4 Keys for a Successful Colts Offseason
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The Colts made major strides in 2012, but the moves the Indy brass makes this offseason will be crucial for team to continue its success and ascend to title contender status next season.
Indy kicked off the post-Manning era with a bang, exceeding everyone's expectations and pulling a 2-14 team up to a 11-5 playoff squad.
A key contributor to this improvement was GM Ryan Grigson. The new general manager did wonders in the Colts' 2012 draft.
The revamped offense relied heavily on rookies last season. Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard are just some of the many hits Grigson made in last year's draft on the offensive side of the football.
The Colts also made the right moves in free agency.
Faced with the difficult decision to spend the money to bring back veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, in what could have been a rebuilding year, Grigson pulled the trigger.
Wayne ended up being Andrew Luck's most clutch target.
Grigson and Colts management will look to continue their success as the Colts head into this year's draft and free agency period.
With Bruce Arians out and Pep Hamilton in at offensive coordinator, the team will also look to make structural changes to improve next season.
Here are the keys for the Colts this offseason in order to prove that last year wasn't a fluke.
Adapt to the 3-4 Defense
Linebacker Robert Mathis was one of few Colts to succeed in his first year in the 3-4
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After a dismal first year in the 3-4, the Colts defensive players will need to shed their 4-3 tendencies and adapt to the new defensive scheme.
The Colts implemented the 3-4 defense in Chuck Pagano's first year as head coach last season, but to say that the team adapted well to the system would be a stretch.
The change did little to improve the historically porous run defense, while the once-dominant pass rush did not mesh well with the new defensive set.
The team was ranked No. 21 in pass defense, No. 29 in rush defense and ranked No. 23 in the league at getting to the quarterback, with just 32 sacks all season.
The dynamic pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were less effective as linebackers coming off the edge in the 4-3.
Freeney had his lowest sack total since 2007, a season in which he missed seven games.
Even Mathis, who led the team with eight sacks, saw his numbers decline from previous years.
The lack of a pass rush put more pressure on the secondary. While corners Vontae Davis and Darius Butler had strong seasons, the defense is built on quarterback pressure and simply couldn't cover up the lack of a rush against dynamic offenses.
Even if Freeney isn't back, the key to fully integrating the 3-4 is getting a stronger front three, which will enable the linebackers to get free.
Quickly Integrate Pep Hamilton's System
Hamilton was formerly Andrew Luck's coordinator at Stanford
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With the departure of Bruce Arians to Arizona, the Colts will have to quickly learn the new offense put together by Pep Hamilton.
It's usually a difficult transition for a team when the quarterback has to switch offensive coordinators between his first and second years, but Andrew Luck has a unique advantage in this regard.
Hamilton was a coordinator at Stanford during Luck's time, and this familiarity will should ease what could have been a difficult transition for the young quarterback.
Expect a new look from the Hamilton offense.
He has already spoken of revamping the offense with new sets, including more dynamic formations like the pistol and the wildcat.
This will put Luck in a position to run more read-option plays from the quarterback position, a significant divergence from the "vanilla" offensive sets he ran in his first year under Arians.
If the team is able to learn and implement these packages, it will take some of the pressure off an offensive line that struggled last season. It could also create more dynamic plays in the running game, opening up the play action for Luck, something that was lacking last season.
If the Colts can quickly adapt to Hamilton's new offensive scheme, it could mean a more dynamic and well-balanced attack that could pay dividends for a Colts team that was pass happy at times this past season.
Improve the Offensive Line
Luck taken down by two Bears after offensive line breakdown
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The Colts will need to make shoring up the offensive front a priority this offseason if the team wants to get to the next level in 2013.
Indy saw improvement in their offense last season with the addition of Andrew Luck and several other skill players, but they struggled to move the chains and required some Luck heroics at times to bail out the subpar offensive line.
The Colts struggled to create lanes in the running game, with Vick Ballard often being stuffed at the line, thanks to a porous offensive line. As a result, the team ranked No. 22 in rush yards per game and only No. 26 in yards per carry.
The pass blocking wasn't much better.
Luck often had to be Roethlisberger-esque, scrambling in the pocket and dodging defenders to buy enough time to make big throws.
He often didn't make it out.
If the Colts want to get to the next level, then they'll need to look to the draft and free agency to bolster the shoddy offensive line.
Make Smart Decisions in Free Agency
Keeping punter Pat McAfee will be a priority for the Colts
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The Colts have some money to spend in the free agent market and need to be smart, both about acquiring new players and resigning their own free agents.
As little respect as punters get in the NFL, it's hard to find one who can consistently change momentum with field position.
The Colts also have wide receivers Donnie Avery and Austin Collie coming off the books.
Collie has had injury troubles, but when he was healthy, he was one of Peyton Manning's favorite targets. His injury trouble will bring down his market value, and the Colts will likely get a cheap deal done with him.
New OC Pep Hamilton seems to be high on Donnie Avery, so it looks like he'll be back as well. Avery showed flashes of brilliance at times this pat season, and the team will hope that he can put it together more consistently if they resign him.
The toughest decision for the Colts will be what to do with longtime fan-favorite Dwight Freeney. He struggled as much as anyone this season playing linebacker in a system that just doesn't seem to fit him.
Despite his age, his asking price will be high. It therefore seems unlikely the Colts will want to spend the money to retain the former All-Pro.
As far as new faces, the Colts will look to fill any holes left after the draft in free agency, especially players on the defensive front with experience in the 3-4 and offensive linemen.
Former Colts' GM Bill Polian typically only used free agency to fill holes with value players, but Grigson has strayed from this strategy, signing big name free agents last season.
Look for the Colts to once again be active in the market.