What's New for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013?
The Indianapolis Colts famously overturned everything during the 2012 offseason, shipping out veterans, coaches and the front office for a new regime.
The Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano/Ryan Grigson era is fully underway, and this year's offseason saw continuity that is instrumental in the long-term growth of the team.
That being said, the Colts have some major changes on the way for 2013 after spending over $130 million on free agents, bringing in a new offensive coordinator and drafting several players on both sides of the ball that will contribute right away.
So what changes this season for the Colts? Find out just in time for the regular season in our look at nine of the biggest changes for the 2013 Indianapolis Colts.
The Coach's Return
While Bruce Arians did a commendable job as interim head coach in 2012, the team is excited for the return of head coach Chuck Pagano.
Pagano missed all but four games in 2012 as he recovered from acute promyelocytic leukemia. He should be able to return to the team full time in 2013, which is a notable change.
As noted in yesterday's burning questions, Pagano's coaching skills, at least on game day, are still a question mark. He looked a bit too conservative at times in 2012, although Arians did as well. Arians' success came when he let Andrew Luck have more freedom.
Pagano needs to make his mark on the team but also needs to let his playmakers (namely Andrew Luck) shine.
The veteran running back joins Indianapolis after a successful six years in New York. Bradshaw has durability concerns, having played in all 16 games in just one of his six NFL seasons. However, he's also incredibly talented and immediately upgrades the Colts running back corp. When starting 10 or more games, Bradshaw has averaged over 70 yards per game and totaled over 1000 yards for the season.
The Colts needed a second wide receiver to replace Donnie Avery, who was one of the league's least effective receivers last year. Heyward-Bey signed a one-year deal with Indianapolis to fill that void. Heyward-Bey is a larger, more consistent version of Avery. While both have inconsistent hands, Heyward-Bey should be able to use his size and experience to be a bit more efficient.
The team's headlining free-agent signing, Cherilus signed a five-year contract this spring with the Colts for over $38 million. Hopefully Cherilus can provide some consistency at a position that has lacked it since Ryan Diem declined. Cherilus was one of Pro Football Focus' top pass protectors (membership required) last season, and the Colts desperately need to improve in that area for 2013.
Another attempt to improve the Colts horrific offensive line from 2012, Thomas finished with a positive grade in pass protection and one of the highest percentage of positive run blocks of any guard in the NFL in 2012. Thomas was merely a rotational guy in New England but will be a starter in 2013 for Indianapolis.
Arians to Arizona, Hamilton to Indianapolis
One of the most noticeable changes for 2013 will be the change in offensive coordinators.
Last year's offensive coordinator and interim head coach, Bruce Arians, received a head coaching job in Arizona, leading to the Colts hiring former Stanford "Andrew Luck Director of Offense" Pep Hamilton.
The move reunites Hamilton and Luck, who were incredibly successful in 2011 together, along with TE Coby Fleener and WR Griff Whalen. With Hamilton's new schemes coming to Indianapolis (more on this later), the former Stanford students were able to offer invaluable advice to teammates.
Hamilton is a strong coach who has impressed media members right off the bat in Indianapolis, and while he's may not be quite as fun as Arians was at press conferences, Hamilton hopes to be a long-term solution at offensive coordinator.
Efficiency over Explosiveness
With the aforementioned coordinator change, the Colts' offensive principles have undergone a major shift.
While Bruce Arians was a major proponent of "chunk plays," Pep Hamilton preaches efficiency and flexibility.
Don't misconstrue that sentence however, there will be similarities in the two offenses. For example, both coaches are extremely fond of wide receiver screens, something that Heyward-Bey and Hilton should experience aplenty in 2013.
But differences will be far more noticeable than similarities.
Hamilton will focus on the run game, especially short-yardage running, in order to give Luck a bit more support and allow the team to take advantage of opponents' shortcomings. For the same reason, Hamilton will also shift formations and use odd personnel groupings (such as a fullback split out wide) often. While Arians' route combinations were fairly simple, generally consisting of downfield routes and few outlets, Hamilton will use much more varied combinations to maximize the Colts' deep stable of playmakers.
Ricky Jean Francois
The Colts signed Cory Redding to man the 3-4 end spot in the 2012 offseason and bring in fifth-year pro Jean-Francois this season to start opposite him. Jean Francois has been buried on San Francisco's depth chart over the last few years and has high potential as a starter. Of course, there are question marks there, but Jean Francois will be an upgrade against the run at the very least.
Like Jean Francois, Franklin was brought in to help solidify the defensive line against the run. Franklin is on the wrong end of his career but should be able to provide an upgrade over Antonio Johnson.
The most hated free-agent signing, Walden's four-year $16 million contract was a hefty price for a linebacker that's been one of Pro Football Focus' worst 3-4 OLBs in each of the past three years. Walden has the talent to be a strong run defender but is inconsistent and offers next to nothing in pass rush. If he can be consistent setting the edge, fans will be happy.
As Jerraud Powers left Indianapolis for Arizona, former Cardinal Toler moved to Indianapolis. Toler, a longer, more aggressive corner than Powers, has high potential as a turnover-causing corner. With Toler pairing with Vontae Davis, the Colts have their best pairing in years, if they can stay healthy.
Landry joins Toler as a new starter in the Colts secondary and is also an aggressive players who gives the Colts the best partner for Antoine Bethea since Bob Sanders. Landry can be over-aggressive at times, allowing for big plays over the top, but the Colts are hoping that his presence will result in turnovers that make up for a few completed deep passes.
The only player on this list to arrive via a trade, Sheppard was traded for OLB Jerry Hughes this summer to give the Colts more depth at inside linebacker. He's been unimpressive in the preseason, but he'll be a nickel linebacker at best outside of injury.
Physicality in the Secondary
Take a look at the Colts starting secondary: LaRon Landry, Antoine Bethea, Vontae Davis and Greg Toler.
The most common characteristic among the group? Physicality.
All four players can hit and intimidate. Landry and Bethea are both missles from the backfield, assassins who hit with authority.
Davis and Toler aren't the big hitters that the safeties are, but both use their hands liberally to re-route receivers. As a result, both players finished with positive coverage grades in 2012, but negative penalty marks from Pro Football Focus.
If the physical style from the secondary can keep offenses off balance, the Colts defense has a chance to be an above-average unit, despite their lack of pass rush.
Dwight Freeney and Jerry Hughes
The two outside linebackers were two of the Colts' top-three pass rushers in 2012, leaving Indianapolis with an enormous gap to fill for 2013. While Freeney didn't play at a Pro Bowl level in Pagano's scheme, and Hughes is and was maligned by fans and media, the fact is that the two both provided more pressures per snap than Robert Mathis did in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
While the Colts did lose other players, these two were the only ones that truly left a void. For the most part, the Colts replaced horrible starters with better players.
OLB Bjoern Werner
First-round draft pick Werner was brought in to be a pass-rusher along with Robert Mathis at outside linebacker. Unfortunately, his impact may not be seen as much in 2013. Werner has potential, but needs polishing. He's struggled to make an impact in the preseason, and while he'll get playing time as a rookie, his actual impact shouldn't be expected.
OG Hugh Thornton
The Colts desperately need a guard to replace Mike McGlynn on the right side, and Thornton looks like he will be that guard, if anybody will be. Drafted in the third round, Thornton moves well and holds his ground in pass protection. His debut was impressive in the third preseason game, and he should eventually start at some point this season.
C Khaled Holmes
Holmes can play either center or guard, but an ankle injury has kept him from participating much in this year's training camp and preseason. The Colts hope he can be a contributor on the line at some point, but it may not be this year (outside of injury).
DL Montori Hughes
A high-upside lineman, Hughes has failed to stand out during the preseason, but the Colts have two picks invested in him after trading next years fourth-round pick to move up and select him in this year's draft. He'll get a chance to play, even if it's just on special teams.
RB Kerwynn Williams
Williams is a lock for the Colts fourth running back spot after the team traded Delone Carter. Williams won't get much playing time in 2013 if Donald Brown stays healthy, but he'll return kicks and prepare for a larger role in 2014.
TE Justice Cunningham
Disappointing in the preseason, Cunningham is not a lock to make the team after TE/FB Dominique Jones played well after returning to Indianapolis. Advertised as a strong blocker coming out of South Carolina, Cunningham has been sloppy in the preseason and will be lucky to get on the final roster.
Last season, the Colts entered Week 1 as one of the worst teams in the league, or so we thought.
The expectations, or lack thereof, for Indianapolis was a key part of the story as they rose up and won 11 games and made the playoffs.
Either way, expectations for the 2013 Colts are miles higher than the 2012 squad. On one hand, it's a remarkable feat for the team to have managed such a quick turnaround. On the other, the Colts won't be underestimated by any opponents this season. Miraculous upsets like last year's "Chuckstrong" win over Green Bay will be hard to come by.