Will the Colts get Andrew Luck into camp on time?
It’s mid- July and we are mere days from the start of most training camps, and only weeks from the opening kick-off in New York. With the major changes that occurred within the Colts organization over the off-season, it’s more important than ever that ever single player – veterans and rookies alike – get into camp, on time, and gel together as a team. So here’s a glance at the two biggest issues I see, as well as some key position battles, heading into training camp when players report July 28th in Anderson, Indiana.
Andrew Luck – Will he be signed in time for camp?
We know, through the wonders of social media, that the Colts and Luck have been “close” to agreeing to terms for about a month and a half now. That being said, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades, right? Luck will not and cannot report to camp until he has inked his deal. With the new CBA setting a “wage scale” it’s curios, almost to the point of concern, that no deal has been struck yet.
Rumors floated around that it had to do with the marketing aspects of the contract, but it’s hard to imagine that a team who went 2-14 last season, cut their Hall of Fame quarterback, released numerous established veterans/fan favorites, and is having such a tough time selling season tickets that they are threatening blacking out games despite the NFL’s loosening of the black-out rules, would hold up a deal that should have been completed already just because they don’t want their quarterback of the future plugging a few extra Wheaties commercials.
The bottom line is they need to get the deal done, and the sooner the better. With the OTAs Luck already missed due to collegiate obligations, they pretty much can’t afford to waste time with this. The only thing that should keep Colts fans from pounding the panic button on this issue is the fact the majority of the other top 10 draftees also have yet to sign deals. Expect to see something done soon.
The Colts are changing their defense this year, that’s true. But they are not going to a complete 3-4 defense that one might see inBaltimore or San Francisco. Their new defense will be a hybrid 3-4/4-3. In other words, some plays they will line up with 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers, and others they will have the more familiar 4 down linemen with 3 linebackers. This year, at least, will be one of learning, and you can probably expect some (big) mistakes especially in the early outings.
That being said, not all is lost for the Colts defensively. They still have stud defensive end/outside linebackers Robert Mathis (now the highest paid Colts player) and Dwight Freeney, who is entering the last year of his current contract. Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner, they of 100+ tackles last year, should be the starters at inside linebacker. And pro-bowl safety Antoine Bethea will be the leader in a young defensive secondary.
No, the main issues will be how quickly the Colts can adapt to their new scheme, and how well their young and mostly inexperienced secondary can man-up and make some solid plays. We’ll be touching on that a bit later.
Okay, this may be cheating a little, since this really isn’t a training camp issue, so to speak, but it’s still a major area of concern to the organization. Indianapolis fans have been labeled as “fair-weather fans” for as long as I can remember. Whether that perception is right or wrong, I’ll leave to someone else to determine. I will say that I do firmly believe that Hoosiers tend to identify more with a single star player versus a team more so than maybe any other market in pro sports. The love affair with Peyton Manning is just one example. To see it again you’d need to go back to 2006, the first year in the post-Reggie Miller era of Pacers basketball. Not even the Malice at the Palace debacle kept the fans from coming to Pacer games, but as soon as Reggie left, so did the support for the team, something they haven’t been able to get back until (maybe) this year’s post-season run.
The Colts are in a bit of a different situation than the Pacers were. No matter how bad Pacer basketball got post-Reggie, they were never terrible enough to get the top tier talent available in the NBA Draft. Part of that is due to the NBA’s lottery system; part of it is that there were teams that were just that much more terrible than the Pacers were. The Colts however, tanked (err… lost) bad enough last year to get the #1 overall pick in a year with the best quarterback prospect to enter the league since the guy they cut.
This training camp will be a fairly good indicator as to how much support the team will have this year. While I think the crowds will be large regardless (if for no other reason than to scout the new guy) it will really be the attitude and demeanor of those in the stands that will be the most telling.
Now onto some of the key position battles as I see them:
The biggest issue of need before and after the draft, before and after free-agency, right now and at the end of the current season, is and will be at cornerback.
Jerraud Powers will hold down one starting cornerback position, but there is a glut of inexperience after that. The Colts currently have eleven different cornerbacks on the roster right now. Here’s a rundown of the few you will most likely hear of during the coming season: Kevin Thomas, Chris Rucker, free-agent Cassius Vaughn, Justin King, and Terence Johnson. It’s safe to say that half of these guys most likely won’t make it past training camp, but the fact that Ryan “Grigs” Grigson has brought so many guys in to compete speaks volumes.
I still say that the Colts try to make a trade mid-season, evidenced by their pursuit of the Cowboys’ Mike Jenkins. Even if they do make a trade, cornerback will probably be their #1 draft need heading into next offseason.
We’ll start with both defensive end positions. In the past, this has not been an area of concern, as Freeney and Mathis have combined for a total of 186 sacks and 11 Pro Bowls. But with the switch to the hybrid 3-4, they will be playing a lot of snaps from the outside linebacker position this year (as discussed above). That means while in the 3-4 alignment, they need someone else to man those areas.
The likely candidates for either end position are Drake Nevis and Cory Redding. Nevis is a young player who has shown flashes of talent and Redding would make sense due to his familiarity with head coach Chuck Pagano’s system. However, either could be pushed by Ricardo Matthews and/or Fili Moala, as both have the size needed for a 3-4 defensive lineman.
At nose tackle, you have the old stalwart Antonio Johnson vs. the young rookie Josh Chapman. Chapman would probably be the better fit for the scheme, but at least in camp, Johnson probably has the upper hand due to Chapman’s ACL injury. I know he’s rehabilitated the injury (not to mention the fact that he played an entire season on it) but he’ll probably have some rust that Johnson won’t.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Obviously with Reggie Wayne holding down the number one spot, Andrew Luck will have a key veteran presence to throw to. But who else will be lining up to catch passes on game day? Most will have Austin Collie as the #2 receiver, with maybe Donnie Avery manning the slot. Avery has speed and if he develops well enough could become a Wes Welker like presence in the middle of the field. Don’t count out draft picks T.Y. Hilton or LaVon Brazill either.
Tight end is a completely new position this year. The starting spot will go to either Dwayne Allen or Luck’s Stanford teammate Coby Fleener. My money goes to Fleener simply because of Luck’s familiarity with his work. However, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will likely work from multiple two tight-end sets, so both guys should be fairly productive this year.
Maybe not the most lacking area talent-wise that cornerback is, but with a shiny new quarterback, the guys keeping him on his feet need to know what they are doing. The Colts only have one regular starter from last year on the O-line (Anthony Castonzo). I’ve covered the other likely starters in previous posts, but I’ll go over it quickly one more time: tackles Castonzo and Winston Justice, center Samson Satele, and guards Joe Reitz and Ben Ijalana.
The question here really isn’t who will be starting (though Jeff Linkenbach and Mike McGlynn are dark horses for starting spots at either guard position), more so how well and how quickly they can gel. You have to keep the Franchise upright.
As training camp progresses and cuts are made, I will report as needed, culminating in both my 2012 Colts pre-season predictions as well as my final 2012 pre-season NFL predictions. Keep an eye out.
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