Breaking Down the Indianapolis Colts' Biggest Training Camp Battles
As the Colts head into training camp, plenty of questions remain about the team's fortunes in 2013. Even with the Colts' unexpected success in 2012, the team's roster is still average at best, and regression could be a frightening reality for the team in the upcoming season.
Some of the most crucial questions are those regarding positional battles, competitions that will shape how the roster plays out on the field. While most of the starting positions are already locked down, a few have yet to be solidified, along with several crucial depth positions.
This is what training camp and preseason games are for, and the Colts are no exception.
Below, we'll take a look at a few of the most important battles that will take place in the Colts' 2013 training camp.
1. Interior Line
The Colts' interior line was one of the worst in the league last season, averaging the third-lowest amount of yards in the league while running between the guards last season, while also allowing an enormous amount of pressure up the middle.
The team tried to fix this problem by acquiring a new player for each of the three interior line positions in the offseason. First, Donald Thomas was signed in free agency to start at left guard. His position is fairly safe, and shouldn't be up for grabs in training camp. Joe Reitz has been working as Thomas' backup, and should stay there through the preseason.
The other two positions, however, are still question marks. Center Samson Satele and right guard Mike McGlynn were two of the Colts' worst starters in the league last season, both ranking as some of PFF's worst starters at their respective positions (see chart).
To address this, general manager Ryan Grigson and the Colts drafted G Hugh Thornton and C/G Khaled Holmes in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. Both should compete for starting positions, but the question is whether either will be ready as rookies to take on a starting role.
Both rookies are natural fits for offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's offense, which frequently uses a zone-blocking scheme. Thornton and Holmes both possess quick feet that are crucial for such a system, but there are questions revolving around each.
Thornton seems a more natural fit, but does have a tendency to stand straight up and lose his leverage. Holmes is a much more forced fit at center, as he displayed a lack of power and ability to anchor at center while at USC.
Each may need more development before they are ready to start (especially Holmes), and Grigson has commented on his reluctance to start rookie linemen in the past.
Still, if Satele and McGlynn play like they did last season, the rookie linemen may be the Colts' best option.
2. Running Back
The Colts' addition of Ahmad Bradshaw in free agency has shaken up the position. Bradshaw should be the starting back once the season rolls around, and Vick Ballard's spot on the roster should be fairly certain. After that, however, nothing is set in stone.
Donald Brown figures to be a part of the rotation after coaches continue to speak highly of him throughout the offseason. However, third-year back Delone Carter will fight for the spot as well, even if the coaches have been surprisingly quiet when asked about him this summer. Seventh-round draft pick Kerwynn Williams is the final back who will seriously compete.
Brown should make the roster, and is the favorite to be the third back in the Colts' three-back committee. Brown is a better overall runner than Carter, with better speed, vision and shiftiness, and with size that Williams does not possess.
But, Carter is a much better short-yardage back, and his success this past season was a big part of the reason why the Colts were second-most successful in the league in power situations (3rd or 4th down with two or less yards to go).
Meanwhile, Williams could be an electric, Darren Sproles-esque weapon out of the backfield. He hasn't made much noise so far in the offseason, however, and his spot on the roster should depend on whether he can contribute as a returner as well.
I would predict that Brown makes the roster, while Carter and Williams could be in danger. The Colts only kept four backs last season, although keeping five would not be unheard of.
If the Colts choose to go with four, Williams could be a potential practice-squad addition. If the Colts are happy with Bradshaw and Ballard for short-yardage situations, Carter could be expendable.
Incumbent starter Vontae Davis and free agent addition Greg Toler should be the locked-in starters, but after that, things are a bit more dicey.
Darius Butler figures to be the slot corner after the Colts signed him to a two-year, $4 million contract. The fifth-year corner wasn't great when asked to start last season, but he was a solid slot corner for the Colts. Fans would tell you that Butler looked better than Cassius Vaughn, who started over him, and Pro Football Focus would agree (+4.5 grade for Butler, -15.4 for Vaughn).
Nevertheless, Colts' coaches started Vaughn for 12 games last season and clearly see something in him that they like. While most fans and media members are assuming Butler will be the third cornerback, it may not be as certain as most think.
Meanwhile, the battle for the fifth cornerback spot will be just as competitive. Josh Gordy, last year's dime corner at the end of the year, is fighting to keep his 2012 roster spot. Meanwhile, 2012 practice squad members Marshay Green and Teddy Williams are looking to move up to the active roster full-time for 2013.
Both Green and Williams are speedsters who have spent little time on the field, but have been active participants on special teams.
The final competitors for the last cornerback roster spots are undrafted free agents Daxton Swanson, Sheldon Price and Allen Chapman. Swanson and Price seem to be the best options. Swanson has the ability to play both safety and corner, and has been listed as a safety on the Colts' website. Price has the best resume, as an impressive corner at UCLA, but both will have a shot at the roster.
Overall, the battle for depth cornerback isn't going to be high-profile, but it may be a crucial factor near the end of the season.
Last season, two of the Colts' top three corners were on injured reserve or cut by the end of the season, and the players like Vaughn, Butler and Gordy (who played a combined six snaps in the first three weeks of the season) were key contributors.
While the Colts' starters look strong on paper, injuries have been a concern with both Davis and Toler, and could play a part in 2013 once again.
Linebacker- Pat Angerer, Kelvin Sheppard and Kavell Conner
Depth Offensive Tackle- Emmett Cleary, Lee Ziemba, Bradley Sowell, Ben Ijalana and Jeff Linkenbach
Returner- T.Y. Hilton, Cassius Vaughn and Kerwynn Williams
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