By now, all football fans know that the Indianapolis Colts have undergone a major face-lift with their coaching staff and player roster this offseason.
I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here hashing over the same old storylines of, “How the team will work under Jim Caldwell,” or, “Who is ready to step up and fill the role left open by Marvin Harrison?”
Instead I’m here to give you five story lines that haven’t been as well covered and just might be the real stories to keep an eye on this preseason.
Most people would say that a kicker isn’t that important in determining whether or not a team will make a run at the Super Bowl.
Don’t tell that to Colts fans.
Indianapolis had watched for nearly a decade as their team put up great numbers during the season and lost nearly every game in the playoffs.
The Colts had the league’s most accurate kicker, but when it counted, Mike Vanderjagt could never seem to get it done.
It didn’t help much that he publicly attacked his coach and his quarterback, either.
Meanwhile, the Colts' nemesis, the New England Patriots, kept on winning Super Bowl after Super Bowl. And it was their kicker that delivered those game winning points to help them take home the Lombardi Trophy.
So In 2006, the Colts kicked Vanderjagt to the curb, snagged Patriot’s kicker Vinatieri through free agency, and brought home a Lombardi trophy of their own.
Adam Vinateiri is known as the most clutch kicker in NFL history—and it is no coincidence that he holds multiple NFL Championship rings in his possession.
However, there’s no denying that Vinateiri’s stats have been on the decline since that magical 2006 season.
It certainly doesn’t help that he underwent surgery on his hip for what the Colts organization described as a “Nagging discomfort...which had existed more than a year.”
While the organization has said that they expect him back for the start of the season, fans should keep a look out this preseason to see if Vinatieri is making consistent progress.
Without him, the team has never had great success in the playoffs, and the Colts' only other kicker currently on the roster is the recently drafted rookie from Murray State, Shane Andrus.
Colts fans, do you feel comfortable with a rookie holding your Super Bowl dreams in foot?
Ordinarily, most people would care about as much for a back-up quarterback competition as they would for a kicker having hip surgery (okay bad example).
But in this case, Colts fans have to be especially interested.
This Colts offensive success lies 100 percent in the hands of Peyton Manning. If he goes down, then the Colts' chances of making the playoffs plummet.
We all had a great preview of what could happen if this scenario took place when we saw what happened to Tom Brady and the Patriots last year.
What we saw was extraordinary. The Patriots took a quarterback who hadn’t taken a game-time snap since his days as a high school player and finished 11-5 with him.
That’s incredible and ridiculous. No one would have thought that they could have pulled that off, and I’m sure no one would expect the Colts to do so either.
But if the Colts had a quarterback who knew the offense and had the talent level to compete, then there’s always a chance, right?
I’ve watched Jim Sorgi play year after year in preseason and in the regular season, and one thing is for sure:
He simply lacks the talent level to be a productive and serviceable back-up to the Indianapolis Colts.
It’s accepted that the Colts keep Jim Sorgi around because it is too early to find a suitable replacement for Manning, and because Sorgi has been around the offense long enough that he can go out onto the field and not screw it up too much.
However, the Colt’s organization finally seems to realize that if Manning goes down, they need someone who can come in and compete talent-wise, not just call the plays and hope for the best.
Enter in Curtis Painter, the rookie draft pick from Purdue University. Besides being a hometown favorite, Painter seems to have a much better talent level for the game and a huge upside.
While it is uncertain if Painter will be ready to absorb the huge Colts' playbook and be ready as a No. 2 quarterback this year, expect Painter to compete for the job and possibly lock it up this year or next.
The Indianapolis Colts defense hasn’t been revamped or re-tooled (for the most part).
Instead, they bring back the majority of the players they had from year’s past and bring in a new defensive coordinator’s coach, Larry Coyer, who is determined to have the Colts defense eating opposing quarterbacks for breakfast.
Coyer likes to blitz a lot and his team has two defensive ends, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, born to do just that. In the middle of his line, he has new DT’s that are built to stop the run.
And at cornerback and safety are two of the most dominant defensive players in the league, Bob Sanders and Kelvin Hayden.
The key here is whether or not the players stay on the field.
Year after year the Colts have gone through DT’s (Corey Simon, Booger McFarland, etc.), DE’s (Freeney and Mathis), and constantly battle to keep their best defensive player Bob Sanders on the field.
If the Colts can keep their starters on the field this year, I put them up there as one of the best defensive units in football. But that is also asking a lot of historically injured players.
The Colts have been one of the worst run stopping teams in the league for years. They were built that way.
Tony Dungy’s Tampa Two Defense was designed to play off the ball and keep teams from going deep. The Colts defense was built to prevent the big play. It was built to bend, but not break.
For years, the Colts defense was built around Tony Dungy’s philosophy of having small quick players who could get to the ball quickly.
The problem: It doesn’t matter how quick you are, if you get to the ball in time just to get run over by a bigger guy. And that has been the problem of the Colts for many years now.
The Colts went out and signed three new rookies to compete and maybe start clogging up that defensive line and stopping the run for the first time since, well, the 2006 playoffs.
Colts defensive tackle Fili Moala is expected to contribute right off the bat, and will be welcomed help on the D-Line.
If Moala can step up and be productive this preseason, look for the Colts to be a very dangerous team defensively.
The D-line already has two defensives ends who can blitz the quarterback and cornerbacks/safeties who are back there salivating at the chance to get their hands on the ball.
If the Colts can then stop the running attack on a consistent basis, then look for the Colts defense, not offense, to be the one everyone is talking about.
Followers of the Colts should know one thing when it comes to running backs: General Manager Bill Polian sees them as expendable and unworthy of high priced contracts.
And you know what, he might be right.
Running backs like Marshall Faulk, Edgerin James, Dominic Rhodes, and Joseph Addai all made their names in a Colts uniform.
At the top of their game and when their stats were their best, all of these (spare Addai so far) were let go by a Colts organization that opted to fill their shoes with bare bottom market rookies.
Within a year’s time, those rookies were putting up very similar stats to their predecessor or better, and Bill Polian was proving his genius.
The Colts have such a high powered passing game that defenses are too scared of the big play downfield to commit to stopping the run, and that has paid off big time for the Colts.
Additionally, Joseph Addai had the least productive season of his career last year, and has seen his share of trouble staying on the field due to injury.
Addai is entering his fourth year of a five-year $11.65 million contract, and you can bet that if he wants to get paid the big dollars when his contract is up, he will have to go to another team.
By that time, Donald Brown will have had two seasons under his belt and will be more than ready to take the helm.
However if Brown can produce this year, I wouldn’t put it past the Colts to deal Addai for some draft picks and look at drafting another rookie running back to tandem with Brown.