Winners and Losers of the Indianapolis Colts Offseason So Far
The Indianapolis Colts begin their mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, with each player expected to attend and continue to prepare for the 2014 season.
But it's been an eventful offseason even before the mandatory minicamp, with the draft, free agency and organized team activities (OTAs) dominating the NFL news cycles. With the news comes certain winners and losers for every team.
Some players gain plenty of praise throughout offseason work, while others get glossed over or put in poor situations. Today, we look at those players, finding those who have been put in both the best and worst positions to succeed in 2014.
Winner: Andrew Luck
It took three seasons, but the Colts have finally given quarterback Andrew Luck a complete stable of weapons to throw to, even if it is a young group.
Luck has had Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton on the roster for each of the last two years, but Hilton was a rookie in one year and underutilized in the next. Wayne is a very good possession receiver, but his age meant he was always going to be susceptible to injury, and he finally succumbed last year. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will be on the team to open the Colts' third straight season, but, again, both were rookies in 2012, and Allen's injury was devastating in Week 1 of 2013.
Now, however, the Colts' group of targets in the passing game look to be one of the league's most complete, something Luck can't complain about. With Wayne and Allen returning from injury, Hakeem Nicks added to the mix and the growth of the Colts' young targets, Luck will have the most weapons he's ever had in his career in 2014.
Plus, Luck's offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is entering his second year in the league, and he should benefit from Hamilton's growth. Hamilton began to throw the ball more often, and in better scenarios, as the season went along, and there is some optimism that he will allow Luck more control of the reins in 2014.
Loser: Andrew Luck's Body
Unfortunately for Luck, not every part of the offense significantly improved in the offseason. The part that is still questionable includes the part that has caused Luck to be hit 225 times over his first two seasons, the most in the NFL during that span, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
The interior offensive line was terrible last season, and it desperately needed addressing, but the Colts did too little to assuage fears for 2014.
At center, the only move was to bring in former Dallas backup Phil Costa, who promptly retired a few weeks later. At guard, the team brought in a veteran who hasn't played since 2012 (Lance Louis) and played as a backup for most of his career. The team did draft Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort in the second round, but he'll be changing positions and is, after all, just a rookie.
Returning for 2014 are Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes, each presumably to starting roles. Thornton struggled as a rookie, while Holmes couldn't beat out Samson Satele, who may have been the most disliked Colt since Hank Baskett. The lone bright spot on the interior is the return of Donald Thomas at left guard, and his play returning completely after injury is no guarantee.
Sure, the Colts have done things to improve their offense, but the offensive line still has just as many questions as last year.
Winner: Bjoern Werner
The Colts' 2013 first-round pick disappointed during his rookie season, failing to establish himself as a pass-rushing threat and looking lost in his assignments at times. Predictably, Werner improved as the season progressed, but he still was a huge disappointment for a first-round pick that saw the field as much as he did.
Eighteen tackles and 2.5 sacks is simply not going to cut it.
But the Colts are going to give Werner every chance to succeed in 2014, which is why he comes is as one of our top five winners of the offseason.
Werner has reportedly bulked up during the offseason, which the team wanted him to do, and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky says that Werner's comfort in the system and willingness to do whatever asked of him have stood out so far this offseason, per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com.
With more comfort, strength and an increased chance at playing time (due to Robert Mathis' suspension), Werner is being set up to succeed. Whether he does or not now is up to him.
Loser: Robert Mathis
It's been a rough offseason for outside linebacker Robert Mathis. Mathis, who was suspended for the first four games of the regular season for using a banned substance, saw his legacy take a big hit in an unfortunate situation.
Whether you believe Mathis' story about taking the banned substance Clomid for fertility issues or not, the fact is that a substance-abuse suspension looks bad on anybody's record. Not everybody will have a lesser viewpoint of Mathis because of the incident, but some will, and perception is everything.
But not only was Mathis' legacy hurt because of the negative stereotypes attached to the suspension, but the four games he'll miss hurt his chances at boosting his sack numbers for his Hall of Fame resume. Mathis' 19.5 sacks last year boosted him to 111 for his career, 20th in NFL history. Mathis has a chance to crack the top 15 in 2014, but missing a quarter of the season isn't helping that cause.
Mathis needs 11 sacks to tie Simeon Rice for 15th in NFL history.
Winner: Delano Howell
One of the Colts' biggest holes going into the 2014 offseason was strong safety, where the departure of Antoine Bethea to San Francisco left a gaping hole. Bethea was a stalwart in Indianapolis for eight seasons, and the void left would not be an easy one to fill.
Nevertheless, the Colts chose not to draft a safety or bring in a starting-caliber safety in free agency. The biggest moves included signing former Philadelphia Eagle Colt Anderson and former Bronco Mike Adams, neither of which were full-time starters last season.
The lack of moves hinted that the Colts had faith in players on the roster to fill the safety position, and that starts with former Stanford safety Delano Howell.
Howell played in four games last season when LaRon Landry was injured, and played well enough to warrant some optimism, although a detailed review of his season would reveal some limitations. But Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano have spoken highly of Howell this offseason, and the Colts' actions say that they have faith he can do the job.
It seems that Howell will get a legitimate chance to be a starter in 2014, making him a big winner in my book.
Loser: LaRon Landry
Last season, the Colts signed LaRon Landry to an absurd four-year, $24 million contract. Landry, who has struggled with injuries (and coverage) for his entire career, promptly missed four games in the first half of the season and then finished the season with a minus-5.9 grade from Pro Football Focus.
In the Colts' season-ending loss to the New England Patriots, Landry was especially bad, finishing with a team-worst grade of negative-3.1.
The difficult thing about Landry is that while he was wildly disappointing during 2013, the Colts really didn't do anything to help him in 2014. The secondary hasn't received any more help, with the Colts' top four cornerbacks returning. With Bethea departing, Landry will actually have less support from the secondary in 2014 than he did last year.
The front seven is improved in run defense, which will keep him from whiffing on tackles in the running game as much as he did last year (his nine missed tackles in the run game was 10th-most in the league among safeties last year).
However, the front seven's pass rush doesn't look to be changed, especially with Mathis' suspension. The team may get a small boost from Arthur Jones' addition on the defensive line, but a significant increase in pass-rush production would be very surprising.
Winner: Pep Hamilton
After a mixed bag during his first year as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, Pep Hamilton has been set up for success in 2014.
Like I alluded to earlier, the new, deep group of weapons the Colts have on the roster have the makings of an elite passing attack with Luck at the helm. The wide receiver group is complete, with the Nicks and Donte Moncrief additions really solidifying the group.
Hamilton also gets some key players back from injury this season, which could have unprecedented effects. Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen, arguably the Colts' two best possession receivers, should boost the team's efficiency in 2014. Allen also gives the Colts fantastic flexibility to run or pass out of wildly differing sets, something that Hamilton loves.
Then, of course, there is Hamilton's progression as a coach. During his first season, he had his ups and downs, but it was, after all, his first year. Hamilton certainly improved at the end of the season last year, and we can only hope that circumstances will not be quite so trying.
Loser: Stanley Havili
The bane of all passing purists' existence, fullback Stanley Havili has become an icon of sorts for the Colts' heavy run sets and old-school "run-first" mentality.
So with the addition of more passing weapons and the returning health of Dwayne Allen, Havili's projected snap count for 2014 has plummeted. The Colts have a litany of weapons at their disposal, and they really can't afford to have Havili taking snaps away from said weapons.
Perhaps that's why the Colts have been training linebacker Mario Harvey at fullback so heavily this offseason. Harvey's ability to play both sides of the ball gives him a bit more value in a system that uses a traditional fullback a bit less.
Perhaps Havili just isn't very good. After all, he did register a negative-4.5 grade from PFF on the season, and a negative-5.6 grade in blocking. But either way, it would be shocking if Havili matched his 336 snaps from last year, which was ninth-most in the league for a fullback.