Using pencil to pick 53-man roster

Colts have several difficult choices to make

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has said this will be the most difficult final roster cut of his three years in Indy due to team depth. Taking a crack at choosing 53 players proved his point.

The attempt to choose 53 players before Saturday’s 4 p.m. NFL roster-cut deadline has been a constant reminder of what Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has said, that “everything is drawn in pencil.”

One minute, a guy seems like a lock. An injury later, another guy is kept because of a lack of depth.

One thing is for certain, the list of players the Colts finally settle on probably won’t be exactly like this, but here’s one take on who they could keep.

Quarterback (2) — Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck

While Chandler Harnish keeps plugging, it’s not the Hoosier hopeful’s time just yet. At least not with the Colts. Hasselbeck is in the last year of his contract as a seasoned backup. And having both him and Luck probably means the Colts have the two best quarterbacks in the AFC South. Because of depth issues at other positions, Harnish can’t be kept. But the good news is, if he clears waivers, he’ll stay with his buddies for one more year, his third on the practice squad. And a year from now, if he can take that next step, he could be Luck’s backup. But no guarantees.

Running back (3) — Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dan Herron

While fullback Mario Harvey could be kept, too, it would be until Stanley Havili comes off PUP after six weeks. The gut instinct is the Colts can employ an H-back, presumably a tight end, to help the O-line clear some holes for the run game and protect Luck.

Wide receiver (5) — Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Griff Whalen

It’s quite possible the Colts keep Rogers, but his bonehead celebration of a touchdown in Thursday’s preseason finale probably works against him. That said, keeping six might be wise considering 35-year-old Wayne is coming off ACL surgery, Nicks has an injury history and Moncrief is a rookie. While Whalen’s spot seemed in doubt early on, the fact he didn’t play Thursday suggests he’s a keeper.

Tight end (4) — Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Weslye Saunders, Jack Doyle

Wrestled with this spot. It comes down to whether they keep three or four. Because blocking help will be essential, they have to keep Saunders, who might be the best blocker of the four. But Doyle is a capable reserve, too. So we stick with four. And might need to use the pencil later when the real roster is announced.

Offensive line (10) — Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Khaled Holmes, Hugh Thornton, Gosder Cherilus, Joe Reitz, Lance Louis, Jonotthan Harrison, Josh Walker, Xavier Nixon

Reitz’s high ankle sprain as well as Nixon coming off Aug. 8 arthroscopic knee surgery means the Colts could keep an extra guy. It’s doubtful both Reitz and Nixon or perhaps either will be able to go Sept. 7 at Denver, not to mention Holmes (ankle) hasn’t played since the preseason opener and Harrison (thumb) missed the preseason finale, too. But then again, Mewhort could fill in at center or tackle. The Colts likely comb the waiver wire for a tackle or guard since Matt Hall suffered an elbow injury Thursday. So somebody, maybe even two players at other positions, get cut a day or two later.

Defensive line (6) — Cory Redding, Arthur Jones, Josh Chapman, Ricky Jean Francois, Montori Hughes, Zach Kerr

The nice thing about a 3-4 is that as long as you have enough big bodies in the middle, you can move outside linebackers up to play defensive end in a pinch. Jones, Chapman, Hughes and Kerr give the Colts as much beef inside as they’ve had in a long time. Brandon McKinney could be kept, too, but it doesn’t seem like the Colts need to do that.

Linebacker (10) — Bjoern Werner, Erik Walden, Jerrell Freeman, D’Qwell Jackson, Josh McNary, Jonathan Newsome, Kelvin Sheppard, Cam Johnson, Henoc Muamba, Andy Studebaker.

The last four names were the hard part. That OLB Robert Mathis doesn’t count because he’s suspended for the first four games provides an extra spot. But it’s still uncertain if all of these guys make it. Studebaker is so good on special teams, it’s too hard to cut him. That’s what your ninth or 10th linebacker is going to do, ideally, 99 percent of the time. Muamba might be the bubble guy. As much as GM Ryan Grigson would like to give another Canadian Football League import a shot, perhaps he can’t. Just comes down to numbers. For now, Muamba stays.

Defensive back (10) — Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, LaRon Landry, Mike Adams, Darius Butler, Josh Gordy, Sergio Brown, Colt Anderson, Louchez Purifoy, Marcus Burley

The hunch is Howell ends up on PUP or IR. Just can’t see how the Colts keep five safeties, and Howell hasn’t practiced in three weeks. Based on playing time in the preseason, the other guys seem like safe bets.

Specialists (3) — Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee, Matt Overton

The easiest position to pick. All three are excellent.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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