Indianapolis Colts: Grading Strength of Every Position Unit at Start of Camp
Like every team in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts have certain strengths and weaknesses at certain positions. However, looking at the overall depth chart, the Colts look like they have a chance to be one of the best teams in the AFC in 2014.
The Colts were able to win the AFC South with an 11-5 record, and the team looks to be getting better. A number of key players who were hurt this past season are set to return, and free-agent acquisitions like Arthur Jones, D'Qwell Jackson and Mike Adams will be looking to help out the defense.
Of course, the Colts will have to try to stay healthy after losing players like Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas and Reggie Wayne this past season, but things are looking up in Indianapolis.
With training camp starting up on Wednesday, here are grades for every position unit for the Colts based off of the talent that's starting along with the depth at each spot.
There's not much to say about the quarterback position for the Colts. Andrew Luck is entering his third season in the NFL and his second with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Considering the amount of weapons he has this year, 2014 could be his best season yet.
As for the backups, Matt Hasselbeck continues to be a veteran presence in the locker room at 38 years old, but Colts fans are hoping that he won't have to see the field for any extended period of time. Meanwhile, Chandler Harnish is continuing to learn behind Hasselbeck as he prepares to likely take the backup job once the 38-year-old retires.
The running back position is one of the more interesting spots on the roster right now for the Colts, and a lot of what they'll be able to do depends on whether or not Trent Richardson can step up after averaging just 2.9 yards per carry in Indianapolis this past season.
In the event that Richardson can't produce again, the Colts at least have some options behind him. Vick Ballard, who had a promising rookie season, is returning from a torn ACL in 2013 and is looking to make the case to be one of the team's featured backs. Ahmad Bradshaw is also returning from a season-ending injury, and he looked promising before going down, averaging 4.5 yards per carry with two touchdowns.
Dan Herron and Chris Rainey will be fighting for roster spots, but the top three running backs are all pretty solid options, all things considered. Of course, if Richardson doesn't get going and the Colts continue to use him, things could go downhill relatively quickly.
After a season where Luck had few options to throw to because of so many injuries, it looks like the Colts are set at wide receiver for 2014.
Reggie Wayne will be returning from a torn ACL he suffered against the Denver Broncos last season, but even if he isn't at 100 percent, the team will have other options. In two seasons, T.Y. Hilton has quickly proved himself as a franchise wide receiver, racking up 1,944 yards and 12 touchdowns on 132 receptions up to this point in his career.
The Colts also brought in a big name in Hakeem Nicks to have another solid receiver on the outside. He didn't have a single touchdown in 2013, but if he stays healthy, Colts fans are hoping he can be the productive receiver he's proved to be over the past few seasons with the New York Giants.
Even with the departure of LaVon Brazill, the Colts have plenty of options behind their top-three guys. Along with two guys that showed flashes of potential last year in Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen, the Colts also added another promising weapon in Donte Moncrief during the 2014 NFL draft.
With this many options, Luck is poised to have a breakout year.
As if Luck didn't already have enough weapons with his receivers, he may also have one of the best tight end duos in the NFL over the next few years.
Coby Fleener was able to catch 52 passes for 608 yards and four touchdowns last year, but the Colts will also be getting Dwayne Allen back after he was injured in Week 1. Weslye Saunders and Jack Doyle will return to training camp, but Colts fans are hoping that their top two guys can stay healthy.
For as many weapons as the offense has for the 2014 season, the Colts won't be able to do much if their offensive line continues to struggle.
The starting offensive tackles will remain the same in Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus, but the interior of the offensive line will likely see some changes. Mike McGlynn and Samson Satele are gone, while Donald Thomas is returning from a torn quad. Khaled Holmes will likely replace Satele, but there will likely be a camp battle between Hugh Thornton and Jack Mewhort for the other offensive guard spot.
The big problem with this offensive line is that if the starters go down, the backups will likely struggle. Luck has already been thrown around enough in his first two seasons, so it will be critical for these starters to stay on the field.
Chuck Pagano has firmly believed that the defense needs to stop the run in order to make the Colts a championship-caliber team, and Ryan Grigson has added pieces on the defensive line to try to match that philosophy.
Cory Redding will be the veteran leader on the defense line, and he stepped up this past season. Josh Chapman will likely be the go-to guy in the middle of the line after the departure of Aubrayo Franklin, and fans will finally get to see what "Chapnado" can do in a starting role.
The Colts also brought in a new face on the defensive line in Arthur Jones, an aggressive lineman against both the run and pass, and they're hoping that he can make a significant impact. Depth players like Brandon McKinney, Zach Kerr and Montori Hughes will look to make the most out of the opportunities throughout the year, but don't expect too much from them.
The Colts may have lost Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner on the inside, but they're hoping that Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson can be reliable options at inside linebacker. Freeman has proved himself in his first two seasons, but Jackson is starting to slow down at 30 years old. Kelvin Sheppard, Andrew Jackson and Mario Harvey will all be fighting for backup roles behind the two starters.
Things get more interesting on the outside. Robert Mathis carried the team's pass rush in 2013 with 19.5 sacks, but his four-game suspension to start the season will require players like Jonathan Newsome and Bjoern Werner to try to get to the quarterback.
On the other side of the defense, Erik Walden is going to need to try to prove he's worth the $4 million per year he's making, because he wasn't able to do so in his first season with the Colts. If he can't, then the Colts might want to consider moving a guy like Newsome to play opposite of Mathis or Werner.
In theory, the Colts should be set at cornerback. Vontae Davis has looked like a top-10 cornerback in the NFL at times, while Greg Toler has been a productive, physical corner when healthy and Darius Butler has done well covering receivers in the slot.
However, Toler has yet to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season, playing just nine regular-season games in 2013. If he gets hurt again, Butler will likely have to move to the outside. Sheldon Price could be an interesting backup on the outside thanks to his 6'2'' frame, but he has yet to make an impact in the NFL.
At safety, the Colts have bigger problems. With Antoine Bethea gone, LaRon Landry is likely to play free safety, and while he can make big hits from time to time, he's not an ideal safety in pass coverage. The team added another veteran in Mike Adams, and he'll likely start by the end of camp, but there are few legitimate backups on the roster that could hold their own.
The Colts haven't had to worry about their specialists for quite some time, and that's not going to change in 2014.
Even at 41 years old, Adam Vinatieri continues to be a reliable kicker in the NFL, making 35 of his 40 field goals last season, including four field goals from 50 yards or longer. At punter, the Colts locked in Pat McAfee on a five-year deal, and considering how strong of a leg he has, there's a chance he could actually replace Vinatieri once the 41-year-old retires.
Matt Overton doesn't get a lot of attention, which is exactly what you want from a long snapper, so it's safe to say that the Colts won't have many worries from their specialists unless one gets hurt.