Five to Watch: Rookies

Adrian Grady (AP Photo)

Which rookies still need to make a favorable impression on the coaches in order to make the roster? Brad Keller gives you five rookies to watch for Saturday's game.

1. Jaimie Thomas: According to the latest 53-man roster update, posted Wednesday by Eric, Thomas will be one of eight rookies to make the roster, with second year man Steve Justice ending up as the odd man out.

Neither player has seen a lot of time on the field thus far in the preseason, but Justice does have a regular season start on his resume and, like Thomas, is still playing under his rookie contract, so he is cheap labor for the Colts as well.

Justice can play guard and center, while Thomas can play guard and tackle, so both players are versatile.  Thomas is currently fighting for his roster spot, basically head-to-head with Justice, so he needs to have a big game with a signature play in order to knock Justice down the depth chart and off the roster.

Thomas may still make the team without a solid performance on Saturday, but a solid performance with a signature play will fortify his place on the team.

2. Mike TauiliiliHe would appear to be the undrafted rookie linebacker that does not make the roster, as Ramon Humber has been slightly better and more effective, both on defense and special teams.

There are only so many slots available and, historically, Indianapolis has not kept many linebackers to run with the final 53.  Injuries were an issue last year at the position, so they may keep seven players instead of six, as Hartz suggests in his article, but that still leaves Tauiliili on the wrong side of a talent squeeze.

The battle for that last linebacker spot is not lost yet.  Tauiliili and Freddy Keiaho still have just as good a shot at securing the job as Humber.  It will be important for Tauiliili to outperform, outhustle, and outhit his competition in order to make a favorable impression on the Indianapolis staff.

Even if he doesn't secure a spot on the depth chart with the Colts, the skills he displays on Saturday and in the final preseason game will be noticed by other teams in the league — other Cover 2 teams, such as the Lions, in particular.

3. Brett McDermottEveryone else's eyes will be on the big name rookie receiver Austin Collie, but McDermott is the player that needs to separate himself from the pack.

He has blended in too much to this point in training camp and the preseason and needs to register a breakout play.  Although it's highly unlikely that Curtis Painter and McDermott will be able to hook up on a big play like Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne did against the Eagles — realistically, would Painter and McDermott have been able to identify the blown coverage, communicate with each other, and have Painter drop in a perfectly thrown pass as seamlessly as Manning and Wayne did — McDermott needs to be on the receiving end of a game-changing play similar to that one.

Even if he doesn't make a lasting impression on the coaches for the Colts, he may make a strong impression on some NFL team.  Fellow undrafted rookie John Matthews currently has the inside track on a practice squad spot, but McDermott can close the gap or even pull ahead with a good outing.

He'll be fighting for his professional life on Saturday afternoon, which makes him far more interesting to watch than Collie.

4. Adrian GradyGrady still has a better-than-average chance of making the roster, but lost some momentum against the Eagles. He needs to get back to what made him successful in that first game — attacking the line of scrimmage, penetrating into the backfield, making the tackle himself — in order to jump out at the coaches and make the team.

Ironically, he lost some of his momentum because he was tending to his assignment in the game against Philadelphia by occupying blockers at the point of attack.  However, the linebackers made the plays in those situations, so Grady got only film credit, not anything that would reflect on the stat sheet.

The Colts have a history of undrafted rookie defensive tackles making the roster and making a significant contribution.  They have too much depth and talent at the position at this point for Grady to make as much of an impact as Ed Johnson made in 2007 and Eric Foster made in 2008, but that doesn't mean he can't make the roster with another performance like he had against Minnesota.

The good news for Grady — and the bad news for Indianapolis — is that someone will pick him up if the Colts waive him.  Saturday night is another important step in determining whether or not they decide to cut him loose in September.

5. Curtis Painter:  For the past several seasons, Indianapolis has kept only two quarterbacks on the roster and that has worked out just fine for them.  During the Jim Sorgi Era, that have yet to find a player that could come in and replace him, so they've kept Sorgi on the roster.

Painter represents the most formidable challenge Sorgi has faced in a long while, but he still faces extremely long odds to make the roster.  Chances are slim to none, even if Sorgi sits out the game and Painter performs well, that Painter will usurp Sorgi as Manning's caddy.

However, the Colts have also kept a quarterback on the practice squad in case of emergency.  In order for Painter to make the practice squad, he needs to clear waivers.  In order to clear waivers, the other 31 teams in the league can't be interested in him.

If Painter performs well in whatever time he's given against Detroit, he will make the decision on whether or not to allow him to hit the open market that much tougher.

Right now, the instincts are there, the athleticism is there, and the numbers are improving.  In order to take the next step from intriguing to uncuttable, Painter needs to improve upon his production, starting with completion percentage and ending with a touchdown drive.  If he can put that together on Saturday, he'll have a very good chance of staying on the roster.


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