Indianapolis Colts' Offseason State of the Union
It's midway through the summer, which means it's time to take a step back and fully evaluate the Indianapolis Colts before we dive into more focused analysis for the rest of the summer.
With that in our sights, today we look at each of the different facets of the 2014 offseason and what it means going forward. What has been addressed, what still needs fixing and what we're anticipating most about the 2014 season are all on the list for today's breakdown.
For links to more of this offseason's analysis as well as breakdowns of additions, losses and changes on the 2014 team, just keep clicking!
Who to Replace
Key Losses from 2013: Antoine Bethea, Donald Brown, Cassius Vaughn, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner
One of the key things the Colts have to figure out this offseason is how to replace some key veterans who are on new squads for the 2014 season.
Bethea, an eight-year veteran out of Howard University, has been the Colts' most consistent defender since being drafted in 2006. Not only was he a solid, versatile safety for years, but he was a leader of the defense. He was well-spoken and a model citizen off the field, but he also kept the secondary organized, not an easy task considering the talent he had to deal with.
Donald Brown's production at running back is going to be difficult to replace, but getting Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard Back from injury could help. Losing Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn is kind of like breaking up with a crazy ex-girlfriend. You hope it's addition by subtraction, but you still have to hope the next one isn't just as crazy. I'd like to say that Khaled Holmes isn't the next crazy ex, but we'll have to wait and see.
The rest of the players—Vaughn, Angerer and Conner—are depth that has to be replaced, but it won't be nearly as difficult as the starters.
Being Patient with Free Agents
Key FA Additions: Arthur Jones, D'Qwell Jackson, Hakeem Nicks
The Colts added three main free-agent additions this year, aside from re-signing their own free agents like Vontae Davis, Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri.
It shouldn't be too difficult to integrate the new guys into the lineup. Jones should start right away at defensive tackle (3-tech) while Ricky Jean Francois moves back into a more rotational role. Jones is an extremely consistent player in both run and pass defense and should be a rock for the defense to lean on.
Fans and analysts differ in their expectations of Jackson in Indianapolis. Optimists see Jackson's experience and leadership being vital to the Indianapolis defense, while others point to a slow, unreliable 2013 season with the Cleveland Browns as a warning sign.
Nicks is a bit of a wild card, having really struggled last season. But he put up peak seasons in New York that nobody but Reggie Wayne can claim in Indianapolis.
Rookie draft picks: OT Jack Mewhort, WR Donte Moncrief, OLB Jonathan Newsome, ILB Andrew Jackson, OT Ulrick John
Working the rookies into the rotation requires a bit more work than the veteran additions. While the vets are used to the speed of the NFL and are a bit more "plug-and-play," the rookies have quite the adjustment to make before being ready to take on important roles.
Jack Mewhort and Donte Moncrief have both been working with the first team, although that likely won't last when everybody is healthy. Donald Thomas should push Mewhort from starting left guard, and Nicks, Wayne and T.Y. Hilton all will play over Moncrief this season.
The key is in 2015 and beyond, when these players will be asked to take on starting roles and be cornerstones of the team.
The rest of the draftees and undrafted free agents will mix with depth and special teams squads. The best undrafted free agents of the mix include defensive tackle Zach Kerr, center Jonotthan Harrison and cornerbacks Qua Cox and Loucheiz Purifoy.
If any of the UDFAs or late-round draft picks develop into stars, it'll be extra value for Indianapolis.
Where Do the Coaches Stand?
Key Additions: Rob Chudzinski, special assistant
Key Losses: None
The Colts made headlines when they signed former Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski to be a special assistant to the head coach in February. The move led to some speculation about Chudzinski undermining Pep Hamilton and potentially being groomed to be an offensive coordinator, but the Colts have done all they can to squash such speculation.
In fact, Chudzinski has been helping the defensive coaches even more than the offense thus far, according to Craig Kelley of Colts.com. Chudzinski brings a unique insight to the coaching staff, and his input should be valuable for both sides of the ball.
The more important move for Indianapolis in 2014 is the evolution of Pep Hamilton as an offensive coordinator. Greg Manusky and Chuck Pagano are likely going to stay who they are, but Hamilton made strides during the second half of last season and now has his full arsenal of weapons.
If Hamilton can more effectively use Luck and the passing weapons this season, the Colts could be a top-five offense in the league. Based on the early projections of the defense, they'll need to be in order to be a real Super Bowl contender.
Injuries, Injuries and More Injuries
Returned from 2013 Injury (Healthy): Dwayne Allen, Ahmad Bradshaw, Greg Toler
Still Recovering from 2013 Injury: Reggie Wayne, Vick Ballard, Donald Thomas
Battling Minor Injury: LaRon Landry, Vontae Davis, Delano Howell
On Injured Reserve: Fili Moala
Players returning to the team healthy will be a key factor in the Colts' 2014 hopes, as they get several key players, and starters, back from injury in 2014. If guys like Dwayne Allen, Reggie Wayne, Donald Thomas and the two running backs can return to pre-injury form, then the Colts will be sitting pretty. If they don't, well, the team's backup plans at every position but wide receiver are pretty grim.
The Colts recently said that they would be "shocked" if Wayne wasn't ready by training camp, while Ballard and Thomas are "headed in the right direction" as well, according to Mike Wells of ESPN.com. The Colts could enter camp with a player or two on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), but if it carried over into the season it would be a big surprise.
More concerning is the rash of minor injuries that has hit the secondary. The Colts secondary has never really been the most consistent of groups when it comes to injury, and the additions they've made over the past two years haven't aided.
Landry and Toler both have extensive injury history, while Davis has missed time due to minor injuries in every season except 2013. It's a secondary that drastically needs repetitions with each other in order to build a rapport, so to have these injuries now could prove to be deadly come the first few weeks of the season.
Biggest Issues Facing the Team
Can the Defense Improve?
While the Colts would tell you differently, this defensive cast for Indianapolis isn't all that different from the one that allowed 87 points in two postseason games last year. Sure, they added Jones and Jackson to the front seven and drafted a few depth players, but they also lost Bethea on the back end, Fili Moala to injury and two key depth linebackers in free agency.
The Colts are relying on young talent to make leaps forward in 2014, including names like Bjoern Werner, Josh McNary, Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes and Delano Howell. But the team also needs veterans like Landry, Toler and Jackson to step up and be much better than they were in 2013.
With Robert Mathis, the Colts' only pass-rushing threat, suspended for the first four games of the season, the Colts coaches have their hands full going into the 2014 season, especially when it comes to replacing Mathis' production.
Who Will Step Up on the Offensive Line?
While they didn't make any high-profile moves on the offensive line this offseason, the Colts did make changes. Khaled Holmes should get the full-time starting job at center, for example, and the Colts brought in former Chicago Bears guard Lance Louis as well as drafting Jack Mewhort out of Ohio State in the second round.
With Thomas also returning from injury, the group is full of questions, but also a lot of potential.
If Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes make second-year leaps worth discussing, the line will improve. If Thomas is as good as assumed after injury, the line will improve. If Mewhort makes an immediate impact, the line will improve.
Yes, the line's improvements are contingent upon development (and health), but there is a real chance that that development actually happens.
Sorting out the Weapons
This final "problem" is a good problem to have, but one that Hamilton struggled with last season: Who should get on the field?
With a plethora of offensive weapons, the Colts are deeper at skill positions than they ever have been in the Luck era. At wide receiver, the Colts have three proven veterans followed by three legitimate developing talents in Moncrief, Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill. At tight end you have two highly drafted players who each have flexible skill sets.
Plus, there's Hamilton's love for the power run game, heavy sets and fullbacks.
Last year, T.Y. Hilton was underused for the first half of the season, and now there are even more options to fill his spot on the field. Will we see Hamilton find a strong balance between his arsenal, or will his stubbornness on power running lead to unfortunate imbalances between skill players?
After seeing what happened last season, we can only hope that the second half of the season made a dramatic impact on the second-year coordinator.