INDIANAPOLIS – Some parts of every job are quite difficult and they can remain vivid for a long time.
For an NFL player the days leading into the last preseason game could mean the final chance to make the team he has been working with for a few weeks. In some cases a player could eventually return, though that never is promised. For others, it could mean a distinct change in scenery.
Training camp roster sizes of 90 players were pared to 80 by the Tuesday prior to the final preseason game. Soon after the game, the roster size will be reduced to 53 players. A day later eight players may be added to a practice squad.
The week is difficult for everyone involved. It is impossible to quantify the amount of effort, expense and emotion that has been spent in reaching this point.
Some Colts veteran players remember what it was like going into this particular weekend.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers was a rookie trying to make the team in 2009. Powers made the team and ended up starting 12 times that year. He knows what to tell guys as they approach the Cincinnati game on Thursday.
"I think it's something where you have to go out there and play your game," said Powers. "You don't want to go out there and try to do too much and end up doing worse than you actually could have done. Guys should go out there level-headed, just focus on doing their job, make a play here and there and playing within the defense. Everything will be alright. We have a lot of great talent on this team. It's sort of like an audition for another team also. If you don't make this team and know you played well, did good, the coach has good things to say about you, maybe the next team will put you on their squad."
Tenth-year defensive end Dwight Freeney was a first-round draft pick who did not have to fight every emotion that some other young players did. Freeney has seen many players come to the Colts since he has been here, and he knows what the final preseason game can mean for them.
"This is kind of their Super Bowl," he said. "They're trying to make this team, and it's a huge game for them. They have to do all the things right and, hopefully, do something that will really stand out."
Freeney is up front as well in letting guys know that efforts put out on one playing field could help in landing a career on another one somewhere else.
"It's tough in this league," said Freeney. "Some of the young people come in and have dreams of making this team. The thing is if they come out of the last game with some good film another team could pick them up, too. We could see them later. We've cut a guy and brought him back two years later."
Robert Mathis is another Pro Bowl defensive end for the Colts. He was a fifth-round pick in 2003 from Alabama A&M. The club was resourceful in finding tape on Mathis prior to the draft because there was not much available. Indianapolis liked what it saw, and it helped Mathis get a career going. He, too, tells others the importance of playing hard because people are watching.
"You tell them this is their resume," said Mathis. "It may not work out here, but there are 31 other teams that are watching. You can't limit yourself to one team, and that goes for anybody."
Three of the club's four team captains, kicker Adam Vinatieri, linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt, made the NFL as undrafted free agents. Brackett and Bullitt made it with Indianapolis, while Vinatieri started in New England and has crafted a career that ranks among the best of any kicker in any era.
Bullitt remembers the fourth preseason game of his rookie year in 2007. He took it seriously and gave it his all. It paid off.
"I do (remember the game). That was my first start in the preseason (the fourth game of preseason at Cincinnati in Paul Brown Stadium). I think I played every snap, every special teams (play), the whole game, and I mean I was dog-tired," Bullitt said. "At the end, I kind of got a good pat on the back from Coach (Tony) Dungy. I felt really good that night going to bed. I did not get a call the next day. That really felt good."
Head Coach Jim Caldwell, his staff and the front office do not have an easy time either. Thursday night's game against the Bengals can be a final proving ground.
"Well it's a big week, because of the fact that, more often than not, it's probably when they're going to get the most playing time," said Caldwell. "The evaluation is key. (We're) trying to determine whether or not they (young players) can play their particular position well enough to certainly be a factor on the team. Any time that jobs are at stake, it's huge. So they have limited opportunities, this year in particular, to show themselves without the benefit of our OTAs and things of that nature. So they have to make a fairly quick impression, and time's running out."
The fourth preseason weekend can be a critical time for an entire football organization. The training camp roster size went from 90 to 80 players before the game. Shortly afterward, it will go to 53 players. Some Colts veterans recall how they approached it and the advice they can offer to younger players.