Colts vs. Bengals: There’s a lot on the line in preseason finale

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Scott Tolzien

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – We’re approaching the finish line of the NFL’s faux season. And as has been the case since 2003, the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals offer the parting shots.

The I-74 rivals share the Lucas Oil Stadium stage for a 7 p.m. kickoff on FOX59, and the routine doesn’t figure to change.

“It’s a huge opportunity for a lot of young players, the back-end guys on your roster,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “We’re not going to play a lot of guys. Everybody knows that.’’

In last summer’s preseason wrap-up, 32 Colts didn’t step on the field. That included 21 of 22 players who started the season opener against Detroit. The outlier? Backup cornerback Darryl Morris who opened against the Lions as a nickel corner.

Thursday isn’t about getting one last look at players securely on the roster, although Pagano surprised a few of us by revealing Scott Tolzien, expected to be under center Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams, will start against the Bengals.

The final preseason game is a final 60-minute exercise to sort out a handful of roster spots. It’s also a last audition for players – those “bubble’’ guys – hoping to make the necessary impression.

“Shoot, I think anyone can be on the bubble,’’ said quarterback Stephen Morris. “I think I’m still on the bubble.

“It doesn’t matter what the situation is. I think everyone is here ready to play. They understand, yeah, it’s game four and maybe some starters won’t be playing. But for everyone else, this is a big opportunity for a lot of guys, myself included.’’

That in mind, a few players to watch Thursday:

OL Brian Schwenke:

OK, he’s not a “bubble’’ player. But is he a viable option to be the Colts’ starting center against the Rams? Schwenke missed the final portion of OTAs and much of training camp while recovering from a broken bone in his left foot. He was taken off PUP last week and started practicing, and might see some playing time against the Bengals. The team might feel more comfortable with Schwenke at center rather than Deyshawn Bond, the undrafted rookie and Warren Central High School product. But it would be nice to see Schwenke in game action before just plopping him into the starting lineup.

WR/KR JoJo Natson:

The smallest Colt (5-7, 153 pounds) has been a huge factor. His 11 receptions are tied for 3rd-most in the league while his 124 yards rank 8th. The coaching staff must determine whether the former Akron standout or returnee Quan Bray is the better fit as the fifth or sixth receiver and top return man. There’s little chance there’s room for both.

DL Davis Parry:

By all accounts, he’s had a workmanlike preseason. Nothing flashy, but neither has Parry done anything to get himself cut. If, as we expect, he’s released this weekend, it will be a result of the Colts having better options. If that occurs, the team will jettison a 2015 fifth-round draft pick who has started all 32 games.

OT Le’Raven Clark:

This is a strange situation. The 2016 third-round pick came on late as a rookie, starting the final three games at right tackle. Clark then worked the entire offseason and opened training camp at that spot, and was the starting right tackle in the preseason opener. Last Saturday at Pittsburgh, he worked at left tackle in the second half. This could be a Le’Raven Clark versus Zach Banner decision when settling on the offensive line room. We initially leaned towards keeping Clark because of his experience, but it’s worth pointing out Banner is one of general manager Chris Ballard’s draft picks (round 4).

ILB Edwin Jackson:

Another head-scratcher. Jackson has been something of an afterthought as the Colts have dealt with injury issues to higher-profile players. He started the preseason opener against the Lions as projected starters Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison were dealing with their own injury issues, but that’s been the extent of his contributions. Jackson has dealt with an unspecified injury that has keep him off the practice field and out of the last two games. He brings energy to the defense and started eight games last year. Now? Stay tuned.

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