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INDIANAPOLIS – Back in the spring, when asked about his immense wide receiver depth improving in 2019, Frank Reich threw out the final roster number of ‘4 or 5’ when discussing the difficulty of cutting that group this year.
But could the Colts actually keep 6 wide receivers?
It’s possible, as the Colts sift through all possible roster crunching scenarios this month.
T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell (who has missed the last 7 practices at Grand Park with a right hamstring injury) are all going to be on the Week One roster.
It’s safe to throw Deon Cain’s name on that list as well, with him continuing to show no favoritism towards that injured knee, with a beautiful toe-tap catch in Thursday’s preseason opener an indication of just that.
While the ‘starting’ reps for Cain have not been too consistent this camp, the coaching staff is very pleased with how he’s looked, and will grow his role in the coming weeks.
“He’s still getting better and I always think it takes a good year and we’re approaching that,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni says of Cain coming off the torn ACL. “But it’s a year, a year plus, everybody’s body is a little different. I think he’s done a great job. And it’s a confidence thing. The first couple (reps), naturally, he’s planting, he’s cutting and it doesn’t feel quite right, he hasn’t done it in a while. But as he does it – and then it doesn’t feel right again and then he does it again and it sticks and he feels explosive off of it.
“I think he’s getting to that point where it’s, ‘Man, that kind of felt good. It felt back to what Deon Cain was last year.’ I just think we’re to that point where it’s starting to feel good for him and he’s elevating and building confidence, but it takes time, it does take time.”
So with Cain not likely to be an IR to return candidate that gives the Colts 4 wideouts on their 53-man roster.
Next up is, clearly, Chester Rogers.
He’s been the healthiest frontline wideout in camp, and is easily the lead punt return option, while the other options around him have struggled in the return game.
Sirianni doesn’t hold back when discussing the trust he has in Rogers, who has taken virtually every starting slot rep this camp as Campbell continues to be sidelined.
“I can’t say enough for (Rogers) and the type of camp that he’s had,” Sirianni says. “He’s competitive. I think we all know, he sees a guy that comes in (Campbell) and wants his spot and he’s saying, ‘(No).’
“He’s tough, he’s consistent. I love what he has done and I can’t say enough (about) how good his camp has been so far and we’ve still got some more days to go. I just want to continue to see that from Chester because he’s built a lot of trust up in us as coaches and his teammates.”
Lately in camp, and also on Thursday night, we’ve seen more and more flashes from Reece Fountain, a guy who still has a steep climb to get to the 53-man roster.
“Good night for Daurice,” is what Frank Reich had to say after Fountain caught 5 balls for a team-leading 63 yards in the preseason opener. “That’s what we are looking for. This is what we saw when we drafted him. We’ve seen it in practice and this was a good time for Reece to show that playmaking ability.
“Now just have to show that week in and week out.”
That final comment is something Sirianni echoed earlier in the week, when asked about Fountain’s moments in camp.
“We want our players to be consistent and to do it over and over again, and those are guys we know we can count on, and that’s 100 percent it (with Fountain),” Sirianni says. “Chris Ballard and his staff do a great job and they saw the flashes in him and that’s why he’s here. And it’s our job as coaches to get those flashes as consistent as possible. We know there’s going to be ups and downs, good plays, bad plays, but we need those good plays to far outweigh the bad plays and he’s well on his way there.”
Besides Fountain, you have other guys actually above him on the depth chart in Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson and Krishawn Hogan.
Pascal is held in high regard from the staff because of what he offered the Colts last year, offensively and on special teams.
Would he be the 6th wideout, if the Colts go to that number?
The decisions will not be easy trimming this group of 13 down.
And, as wide receivers coach Kevin Patullo points out, special teams impact will be a huge deciding factor.
“It’s really big,” Patullo says of having a presence on special teams. “You look at some of the guys around the league, depending on how many you keep, they’ve got to be core players of some sort. If they aren’t a returner, they got to be on the punt team, or kickoff team, or kick return team, somewhere on the front line. It’s pretty important for all those guys to be tuned into special teams and the good part is in all these preseason games, they will all play special teams so they will be evaluated pretty well with that.”
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