Predicting Two-Deep Indianapolis Colts Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp
It's about time to start looking at NFL team depth charts.
Entering the 2012 season, the Indianapolis Colts are faced with uncertainty at nearly every position. Whether the starter or the backup, or both, almost half of the Colts' roster is different than it was last year.
While it may be a bit premature to accurately predict what their depth chart will look like, that doesn't mean we won't try.
Let's take a look.
Starter: Andrew Luck
Reserve: Drew Stanton
This is one of the only positions on the entire depth chart that is completely locked up.
Andrew Luck has the starting spot in a vise grip after being hailed as the top quarterback prospect to come along since (insert ridiculous comparison).
The backup spot wouldn't seem particularly obvious, but I doubt the Colts want to head into any game with a rookie backing up a rookie. Drew Stanton is the only player on the roster with NFL quarterbacking experience, and as such, we'll pencil him in as the backup.
Starter: Donald Brown
Reserves: Delone Carter, Vick Ballard
While other veterans were being cut amid the Colts' youth-movement killing spree, Brown was retained.
And it's really no wonder why.
He quietly put together a decent season for a guy sharing the backfield with another former first-round pick tailback and a variety of sub-par quarterbacks. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and ran up five rushing touchdowns. Not bad for the backup runner on a team that hit pay dirt only 22 times on the entire season.
The backup position is decidedly open for takers. Delone Carter and Vick Ballard essentially play the same type of ball.
The difference? One of them looked terrible in the NFL last season and one of them looked good in the SEC last season.
I expect Ballard and Carter to get chances for short yardage and goal-line work, as well as a chance to spell Brown when he needs a breather. Darren Evans might also get into the mix.
A few months ago, Colts GM Ryan Grigson had a phone call with the media during which he made a number of statements regarding some of the schematic changes the Colts were about to undergo. He had this to say about the fullback position.
As of right now, yes we’ll utilize a fullback. We also can utilize a tight end in a fullback type role. Those things are all evolving as we move forward here and see what we actually have to actually pick in this draft.
After the Colts traded fullback Chris Gronkowski to the Denver Broncos, then released tight end/H-back Brody Eldridge, it's looking like the they will not use a fullback at all.
Instead, they will focus on repurposing other players to fill the spot when called for. Potential fits include running back Vick Ballard and tight end Dwayne Allen.
Starters: Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery
Reserves: Austin Collie, LaVon Brazill, T.Y. Hilton
While Reggie Wayne is a weathered 33 years young, the Colts don't have the quality of depth to push him down the pecking order. He is well-established as the No. 1 wideout.
After him, it's all up for grabs. Collie has the experience factor, but didn't show anything last year to prove he deserves a spot as a starter. Avery had high hopes before blowing out his knee with the St. Louis Rams and flaming out in Tennessee.
Brazill and Hilton ought to see some spot work, but expect the majority of the snaps to go to the more experienced players.
Starter: Coby Fleener
Reserve: Dwayne Allen
Consider them both starters, as they will both be used extensively this season in Bruce Arian's offense. Though both are primarily pass-catchers, they will become invaluable by learning how to use their bodies to shield defenders long enough for Donald Brown to slip around the outside.
There's no question these two guys are it at tight end for the Colts.
Starters: Anthony Castonzo, Ben Ijalana, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach
Reserves: Winston Justice, Seth Olsen, Justin Anderson
Lost in the mediocrity of last season is the fact that the Colts' offensive line really didn't look too bad.
In fact, they almost make me want to say they were good.
With Castonzo really coming into his own and the other players all playing above expectations, the Colts' offensive line was one of the brightest spots of the entire team, right up there with Pierre Garcon.
Castonzo and Linkenbach started 28 of 32 games between them and should expect to retain the starting positions despite competition from Justice.
Satele gets the nod at center by virtue of being the only center on the roster with true game experience.
Ijalana will get the chance to push for a starting job, but it's certainly no guarantee.
Starters: Fili Moala, Cory Redding
Reserve: Drake Nevis
As the Colts transition to a 3-4 defense, their defensive line became one big question mark.
What will happen to Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis? They became outside linebackers.
Who will play nose tackle? Probably a rookie.
Who do we have with experience as a 3-4 defensive end? Nobody.
That last one hurts, but not as much as it's going to when you see it on the field. The Colts did manage to sign Cory Redding, who has extensive experience as a 3-4 end, but that's it.
Moala gets the nod opposite him due to his frame and his performance as a 4-3 defensive tackle. There's simply nobody else to put there, really.
Starter: Josh Chapman
Reserve: Brandon McKinney
When it became apparent the Colts meant to feature the 3-4 prominently in their defensive philosophy, one nagging question emerged.
Who is our nose tackle?
Without a quality nose tackle, the best 3-4 can be a big, hot mess. Just look at Ray Lewis' season the year before the Baltimore Ravens drafted Haloti Ngata. It was one of the worst of his career. Cries of "he's done" could be heard around the league.
What happened next? The Ravens drafted Ngata (at the behest of Lewis), who would become the most dominant nose tackle in the league, and now Ray is still considered among the league's best at age 37.
The Colts didn't exactly draft the next great nose tackle, but Josh Chapman is a decent stopgap solution to a long-term problem. Considering the number of needs the Colts had this offseason, they did just fine at the nose tackle position.
Starters: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis
Reserves: Jerry Hughes, Tim Fugger
This setup was considered endangered not long ago, as there were rumors aplenty that Freeney was on his way out.
However, those rumors either dissipated or were never substantial to begin with, as Freeney still looks poised to terrorize opposing quarterbacks for the Colts this season.
Both he and Mathis will be moving back from 4-3 defensive ends to 3-4 outside linebackers this season, though that will hardly diminish their pass-rushing tendencies. Expect to see both of them coming off the edge on nearly every play, dropping back into coverage minimally.
This will be Jerry Hughes' last chance with the Colts. If he can't deliver on his first-round draft pick status this season, the Colts are sure to cut ties with the former TCU Horned Frog.
Fugger, on the other hand, will be given his first opportunity to shine behind two of the game's best pass-rushers.
Starters: Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner
Reserves: Chris Galippo, A.J. Edds
While Pat Angerer is firmly entrenched as a starting inside linebacker for the Colts, nothing else is guaranteed. Kavell Conner looked capable at times last season, but completely pedestrian at others. He will get the nod going into the season, but he doesn't have a long leash.
Chris Galippo is an intriguing option on the bench, as he was highly touted at USC. It should be interesting to see how the undrafted free agent adapts to life as an NFL player. Perhaps he's the next hidden gem of the draft.
Starters: Antoine Bethea, Tom Zbikowski
Reserves: Joe Lefeged, Matt Merletti
Antoine Bethea has been perhaps the most consistent Colts defender over the past few years. He is certainly the only defensive back the Colts have retained that deserves mention.
He is joined this year by former Baltimore Raven Tom Zbikowski. The Notre Dame alum hasn't been spectacular since being drafted in 2008 but has shown he has the potential to be an acceptable starting safety in the NFL. After cutting Melvin Bullitt this offseason, he's a welcome addition.
Behind those two, it's slim pickings. Lefeged played plenty last season, but was just abysmal. Merletti is a rookie who has some promise, but obviously hasn't shown anything in the NFL just yet.
Starters: Jerraud Powers, Cassius Vaughn
Reserves: Justin King, Kevin Thomas
This is a tough one, mainly because the Colts have exactly zero viable NFL-caliber cornerbacks.
While Powers flashes in and out, mostly out, the rest are a true scrapheap of failure and inexperience.
Cassius Vaughn is admittedly a legitimate guess as a starter, but the reasoning is this: Why not?
We've seen King and Thomas get beat up in coverage. We've seen other Colts corners like Brandon King and Terrence Johnson get burned repeatedly.
After all, this is a unit that tied for a league-worst eight interceptions last season. They had the 31st rated opposing passer rating, at 103.9.
What we have not seen is Cassius Vaughn. He has only three career starts and displayed good athleticism on the field, if nothing else. With another offseason under his belt, maybe he's picked up a few tricks.
He can't be any worse than what we've got.
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri
Punter: Pat McAfee
Long Snapper: Justin Snow
Colts special teams is probably the last thing on the coaching staff's mind right now. They have too many needs in too many places to be shoring up a unit that is fine, if not spectacular.
Vinatieri is probably over the hill, but he'll suffice for now. His range is much more limited than it was in years gone by, but the Colts won't be relying on field goals to win games this year. His attempts will probably be down this season.
McAfee figures to be the more prominently featured kicker this year as the Colts' offense adopts the "tire fire" look.
Justin Snow will bear down on Peyton Manning's streak for consecutive starts by a Colt this season. He has started over 200 games as the Colts long snapper.
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