As the 2011 NFL season approaches (well, hopefully), the Colts seem to be in a fairly solid place if the new CBA becomes agreed upon prior to the season. While some people think that the Colts' time is finally over, there's good reason to believe that the new draftees will improve the Colts, making them better than before.
The Colts were 10-6 last season, even with all of their injuries and position turnover. With a more solid offensive line and better injury luck, there's no reason why the Colts will regress.
The offense will likely be another top five offense in the league, especially with weapons like Dallas Clark returning and Anthony Castonzo and Benjamin Ijalana solidifying the line. The defense, however, is clearly the weak link. After being 20th in yards/game, 23rd in points/game, and 31st in turnovers/game, the defense needs to improve if the Colts wish to be back in the Super Bowl.
While the 2011 Draft hopefully helped with this improvement, there is still needed improvement. In order to pinpoint these improvements, let's take a look at the projected 2011 defense, position by position. This segment will focus on the defensive line, which vastly underperformed in 2010.
With the CBA up to be changed, the defensive tackles are not set in stone for next year. Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir are both free agents (restricted or unrestricted, I have no idea what's going on if there is a new CBA), but will likely be retained.
My best guess at the defensive tackle rotation includes Johnson, Muir, Fili Moala, Drake Nevis, Eric Foster and Ricardo Matthews. I don't expect the Colts to keep both Foster and Muir, but one or the other is probable.
While this position is one of the weaker on the defense, I feel much more confident about it than I did during the 2010 season. Nevis has a lot of potential at either tackle position and Moala showed a lot of improvement in his second season. Matthews showed flashes in the last few games of the season and hopefully has a future at the one-tech position. While this position won't be a strength by any means, it looks to be serviceable, especially if they can provide some pass rush with the addition of Nevis.
Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis still have All-Pro seasons left in them, having 10 and 11 sacks, respectively, in 2010. They look to have another great season as they provide a tenacious double team off of the edges. However, the Colts cannot rely on only the two of them anymore. With the aging of the pair, another edge rusher would be a very valuable addition.
The Colts other ends consist of Keyunta Dawson, John Chick, and Jerry Hughes. Dawson is a serviceable backup but is not a long term option for defensive end. He's been largely useless on the field, a usual fan whipping boy.
The Colts most probable future lies in two promising young ends, with very different histories. John Chick was the CFL's Defensive player of the year in 2009, but failed to crack the Colts' lineup in 2010. He does have potential however, and could develop into a good backup pass rusher.
Hughes however, is where most Colts' fans leave their hope. Hughes was the 2010 first round draft pick for the Colts and the Colts had high hopes for his career in Indianapolis. But in 2010, Hughes barely saw the field, accumulating merely 6 tackles. But, with the difficulty of the transition of a collegiate defensive end to an NFL rusher, the Colts have higher expectations for Hughes' sophomore season.
Regardless, the Colts 2011 defensive line looks to have much more potential than in 2010. Hopefully for Colts' fans, the line can become less of a weakness for the Colts defense, especially if they wish to see the Lombardi in February 2012.