I'll be honest here, I've been infected. With Colts fever. After the heart wrenching playoffs loss to the Chargers, I swore off football. Sure, I gathered with a group of friends to watch the Super Bowl, but the Queso Dip and ice cold High Life's held my attention much more than the actual game did.
And that's how I wanted it.
I was content, no ecstatic, to sit in a hot tub, make fun of commercials and casually watch a football game without having to scream and pray my way through it. This past season did that to the die-hard Colts fans.
Despite the fact that the team won nine consecutive games on their way to a 12-4 record, and came within a freakish punting job away from playing Pittsburgh in the second round, the 2008 season was a tough one to sit through.
There was the secretive Peyton Manning knee surgery, the Jeff Saturday and Marlin Jackson injuries, the poor start, the decline of Marvelous Marvin, the gaping hole in the middle of the defense...I could go on, but the point is, it hardly made for care-free, relaxing viewing.
So I swore off football, started dabbling heavy into fantasy baseball, and then the draft came. Like any good fan, my ears immediately perked up, but I didn't go crazy on the mock draft scene, or start reading local papers to find out about potential picks like I had in the past.
I simply waited, and waited, and waited...and watched as Donald Brown became the newest Colts running back.
Following draft day, I started digesting the selections and reading quotes from Bill Polian, which led to a fling with the always interesting rookie free-agent signings list, and an in-depth study of the upcoming schedule.
I tried to remain passive in my growing fandom, but when the Howard Mudd and Tom Moore fiasco surfaced, I gave up. I was all in.
The first thing I looked at, and the most important question any fan should ask themselves before the start the season is; what are we working with here? What do we know, and more notably, what don't we know.
Being a glass half-empty kind of guy (or so says the old-lady), let's take a look at the unknowns surrounding the 2009 incarnation of the Indianapolis Colts.
WHO EMERGES AS THE ALL-IMPORTANT 3RD WIDE RECEIVER?
WHAT WE KNOW:
If God were designing the most unstoppable wide receiver on the planet, he’d give him the chiseled body and freakish athleticism of Roy Hall. Hall barrels his six-foot-three inch, 240 pound frame around the football field in 4.4 speed, and is a matchup nightmare for both linebackers and corners.
Of course, he's played in just seven games—registering one catch—over his two-year career.
Pierre Garcon was an absolute stud in college...at the Division Three level. Not to belittle his record-setting career, but I know guys who played D3 football, and believe me when I say, Michael Vick faced much better competition in the prison yard than what Garcon did at the small-school level.
That said, he came in last season and caught some balls, showed some burst returning kicks, and generally left a good taste in the mouths of Colts fans.
Sam Giguere, a Quebician by birth, dominated Canadian opponents during his three seasons at Sherbrooke College, although, if division three football is equal to or less than prison yard ball, then what's playing collegiately in Canada the equivalent of? Intramurals? Powder Puff?
Whatever it is, he has adequate size, good speed, and hands that impressed me enough to send me scrambling for the roster print-off during last year's training camp.
Unlike Garcon and Giguere, Austin Collie actually faced real talent while in school, and as a junior, led the nation in receiving yards, and finished in the Top-Five of every major statistical category on his way to earning Second Team All-American honors.
His dominating numbers and cocky demeanor led a rival fan to start a Facebook group entitled, "The Austin Collie D-Bag Quote of the Week Club." Gotta say, I like the guy.
THE END GAME:
I'm as enamored with Hall as anybody, but he just can't stay healthy. He's impressed with his physicality and potential, but expecting him to become someone Manning looks to on a regular basis is plain foolishness. Same goes for Giguere.
He's tantalizing enough to keep around, but a season spent catching practice squad passes from Josh Betts hardly qualifies him to run routes against the Titans secondary.
So that leaves Garcon and Collie. Of the two, I'd consider the BYU product the favorite. Thanks to a two-year Mormon mission, Collie is a year older than his main competitor, and miles ahead in terms of maturity (trying to sell religion in the heart of Buenos Aires will do that).
I like Garcon and all, but he seems better suited as a kick return specialist and fourth receiver at this point in his development.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE OFFENSIVE LINE?
WHAT WE KNOW:
There are far more questions surrounding the hogmollies, than there are definitives. Are the kids—Mike Pollack, Jamey Richard, and Steve Justice—ready to step up and become worthy of protecting Manning? Does Jeff Saturday have enough left in the tank? After missing all of last season, is Ryan Lilja healthy?
And if he is, does he still have a starting job? How will the Howard Mudd pseudo-retirement affect the group? Will Tony Ugoh ever stop doing a bad impersonation of a poor man's Tarik Glenn?
Like I said, a lot of questions. On the flip side, we do know that Ryan Diem is a pretty reliable right tackle, and...ummm...that's about it.
THE END GAME: I'd feel a whole lot more confident if Mudd were still yelling obscenities from the sidelines, but...wait, what's that? Mudd is returning as a consultant? Well, there you go, problem solved.
Not really, but with Mudd "consulting" and his personally groomed successor, Pete Metzelaars, taking on a larger role, there's actually a lot to like about this current group of Colts heavyweights.
With Saturday, Lilja and Ugoh missing multiple games in '08, the three-man rookie class of Pollak, Richard and Justice gained invaluable real-game experience, and Charlie Johnson, Indy's uber-utilityman, saw time at nearly all five spots on the line.
Now, the running game was atrocious for much of the season, and while that can be attributed to a few factors—Manning's gimpy knee, ineffective backs, no deep passing game—the leaky line was the main culprit.
You have to think though, with nine returning players who possess starting experience, Mudd and Metzelaars will have no problem piecing together a solid five man starting rotation.
Throw in a (hopefully) more mobile Manning, and the added dimension of Brown in the backfield, and it's highly probable the Colts running game returns to the middle-of-the-pack status that's it's occupied for much of the decade.
WILL THE COLTS FIELD NFL-CALIBER DEFENSIVE TACKLES THIS SEASON?
WHAT WE KNOW:
Thanks to Quinn Pitcock's retirement and Ed Johnson's weed-related removal, the defensive line featured a rotation of no-names, cast-offs, and although I'm not positive, possibly a few local construction workers.
Guys like Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Daniel Muir, and Antonio Johnson helped Indianapolis finish 24th in total rush defense and dead last in recognizable NFL players.
Help has arrived for the beleaguered unit however, and it comes in the form of promising rookies Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor, along with the recent re-addition of "Big Ed."
THE END GAME:
How bad did it get last year? At one point, the Colts completed a trade for former first-round gap clogger, John McCagro, and upon the announcement I was bombarded with text messages ranging from the giddily enthusiastic, to the wildly optimistic.
Of course, the trade was nixed hours later when McCargo failed his physical, but you get the picture. The interior tackle position was so problematic that Colts fans were lauding the decision to bring in an underachieving, unwanted player with recurring foot issues and a bulging disk in his back. Not good times.
But like I said, the calvary has arrived (or returned in the case of Johnson). Moala is as rangy and athletic as a 300-pounder can be, and coming from USC, which runs a nearly identical defensive system to that of the Colts, he'll find the transition from college’s highest level to the professional ranks easier than most.
Taylor was once considered a first-round quality selection, and has the look of a typical Polian draft-day find. Weighing in at over 320 lbs, the former power-lifting and wrestling state champion out of Michigan provides more than just a chicken-pot-pie filled gut to obstruct the middle.
He ran a very respectable 5.08 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, and finished with the second most bench press reps out of all the combine participants. So Taylor is prototypically big, ridiculously strong, and by all accounts, most effective when surrounded by speed rushers...sounds like a perfect fit, no?
And that brings us to Mr. Johnson. Undrafted out of Penn State because of multiple suspensions for such high-character things as "confining a student against her will," and "fighting at the Greenberg Ice Pavillion," Johnson joined the Colts as an undrafted free-agent, and proceeded to start 16 games while leading all lineman in tackles as a rookie.
His 2008 season started with a bang—10 wrangles in the opener against Chicago—and finished with a bust...for possession of marijuana two days later. His re-signing signifies the first truly un-Dungy-esque move of the Jim Caldwell era.
From a personnel perspective, and I think much of the fan base would agree with me, the addition of a proven, sure-fire starting option, is exactly what this team needed, although I'm not sure the same can't be said for good citizens of Indianapolis.
WHERE'S JASON DAVID WHEN YOU NEED HIM?
WHAT WE KNOW:
Both Tim Jennings and Dante Hughes share comparable builds and similar game-altering skills—usually not to the betterment of the team—of one the most frustrating corners in Colts history, Jason David.
THE END GAME:
When Jackson went down with a torn ACL, fans got the opportunity to see the pair of first-day selections in action, and it wasn't exactly promising. Jennings started 12 games, and in what would become a disconcerting pattern, proceeded to negate every strong showing with an atrocious outing in his next game.
For instance, he registered 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a pick against Baltimore, but followed that up by committing four game-changing penalties the following week against Green Bay. He ended the season by being flagged for a holding call against Chris Chambers on a third-down play...during overtime...of the playoffs.
Hughes' errors weren't so egregious, but he sure didn't provide any highlight reel material either.
With Jackson's rehab on schedule, the hope is that neither is needed in a starting role, but knowing how temperamental ACL recoveries can be, the development of the duo could prove to be one of the lynchpins for the success of the Colts '09 season.
WHAT WILL THE ADDAI/BROWN COMBO LOOK LIKE?
WHAT WE KNOW:
Joseph Addai has suffered through a multitude of minor ailments over his three-year career, and it's apparent that he needs another competent back to be most effective. Enter Donald Brown.
Brown seems to be everything Jim Irsay's organization looks for in a football player. Highly intelligent, mild-mannered, hardworking, and the possessor of a game-breaking skill set.
In the Colts Super-Bowl winning season, which doubled as Addai's rookie year, both he and Dominic Rhodes totaled over 200 total touches, a formula the Colts have been looking to recreate ever since. Brown's addition presents the solution.
THE END GAME:
Assuming Brown is up to speed by the start of camp, and there's no reason to think he won't—the first question the new back asked Caldwell upon learning of his selection was what the offensive installation for the upcoming rookie mini-camp would be—then this backfield could become a dream pairing for Peyton and Company.
Addai will still be looked upon as the starting tailback, there's no doubt about that, but you can bet Dwight Shrute's beat farm that Brown sees a healthy workload. Two healthy, versatile backs in the prime of their careers, playing off each other and keeping each other fresh and strong? As Quagmire might say, "Giggity."