The Herald Bulletin

August 25, 2013

Rayford could be Colts' latest diamond in the rough

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, very little Caesar Rayford does can be considered small.

But the Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker took another step Sunday toward the biggest accomplishment of his professional football career. With free-agent addition Lawrence Sidbury being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder ailment, Rayford's longshot bid to make the 53-man roster moved closer to reality.

The 27-year-old has spent parts of two seasons on the British Columbia Lions' practice squad in the Canadian Football League, played one season with the Spokane Shock in the Arena Football League's minor league and become a star in three seasons with the AFL's Utah Blaze since ending his college career at the University of Washington in 2007.

He was signed by the Colts on May 23 and now has a chance to become general manager Ryan Grigson's latest minor-league discovery. Tight end/fullback Dominique Jones made the roster last season fresh from the Indoor Football League's Reading Express, and starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman set a franchise record for tackles in 2012 after playing the previous three seasons for the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Rayford continued to state his case during Saturday's 27-6 victory against the Cleveland Browns, recording three tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble. He's been Indianapolis' most potent pass rusher throughout the preseason — with a team-high five sacks overall — but he remains humble about the whole experience.

"It's a good feeling," he said in the locker room Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I guess I'm just living the moment right now and savoring it."

Rayford told media at practice last week that some players come in the front door to the NFL and others sneak in the back.

"Then you got guys like me that got to climb the house and jump through the chimney," he said. "Hopefully, that landing doesn't hurt too bad and get back up. It's definitely blessed for the opportunity and getting found."

Rayford has made the most of every chance he's been given in Indianapolis. He saw some time with the first-team defense late in the second quarter and early in the third against the Browns and held his own against perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas.

That's the kind of thing that catches the eyes of a coaching staff, and it couldn't have come at a better time. The Colts must trim their roster to 75 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and the team cleared 12 names off its list Sunday afternoon.

Cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Allen Chapman, offensive guard Danous Estenor, defensive tackle Kellen Heard, kicker Brandon McManus, running back Davin Meggett, linebacker C.O. Prime, center Rick Schmeig and safety Ashante Williams were released.

The team reached an injury settlement with wide receiver Maurice Williams, and cornerback Teddy Williams was waived-injured. Sidbury's move to IR cleared the 12th roster spot.

The Colts still must make three more cuts by Tuesday, and several players did their best to make the team's decisions difficult during the win against Cleveland.

"You can see the young guys, the second-team guys and some of those young guys that got in there in the second half, the level that they're playing at right now because they're all fighting for jobs," head coach Chuck Pagano said Saturday night. "They're all looking for roster spots. They're trying to make a roster. I think everybody, because of the acquisitions, because of the free agents, because of the draft, those types of things, our roster is in a much better place than it was at any time last year."

In many ways, Rayford might be the right player in the right place at the right time.

Indianapolis entered training camp looking for someone to step up and show he could put pressure on the quarterback. Rayford has answered that call and now could become the most unexpected addition to the regular-season roster.

"One perspective is working your tail off and just going every play like it's your last because you never know," Rayford said of his preseason approach. "That's my whole concept, just playing as hard as I can like it's my last play because there is a lot of great competition and a lot of great talent, and I'm just trying to work my tail off to make an impact."