5 Indianapolis Colts Players to Keep Your Eye on in 2011
Sure, the Colts return much of the same cast of characters who have been responsible for multiple playoff appearances and a Super Bowl berth in the last couple of years. Everyone knows about them—they're the ones who don't play in the preseason.
It's the players that you don't know about who are, as the Colts' motto has become, "stepping up" that will ultimately swing what type of season this team has.
With significant holes left in the linebacking corps, the secondary and the O-Line, several players have not only a lot to prove, but an abundance of responsibility this season.
Bend or break come regular season time, these are the faces of the Colts you'll want to get familiar with before Sept. 11.
Linebacker Kavell Conner
Kavell Conner probably didn't expect to start nine games in 2010.
A seventh-round draft pick of the Colts earlier that year, Conner had only started 27 games at linebacker during his four years at Clemson. But due to injuries to both outside linebackers, Conner's name was called.
He posted 47 tackles and one forced fumble as a rookie. More importantly, his second best game of the season came in the postseason, as he tallied eight tackles in the wild card game against the Jets.
Coming into 2011, Conner will go into the season with the job from Week 1.
He needs to prove that he can fly to the ball and make solid hits, the Colts philosophy on defense, during the remainder of the preseason. He must show he is not simply a backup now, that he can handle being "the guy" at weakside linebacker.
He had a decent showing against the Rams in the team's first preseason game, as he lit up one receiver coming across the middle so hard that the receiver's helmet flew off. Hopefully there's more of that going into the regular season.
Linebacker Pat Angerer
Most Colts fans recognize the name Pat Angerer. As they should. If for no other reason, at least because he has the perfect last name for a hard-hitting linebacker.
Although he, like Kavell Conner, entered the 2010 season as a rookie, people in the Hoosier state had heard of Angerer. A two-year starter at Iowa, Angerer terrorized IU and Purdue, as well as the rest of the Big Ten during his time there.
The Colts, who have used the Iowa Hawkeyes as if they're the Colts farm team in recent years (Dallas Clark and Bob Sanders both went to Iowa before being drafted by the Colts), saw another Hawkeye gem in Angerer and took him in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Angerer played in every game last season and even started 11 regular season games and the Colts' playoff game. He split time at strong side linebacker and middle linebacker, filling in for the injured Gary Brackett.
Angerer was second on the team in tackles, recording 72—49 of which were solo. He also made one sack and forced a fumble. His efforts earned him a spot on The Sporting News' All-Rookie Team.
The Colts can't afford a sophomore slump from Angerer. He will be counted on as the full-time starter at strong side linebacker.
In order for the Colts to have a strong 2011, it needs to have solid performances from both of its second year starters at linebacker.
Tackle Anthony Castonzo
While the Colts currently have him listed at No. 2 on the depth chart at left tackle, don't expect that to last too long.
Jim Irsay's Christmas present to Peyton Manning came in April in the form of 6'7", 305-pound human body guard Anthony Castonzo. The Colts' No. 1 pick, as well as their No.1 target, carries lots of expectations with him into his rookie season.
The Colts haven't had a good left tackle since Tarik Glenn retired from the team after the 2006 season. The team tried Tony Ugoh. He didn't work. It tried Charlie Johnson. He didn't work. Castonzo needs to work for the team to succeed.
All indications say he will. Ask any offensive rookie on the Colts what their biggest challenge is, and it's learning the playbook. Peyton Manning's offense is not for the stupid. It's a complex, on-your-toes offense, especially for the lineman. Castonzo's left tackle position is one of the most important on that line since he protects Peyton's blind side. Luckily, Castonzo's not stupid. He was a Rhodes Scholar finalist.
Castonzo started 54 games during his time at Boston College. He knows how to play. His senior season, he only surrendered one sack and recorded 40 knockdown blocks. He's not a false start machine either. He only had two penalties against him his final year.
Castonzo will play a vital role to the team this season, despite being a rookie. It's no secret that Peyton is aging. On top of that, he's coming off of neck surgery. He needs to have solid protection from his blind side.
If Castonzo fails to provide that, it could be a long season for No. 18 and, in return, for the Colts.
Cornerback Jacob Lacey
While Lacey has started 17 games in his first two years with the Colts, he's only started eight of them at left cornerback.
Fortunately for the Colts, when Lacey put up his biggest numbers in 2009, he was at left cornerback. He started six games at LCB that season recorded three interceptions (including one for a touchdown) and led the team with 13 passes defensed.
Lacey has been exploited in the past, however, by larger receivers such as Randy Moss and Braylon Edwards. Hopefully he can improve, because he will match up with Andre Johnson (6'3", 223) and Kenny Britt (6'3", 215) twice this year. It could be quite a challenge for the 5'10", 177 Lacey.
In the Colts' Cover 2 scheme, many times the corners are left with lots of responsibility. Lacey will have to play larger than his size and make sure he doesn't give up the big play for the "bend-but-don't-break" defense to succeed.
Wide Receiver Anthony Gonzalez
Everyone knows who Gonzo is. The reason he is the final player to watch this season is because he has something to prove.
Gonzalez has to prove to Colts fans why he was the team's first-round draft choice in 2007. He's shown glimpses, but he's never been able to stay on the field long enough for fans to truly be able to appreciate him.
Coming in in 2007, the Colts were already deep at the wide-out position, so he rarely saw the field. Yet, he managed to rack up 576 yards and three touchdowns. He bettered those numbers his second season, seeing action in all 16 games. He hauled in 57 balls for 664 yards and four touchdowns that year. Since then, Colts fans have barely seen the Ohio State product.
He missed all of 2009 and only played in two games in 2010.
When the Colts offense is running at its highest, Peyton has all of his tools in his toolbox. That means he has Addai, Clark, Wayne, Garcon, Collie and Gonzalez. More targets equals more threats.
If Gonzalez manages to stay on the field, look for him to produce similar numbers to 2008 and be a reliable option for Peyton.