, Hogan has showed off nice separation and terrific hands since the start of training camp.

In four preseason games this year, Hogan hauled in 12 receptions (tying Deon Cain for team-best honors) for 132 yards (11 yards per reception), continuing to pace himself in the race for the final couple spots at wide receiver with the likes of Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson and others.

All Hogan can do now is wait and see if he'll make the Colts' 53-man roster, be a target for the practice squad or even possibly get a chance to sign with another team.

"You know, I don't know how it's going to play out," Hogan said after Thursday's game. "I don't know, really, where the coaches' heads are at, but that's not really for me to do. I did what I could control tonight. Like you said, I made plays, I got to show a little bit more that I can do on special teams — had a solid day there playing gunner. I mean, I'm just going to be with my family and just pray on it.

"That was the whole goal: being consistent," Hogan continued. "And I'm just happy with the way it went. More than anything I got back to having fun playing this game, and that's why I'm so excited to see what the next step in the road is, 'cause I'm having fun again, and I just want that to continue."

Waiting game

Several other players on the bubble put in quality performances in Thursday's preseason finale. Here are some of their thoughts heading into final roster cuts:

» "My outlook is to keep on getting better. Whatever I can control, I'll control, and then it's up to the coaches to decide what they want to do. But I'm confident in how I played this preseason, and, like I said, I'm trying to get better each and every day, each and every rep, whether it's a practice or a game." — Quarterback Chad Kelly, who completed 54-of-73 preseason passes (74 percent) for 583 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while also running the ball 10 times for 107 yards and two scores. Kelly faces a two-game suspension to open the regular season, but could be a candidate for the Colts' backup quarterback job upon his return.

» "I feel like I've done my best. I've gone hard, I tried to put into these coaches that they can trust me, so now the rest is in God's hands — well, in their (the coaches') hands, really." — Cornerback Marvell Tell III, who tied E.J. Speed for team-high honors with eight tackles and had a game-best three passes defensed Thursday against the Bengals. Tell III, a fifth-round pick by the Colts this year out of USC, has converted from safety to cornerback and finished tied for fourth on the team with nine preseason tackles, while his five passes defensed were the best on the team by three PDs.

» "I'm going to take this time to help my body recover, and ultimately, man, it's their decision how they want to form the roster. Obviously I love being a Colt; I want it to all work out. But ultimately, yeah, it's their decision, so I'm going to take this time to let my body heal up and be ready. On my mind right now is just (the) Chargers." — Tight end Ross Travis, who was targeted seven times on Thursday and had three receptions for 20 yards against the Bengals. Travis, who had five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games, worked all the way back from a season-ending torn ACL suffered last year in the final minutes of the Colts' preseason finale, also against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

» "There was a lot of times I had some doubts — I think as a lot of people do. Especially going into such a great tight end room. But obviously it's not done yet. You know, I could still be out here, and we'll see. But I was pleased with what I've done, and I felt like I showed that I can contribute in this league in some fashion, and we'll see what happens from here." — Tight end Hale Hentges, who hauled in seven catches for 80 yards, as well as a two-point conversion, in four preseason games, including one reception for 18 yards Thursday against the Bengals. Coming from Alabama, where he was known more for his blocking than his abilities as a pass catcher, Hentges is hoping extend the Colts' NFL-long streak of undrafted rookies making the Week 1 roster to 21 consecutive years.

» "Definitely. You wanna come out and showcase your skills and show your value. So every day I really try to come out and do that — try to make it hard — so that's what I planned on doing, so I think I did it." — Linebacker Skai Moore, who had a strong outing Thursday against the Bengals, finishing with two tackles and a special teams stop, and coming up with the play of the day for the defense. With the Bengals facing a 4th and Goal from the Indianapolis 1-yard line, Moore sniffed out the run play by Quinton Flowers and stuffed him for a loss of one, turning the ball back over to the offense, which was eventually able to run out the clock and earn the victory.

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