So how does Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano cut a productive guy like Griff Whalen this week? Or does he?
These are the days I wouldn't want Pagano's job.
There are going to be some tough decisions for Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson, exemplified by the plight of players like Whalen.
Whalen was brought in as a rookie free agent signee, a former teammate of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck at Stanford. As he showed in the Colts' 30-17 preseason loss to the Washington Redskins on Saturday in Washington, D.C, he's as competitive and tough as anyone. Former Colts backup quarterback Jim Sorgi compared him to Brandon Stokley during the local television broadcast. That's high praise.
Whalen catches passes in traffic, whether from Luck at Stanford or from Colts backup Chandler Harnish in preseason games. He then turns those catches into extra yards. He's clutch on third down.
Yet he's in a real fight for a job.
The Colts, with or without concussed veteran Austin Collie, have an overload of receivers. So when the roster is cut from 75 to 53 the day after the final preseason game vs. Cincinnnati next Thursday, some good players will be released. (Plenty of mediocre ones will be, too, but that's another story.)
Whalen will be on the bubble in the numbers game, since Reggie Wayne, Collie, T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill and Donnie Avery appear to stand in front of him. Then there's a potential wildcard in 6-foot-3 Kris Adams, and it's tough to read a player with experience like Quan Cosby.
Whalen caught eight passes for 66 yards at Washington, looked great in the process, and ended the game using crutches. (He's having ongoing foot problems that date back to previous years.) He'll be x-rayed for more issues.
The plight of Whalen, if he's back healthy next week, is indicative of the situation the Colts and all NFL teams will face this week. It's not always a matter of trimming to the 53 best players. That would actually be an easier job. Alas, NFL offense can't be played with a quarterback, seven receivers and two offensive linemen.
While Luck (14 of 23 for 151 yards and a beautiful touchdown throw to Hilton) performed well in his highly publicized “showdown” with Robert Griffin III (11 of 17, 74 yards, one TD), there were areas of concern for the Colts. The offensive line struggled to protect Luck. The running game stood still. Defensively, there were some decent plays, but also a revival of the Colts' vintage non-existent run defense. There's concern over a Jerraud Powers injury.
These Colts will have growing pains. Regular seasons are different from preseasons. Some spectacular plays may surround those growing pains, but they'll be pains nonetheless.
Granted, the roster could look different in a number of ways before the Sept.9 opener at Chicago. The Colts are first in line to sign cut players, starting with the trim from 90 to 75 on Monday and again for the final cut Friday.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson assembled as nice a group of skill players as he could under the circumstances. Even his backup quarterbacks have had their moments. Since Drew Stanton was with his wife as she went into labor, Harnish handled the offense most of the second half. Harnish completed 12 of 19 passes for 147 yards and led two scoring drives. He had a big 59-yard pass to Jeremy Ross, another guy fighting for his career.
Again, the receiving crew looks good, and that's whether or not you count tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
There's not enough room for everybody. Great prospects – maybe Whalen, maybe not – will have to be released to trim the roster. There's always the practice squad for young players, if they clear waivers.
“Building the monster” from scratch requires some tough calls, some difficult calls. The week ahead will bring the 2012 Colts into focus, but it won't be fun for coaches or players.
Strong players like Whalen are the toughest calls of all.
These are the days I wouldn't want to be the Colts coach.