Offseason Breakdown: Indianapolis Colts
With NFL training camps just around the corner, we’re taking a team-by-team look at how the offseason played out and what you can expect in 2012. Click here to read them all.
We all know the story of the 2011 Colts; it’s been dissected ad nauseum. For years, Peyton Manning lifted a slightly-above-average supporting cast into the upper echelon of NFL teams. Without him, the Colts were lost, both athletically and emotionally — you could see that the team couldn’t figure out, especially in the beginning of the year, how to proceed without its legend. And that’s not even to speak of the lesser, but still significant loss of Gary Brackett.
Suddenly, a team that had nine straight winning seasons, with a host of division titles and a Super Bowl win, had to sweat matching the 2008 Lions’ historic 0-16 mark.
In the wake of their 2-14 season, there has been a significant transformation across the board — in the front office, in the coaching staff, and in the roster. These aren’t your older brother’s Colts anymore.
2011 Record: 2-14 (fourth place, AFC South)
Key Additions: QB Andrew Luck, TE Coby Fleener, WR T.Y. Hilton, OT Winston Justice, DL Cory Redding, G Mike McGlynn, C Samson Satele, WR Donnie Avery
Key Subtractions: QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai, S Melvin Bullitt, LB Gary Brackett, TE Dallas Clark, WR Pierre Garcon, CB Jacob Lacey, OL Mike Pollak, G Ryan Diem, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, LB Philip Wheeler
Team Strengths: QB, OLB
Team Weaknesses: OL, DL, DB
Three Things to Watch:
1. Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck: There’s a new quarterback in Indianapolis. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
For all of the accolades and praise thrown Luck’s way, the No. 1 overall pick is in an interesting situation. He’s replacing maybe the best quarterback of all-time, on a roster that has been gutted, with a spotlight focused squarely on him. If he’s going to turn the Colts around this year, he’ll have to do it without much help. The offensive line has three new starters, including an revamped right side. The receiving corps leaves something to be desired — Reggie Wayne is reliable but aging, and the rest of the pieces are underwhelming. The one thing Luck has going for him is a pair of promising tight ends, including former college teammate Coby Fleener. He and third-round pick Dwayne Allen can both catch and block, and they’ll be counted on to do both often given the weakness at receiver and offensive line.
That seems like a dreadful situation, but maybe it’s not. By all accounts, Luck has outstanding character and mettle, and he’s basically coming in with no immediate expectations. Despite the hype he’s received, no one expects the Colts to be good this year. If he can even keep the offense somewhat respectable, he’ll have had a successful rookie season in the eyes of most.
2. Can the Colts pull off the switch to a 3-4?: Former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is in as head coach, and he’s brought with him Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme. After years of playing in a 4-3, the Colts will be switching. But do they have the pieces to pull it off?
The 3-4-specific players the Colts brought in are nice, but not exactly difference-makers: Cory Redding in free agency, Josh Chapman and Tim Fugger late in the draft. That’s it. At outside linebacker, one of the key spots in a 3-4, the Colts will hope that Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney can make the adjustment from 4-3 defensive end, even though both are on the wrong side of 30. The team passed on a chance to bring in Courtney Upshaw at that spot, drafting Fleener instead. While Freeney and Mathis excel at rushing the passer, the chief responsibility of their new job, you have to wonder how possible it is to teach old dogs new tricks.
3. How patient will the fans be with this new era?: Let’s face it: Colts fans have been spoiled, getting to watch one of the most dominant teams of the last decade-plus. But whereas most top teams transition and rebuild gradually, replacing a few pieces a year while trying to keep continuity, the Colts decided it was in their best interest to just rip off the band-aid and deal with all the pain that entails at once.
The timing was as fortuitous as it could be for the Colts, because if there’s anything that could keep fans interested in a team that looks to be one of the league’s worst this year, it’s the most-hyped QB prospect of the last 20 years. Still, they’ve already struggled with season ticket sales in Manning’s absence, and, if Luck is slow to adjust to the NFL, we could be seeing Lucas Oil Stadium quite empty on Sundays.
Outlook: All empires come to an end, we’ve learned that repeatedly in history. The Colts’ is no different. While you should never say never, especially in the NFL, there appears to be no hope in sight for the 2012 Colts. Even if Luck performs at or above expectations, will he be good enough to significantly raise the level of the team around him, as his predecessor so often did? At one point soon he may be capable of that, but it’s a bit unrealistic to expect it to happen so soon. Cam Newton set the bar for rookie quarterback seasons, and last year’s Panthers weren’t as bad as this year’s Colts look to be, and Newton still couldn’t win more than six games.
Patience is necessary with these Colts. When you inherit a roster as seriously flawed as the one Pagano and new GM Ryan Grigson are dealing with, you can’t turn it all around in one season. Or even two. They got their franchise QB in place, with a couple of nice pieces on offense to grow with him. But Colts fans will have to sit through another woeful season before more help comes. This is a team that again might sniff 0-16, and it’s very possible that when January comes, Indianapolis is again holding the draft’s No. 1 pick.
– By Tom Mantzouranis