The Indianapolis Colts enter the 2009 season with high expectations…as well they should. For eight of the past ten years, the Colts have won ten or more games in the regular season. They have advanced to the playoffs in nine out of the past ten years, and have brought the Lombardi Trophy to the city of Indianapolis for the first time in history, just three years ago (2006-2007).
However, if the Colts are to continue their undeviating consistency of success and enter the 2009-2010 playoffs to make a serious run for the Super Bowl, they will have to do it with a plethora of new faces on the team—players and coaches alike.
When the Colts line up this season, they will be without the services of the all-time greatest wide receiver in team history, Marvin Harrison, the should-have-been 2006 Super Bowl MVP running back Dominic Rhodes, the talented but often unused punter Hunter Smith, the even-keel (don’t panic) and beloved head coach Tony Dungy, one of the greatest offensive line coaches for the past decade, Howard Mudd, and the underappreciated offensive genius (and should-have-been heir apparent to the Colts head coaching job) offensive coordinator Tom Moore.
So how will the Colts adjust to all the new faces? Just like they always do. They draft good talent, develop that talent over time, and promote from within. The Colts sign very few high-profile free agents and seldom go after big-name coaching staff (Tony Dungy being the exception). That has been the M.O. of General Manager Bill Polian since he arrived in Indianapolis, and it hasn’t changed much since.
Player-wise, the Colts have been getting the job done without Harrison for a couple of years now (ever since he injured his knee in 2007), and while Rhodes and Smith were fairly productive in 2008, the team believes that they can be replaced and perhaps upgraded upon.
In the 2009 NFL draft, the team went out and picked up a very impressive running back Donald Brown (UConn) to team up with Joseph Addai in a backfield tandem that should produce very nicely. They also picked up wide receiver Austin Collie (BYU) to either fill the slot position (pushing Anthony Gonzalez into the wide out position) or to challenge for the wideout position left open with Harrison’s departure.
The Colts also picked up a late-round punter to sit the bench (much like the duties of punter Hunter Smith over the past few years) while the Colts offense continues to score.
It also seems as though the Colts are realizing that Peyton Manning is getting a little older, and they don’t seem to be quite so comfortable with Jim Sorgi as the backup anymore; they used a 6th round pick on Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter in the hopes of developing him into an upgraded backup for Manning.
More devastating than the loss of the players are those on the coaching staff. The departure of Dungy was expected and his successor, Jim Caldwell, was named prior to the season, so the Colts have had plenty of time to adjust and prepare for him to leave.
However the departures of Mudd and Moore are unexpected daggers in the heart for the offense and are sure to be felt (at least a little). Manning and the Colts have shown that they can handle losing a head coach. In 2002, the Colts switched from Jim Mora to Tony Dungy at the head coaching position without any drop-off in offensive production because the offense (players, coaches, and playbook) stayed intact.
But how will Manning and the Colts offense handle losing a head coach, offensive coordinator, and an offensive line coach all in the same year? Just like you would expect them to. Though it has not been expressed officially, the Colts are expected to promote Clyde Christensen (asst. head coach/receivers coach) to the offensive coordinator position and Pete Metzelaars (offensive quality control/asst. offensive line coach) to the position of offensive line coach.
By promoting from within, the Colts ensure that their coaches already are familiar with the players, and that the offensive playbook will remain the same (good news for any offensive player or fan of the Colts). They have also indicated that they will try to keep both Mudd and Moore on as consultants to the team, which seems like a brilliant move (I wonder if consultants are allowed to call plays from the booth?).
In 2009, the Colts will rebuild, restructure, and replace many of the staff and players that have been so intricate in their success over the past 10 years. A couple of things are for sure though…
1) All of the staff and players leaving will be sorely missed by the team organization, staff, players, and fans.
2) The Colts have a plan to continue winning (So long as they have Manning, anyway).