INDIANAPOLIS — This is it.
The Indianapolis Colts tonight play their fourth and final preseason game of the 2016 season on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals before heading back to Indianapolis and, within a couple days, finding out who will be among the 53 players chosen for the team's Week 1 roster.
Highlights from the Eagles game.
Tonight's game against the Bengals represents a final opportunity for many players who might be considered "on the bubble" to either prove they can hang with the team, or perhaps show that they need just a little more work before getting their shot.
Many of those players talked this week about that very opportunity. Here are some highlights from those conversations:
"In my mind, just being consistent. Continuing making good plays, making good decisions, getting the ball out quicker, more decisive with my feet. And just playing a little better."*Player:Quarterback Stephen Morris, on his goals for this final preseason game.
Morris has made it tough on the Colts' coaching staff and front office personnel, who might've originally believed the team would only keep two quarterbacks — starter Andrew Luck and backup Scott Tolzien — heading into the regular season.
Perhaps Morris has played his way into being on the 53-man roster, too?
In the first three weeks of the preseason, Morris has completed 19-of-31 passes (61.3 percent) for 314 yards with three touchdowns to no interceptions. He has also been effective when needed out of the pocket, running the ball five times for 46 yards (9.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
He'll undoubtedly get the most snaps all preseason tonight against the Bengals. Let's see what he's able to do with them.
"I'm definitely holding up well. That's the biggest thing, is trying to stay (in the) present and take each day as it comes, and just try to get better the best you can to the best of your ability. Take advantage of practices, take advantage of the treatment time, take advantage of the time you have with the coaches and stuff like that. Especially with this last week, I'm just trying to finish strong, and put a good showing out for the coaches and this organization to see, and then go from there."*Player: Outside linebacker Trevor Bates, on his daily, focused approach.
Bates was the Colts' seventh-round (239th-overall) pick in this year's NFL Draft. As an "undersized" pass rusher — at 6-foot-2, 247 pounds — coming out of a small school in Maine, Bates has impressed the likes of Colts legendary pass rusher Robert Mathis, who considered Bates one of his favorite rookies during training camp.
Through three preseason games, Bates has recorded three total tackles, but knows he'll need to step it up in all areas of his game — including special teams — tonight if he wants to be considered for the team's final roster.
"I'm a rookie, so it feels like a regular game to me. I don't see a difference from preseason to a regular game. I take it all serious. But as far as those big plays, I try to be the energy boost that the team needs, coming as a young player trying to be that excitement that we need."*Player: Wide receiver Chester Rogers, on taking a serious approach to preseason games.
Rogers, an undrafted rookie, has been one of the pleasant surprises of the preseason for the Colts, and is likely among three players vying for the team's fifth (and likely final) wide receiver spot on the 53-man roster, alongside Tevaun Smith and MeKale McKay.
Rogers has been able to show flashes both on offense and as a returner on special teams. Offensively, he has seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown — a 57-yard play. As a punt returner, Rogers has three returns — one of them a fair catch — for 42 total yards (an average of 14 yards per punt, best on the team) with a long return of 26 yards.
We'll see by Saturday's final cutdown day if Rogers has done enough to merit a final spot.
"I feel like I can really help out the defense here. With the help of my coaches — Coach Herm (Jim Herrmann) and Coach Ted (Monachino) — they're really focusing in on just our effort and just the way we come and take the field and the dominance they want us to bring to the field, and I feel like I can definitely help out with that. Also special teams."*Player: Inside linebacker Edwin Jackson, on what he brings to the Colts' defense.
Jackson has been seen flying around for the Colts' defense and special teams units when he's on the field. His 11 total tackles are second best on the Colts this preseason, and he also has a quarterback hit to boot. Jackson also has two total tackles on special teams, adding to his value.
The first-year Georgia Southern product — who was with Indianapolis' practice squad for the final month of the 2015 season — hopes he's able to nab a backup spot at inside linebacker, which has several intriguing candidates for the Colts this year.
"You've always got something to work on, man. I mean, the greatest players always find things to work on. You're never perfect, so at the end of the day, I'm staying after practice working on things, making a list of things that I want to work on, and attacking those things."*Player: Inside linebacker Antonio Morrison, on what specific areas he wants to improve in his game.
The one player to have more tackles than Edwin Jackson for the Colts this season? That would be Morrison, who has 13 of them, including a tackle for loss. Morrison, like Jackson, also has two special teams tackles for coordinator Tom McMahon.
Morrison was the Colts' fourth-round (125th-overall) pick out of Florida, and he has definitely displayed the same nose for the football that he had with the Gators, when he became the first player at the school since 1992-93 to record back-to-back 100-tackle seasons.
But, again, the aforementioned depth at the inside linebacker position means the Colts will have some tough decisions to make, as it's likely they'll have to reluctantly part ways with a talented player or two.
"We call it competition, but I see it as competition with my own self. At the end of the day, it's about putting your best effort, your best foot, forward, on the field, on the film, each day that you get the opportunity. And absolutely, like you said: iron sharpens iron. We do bring the best out of each other, because everybody wants to make this roster, but not only make this roster, but do the best that they can — be the best linebacker that they can be. And that's what we've set out to do in that room, and that's where our linebacker coach kind of wants to pull out from us — each and every one, he holds us to that high standard. So it becomes more of a competition within yourself, and when you look at it like that, then you see the guys next to you as your brothers, all with the same mindset, all with the same goal in mind."*Player: Inside linebacker Josh McNary, on the friendly competition for a roster spot with others at his position.
One of the more intriguing roster battles will be that of McNary, who has played in parts of the past three seasons for the Colts, establishing himself as a special teams standout after a standout collegiate career at Army.
McNary showed once again last week what he can bring to the Colts' special teams unit when he blocked a Philadelphia Eagles punt that was eventually returned in the end zone for an Indianapolis touchdown.
Defensively, McNary has recorded 10 total tackles — tied for third most on the Colts' defense — this preseason, and also has one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and one pass defensed. He also has two special teams tackles to go with his big block.