Rounding Up the Latest Offseason Buzz Surrounding the Colts
Although it's the offseason, nothing will stop people from talking.
With rookie minicamp, OTAs, mandatory camp and a continually changing roster, the NFL manages to stay relevant even through the summer months. Off-the-field issues will dominate the airwaves at times, but fortunately the Colts have managed to keep the focus on the team's development.
With mandatory minicamp now finished, what has everybody been talking about when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts?
Let's find out.
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Despite riding on the #ChuckStrong movement for so long last season, the Colts are looking forward to something different in 2013.
Don't get me wrong, Chuck Pagano is just as influential as ever. Pagano's presence and inspirational message was a key part of persuading 11 veteran free agents to join the Colts. New safety LaRon Landry put it best:
“Oh, great guy. Great guy. I’d do anything for him, so I’m glad to be here. I made a great decision. I made a great choice.”
But the Colts are not pushing the #ChuckStrong movement as their driving force as they did last season. Instead, they are pushing a much more team-centric rallying cry: #ColtStrong.
As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, the move is a good one from a public-relations standpoint. Pagano has long preached putting the team first, and the Colts moving to this slogan matches that, unifying and displaying the Colts franchise to the city in a positive light.
LaRon Landry Misses OTAs but Impresses in Mandatory Minicamp
During OTAs, there was some concern about free-agent acquisition LaRon Landry skipping the voluntary workouts.
Landry didn't show up for any of the team's workouts, a bit worrisome that the new free agent wasn't taking every opportunity to get to know and become comfortable with his new teammates.
However, Landry did make it to the team facilities for the mandatory minicamp last week, and his ferocious activity in team drills caused media and players alike take notice.
"Receivers will have to keep an eye out for (Landry) when they come across the middle. He scared me the first time I saw him."
Coach Chuck Pagano also was impressed with Landry, citing his knowledge of the playbook:
Pagano was impressed with Landry's knowledge of the playbook: "You could tell he had been studying that stuff. He had a great first day."
It seems Landry has been no slouch while training on his own, and he looks to be a key contributor for the 2013 Colts.
Changes on the Offensive Line, but Some Familiar Faces Remain
The Colts knew they needed to improve their offensive line after allowing Andrew Luck to get hit far too often in 2012. In order to change things, the team brought in four offensive linemen to compete for starting positions.
Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas were signed in free agency, while rookies Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes were drafted in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
Well, through the offseason activities, the team's starting lineup has some definite changes after last week, but some familiar weak links are still stuck as starters.
Anthony Castonzo was expected to start at left tackle, and LG Thomas and RT Cherilus were locked into place with their new contracts.
Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn, however, were the two worst pieces on the offensive line last season, and fans are, and should be, hoping that the rookie draft picks can beat them out for starting positions in training camp. So far, McGlynn and Satele are holding onto their starting spots, but the rookies still have time to make the jump.
The Coby Fleener Train Picks Up Steam
I mentioned Coby Fleener a few weeks ago, and the train has just kept on rolling.
After Chuck Pagano said Fleener could double his production in 2013 a few weeks ago, the focus on Fleener has skyrocketed.
Fantasy experts are looking at Fleener's increased snaps as a key aspect of the Colts' new offense and are projecting Fleener as a sleeper option for fantasy football.
In touchdown based leagues, Fleener is a great sneaky pick in the late rounds for most 12-team leagues. His physical presence combined with the offensive system and playing with a dynamic quarterback in Luck gives him the bigger advantage heading into next season, even if he was outplayed by Allen in 2012. Go for Fleener.
Fleener's teammates also continue to support him, with WR Reggie Wayne the most recent veteran to voice his impression of the second-year tight end:
“I see (Fleneer) growing every day,” Reggie Wayne said. “I think this offense is something that he’s more familiar with and may help him out even more. He’s already a big kid, so hopefully he can just grasp everything, as he’s been doing."
“I really believe the sky is the limit for him.”
Bjoern Werner Still Unsigned
Although most of the Colts' draft picks were signed by May 9th, first-round pick OLB Bjoern Werner has yet to officially get onto the Colts' roster.
It's been a month since the rest signed, and the draft picks' contracts are all relatively set in stone, yet Werner still hasn't signed the contract.
Now, it's not a huge story, as only eight of the 32 teams have signed their first-round picks to their rookie deals thus far. Still, Werner signing his deal would remove one more distraction and allow him and the team to focus completely on preparing for the 2013 season.
Andrew Luck Continues to Impress and Lead
Like Fleener, I wrote about Andrew Luck a few weeks ago during OTAs.
Through mandatory minicamp, Luck has continued on his impressive run through the offseason. During the minicamps, Luck has impressed as a leader by example, causing head coach Chuck Pagano to gush about Luck's emergence as a leader.
"He's going to lead by his work ethic," Pagano said. "Then when he has to say something, it's like E.F. Hutton, when he speaks, they listen. So he's going to do well in that role."
Luck's impressive summer has been topped off by the attention he's been given on several player rankings. He was named the top quarterback under 25 by NFL.com's Around the League, as well as finishing 23rd on NFL Network's top 100 list, voted on by his NFL peers.
The Colts' Pass Rush Still Questionable
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It's difficult to tell from contact-less practices, but it seems that the Colts pass rush hasn't been fixed quite yet.
Bjoern Werner was drafted to help be the fix for a poor pass rush, but so far he's been working behind Robert Mathis as the backup ROLB. Colts coaches have said he could play on the strong side in the future, but he's been sticking as the rush 'backer thus far.
The problem with this is that he simply won't get as many snaps backing up Mathis as he would backing up Erik Walden (and hopefully passing him for the starting position) on the strong side. Walden provides very little pass rush, and the Colts will continue to struggle until they find a viable edge rusher to play opposite Mathis.
The Colts will likely try to get Werner and Mathis on the field at the same time as much as possible, but it probably won't happen much in the beginning of the season.
With the improvements to the secondary and offensive line, the Colts' pass rush has taken the top spot as a potential weakness in 2013.
Ahmad Bradshaw's Signing Boosts the Run Game
The biggest news of the Colts' offseason since the draft, however, was the recent signing of running back Ahmad Bradshaw, dramatically increasing the talent level in the team's running back pool.
Going into the season with Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Delone Carter and rookie Kerwynn Williams was going to be one of the least talented backfields in the league. The Colts planned to use a running back-by-committee approach, with Ballard and Brown sticking out in the coaches' eyes.
But the Colts needed a third back, and Ahmad Bradshaw immediately becomes the most naturally talented back in the Colts backfield. The Colts will still use a multi-back rotation, especially with Bradshaw and Brown's respective injury histories, but Bradshaw and Ballard should get the lion's share of the snaps.
Ultimately, the offensive line will determine the run game's success more than the backs, but Bradshaw definitely adds talent and should give Colts fans a bit more confidence in the position.