Last Year's Record: 14-2
Wins: Jaguars (x2), Dolphins, Cardinals, Seahawks, Titans (x2), Rams, 49ers, Texans (x2), Patriots, Ravens, Broncos
Losses: Jets, Bills
QB, Tennessee, Drafted No. 1, 13th Year
Quite simply, Peyton Manning has had a ridiculous career. A sure Hall of Famer and three-time NFL MVP, Manning could even get the Rams close to the playoffs this year. He has plenty of weapons surrounding him including WRs Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and TE Dallas Clark, his favorite target.
DE, Syracuse, Drafted No. 11, Ninth Year
Freeney is coming off two straight Pro Bowl seasons in which he recorded 24 sacks. Freeney is looking to lead a Colts’ defense that dropped from 11th to 18th in yards per game from 2008 to 2009. Dwight’s ankle should be fully recovered after playing through some pain in the Super Bowl a year ago.
CB, Alabama, Drafted No. 117, 13th Year
The Colts did not make a lot of offseason acquisitions because, quite frankly, they didn’t need to. They are coming off a year in which they could have gone 16-0 if they chose to try to win their last two games. Townsend brings 12 years of experience to the Colts secondary and will likely be their nickelback.
Guard, Kansas State, Undrafted, 7th Year
Ryan Lilja is the only starter from the Colts’ offensive line not back from a year ago. Lilja has been a part of a great offensive line protecting Peyton Manning but has had some injury problems the last few years.
LB, Clemson, Drafted No. 240, Rookie
Kavell Conner was projected by many to be a fifth round pick but he fell to the Colts in the seventh round. Conner is very good against the run but struggles a bit in pass coverage and should contribute to the Colts’ defense down the road, as he has impressed his coaches thus far in the preseason.
TE, Oklahoma, Drafted No. 162, Rookie
Eldridge was considered by most to be the best blocking tight end in the draft after starting games at both center and guard for Oklahoma during his senior year.
However, his receiving skills are very questionable and he is an inexperienced pass catcher, making only 13 grabs in his four years at OU. He also has durability concerns as an ankle injury caused him to miss three games his junior year and a neck injury ended his senior season.
The Colts drafted a very solid pass rusher in DE Jerry Hughes from TCU with the 31st overall pick, a spot that needed some depth. The only players that the Colts are not returning (besides Lilja) are role players who can be replaced. The Townsend pickup was a good one, and truth be told, the Colts didn’t need to make an awful lot of moves…they were one interception for a touchdown away from winning the Super Bowl, and could have finished the regular season at 16-0.
In 2009 the Colts offense ran for just 1,294 yards (81 yards per game) and 3.5 yards per carry. The Colts obviously had a very strong passing attack with Manning at the helm. If the offensive line can produce more in the run game and Joseph Addai or Donald Brown steps up the Colts could have an unstoppable offense.
FS, Howard, Drafted No. 207, Fifth Year
Bethea is hardly a household name but this four-year veteran from Howard has been to two Pro Bowls already. Bethea had to step up last year as his fellow safety Bob Sanders was injured, and he should only be more productive with Sanders back in the lineup.
WR, Mount Union, Drafted No. 205, Third Year
Pierre Garcon came out of nowhere last year stepping up for the injured WR Anthony Gonzalez and caught 47 balls for 765 yards and four touchdowns. I expect Garcon’s numbers to increase this year after a year working with Peyton Manning.
With Peyton Manning in charge of the offense it’s hard to bet against them. He has had very solid pass protection in front of him throughout his career but the run game is a concern. Donald Brown has shown potential. The Colts saw a lot of young receivers step up last year and they expect Anthony Gonzalez to contribute as he is back from injury. Dallas Clark is one of Manning’s favorite targets and is coming off a Pro Bowl year.
The Colts defense ranked eighth in points allowed a year ago, and their biggest playmaker on that side of the ball, Bob Sanders, is returning after missing most of the 2009 season with a torn biceps. The Colts secondary was strengthened by the addition of veteran CB Deshea Townsend. Gary Brackett leads a solid linebacking core while Freeney and Robert Mathis look to improve on their 22 combine sacks from a year ago.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri is back this season after missing almost all of 2009 with a knee injury and punter Pat McAfee dropped 21 punts inside the 20 to only six touchbacks, in addition to handling kickoffs. The Colts have been missing an explosive return man so they used a seventh round pick on Indiana’s Ray Fisher to hopefully fill that need.
After flirting with a perfect season a year ago and a Super Bowl victory the Colts are looking to repeat their early successes. It’s hard to bet against Manning, especially with a lot of talent around him, but I don’t see the Colts vying for a perfect record again. There are simply too many things that can go wrong. However, the Colts will be hungry after the Super Bowl defeat and will have a great year.
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