4 Things the Indianapolis Colts Should Look for If Peyton Manning Returns
Fans all over Indianapolis were heard yelling, "The fusion has healed, the fusion has healed!" earlier this week, referring to the encouraging news that Peyton Manning received regarding his surgically repaired neck.
Okay, that might not actually be how it went down in Indy when the news came out, but in a season with little else to cheer about it really isn't too much of a stretch to think that it could have.
The questions now begin to focus on when Manning might be able to take the field for Indianapolis this season. Both Manning and GM Bill Polian have been non-commital in terms of voicing a date, but there is hope that it could be the regular season finale against Jacksonville or, perhaps in time to terrorize the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football before Christmas.
If Manning does in fact take the field, here are a few things that the Colts should be looking for to help determine if Manning is worth the $28 million dollar option that it would take to keep him.
Can He Protect Himself
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Injuries to the neck and spinal cord are easily some of the most frightening in professional sports. The risk of permanent and debilitating injury is a very real one for Manning should he re-injure his neck.
Manning is a competitor and the likelihood that he risks everything to try and take the field again is very high. That's makes it important for the Colts franchise to make an honest appraisal of whether Manning can adequately protect himself on the field.
Weakness in his neck that might impair his ability to see oncoming pressure could be the very thing that leads to the horrifying injury that nobody wants watch Peyton suffer.
If Manning is surveying the field like a hawk, feeling pressure and moving effortlessly in the pocket, that is the sign that Manning can still watch out for himself.
Do the Receivers Route Running Abilties Improve?
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When a team is in the midst of a winless season, the attention of every players deficiencies is heightened.
Players who showed immense promise and talent last season are now discussed as potential busts, while usually steady veterans are accused of losing a step and being over the hill.
If Peyton Manning returns and all of the sudden Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark look like 25-year-olds again that is an excellent sign.
It would mean that none of the players on Indy's offense got worse during the offseason as some have speculated, but rather that all of the time spent playing and practicing a certain way with Manning was not forgotten, it was simply on hold while they tried to gel with Curtis Painter.
Is the Defense Better?
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Nobody is going to confuse the current injury riddled Indianapolis defense for a Super Bowl caliber squad. However, being forced to be on the field so often makes it easy to point out every flaw that they have.
Manning's return might reward the defense with some added time to rest and regroup while the offense marches down the field. It's a well known fact that the best way to solve problems with a bad defense is to simply keep them off the field as much as possible.
If Manning makes the current defense look better in his return, the Colts don't have to worry about addressing every single problem during the offseason. That might help to keep $28 million dollars in the budget.
Do They Win
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This point may not be as revealing if the only game Manning returns for is the regular season finale against the Jaguars. However, a return and a win against the playoff bound Texans in a meaningful game would be huge.
Still, a victory against the Jaguars means that the Colts were in fact only one player away from being more competitive in many of their games and not the worst team going forward in their division.
If Manning can deliver in a single game and keep the Colts out of the record books for the wrong reason, that makes for a much more interesting offseason in Indy.