The number of players on a team’s roster who are inspired by something more than just playing to win or reaching another Super Bowl is one of the most important intangibles. This year the Colts are chock full of players who fit this description.
Players are recognized as possessing this intangible most when they are playing for new contracts, recall discussions of Albert Haynesworth entering 2008. The Colts have four players who will be playing very hard for a future contract.
Marlin Jackson is coming off of an ACL tear and is recovering at a nearly inhuman rate. He will need to complete his recovery quickly because he has a lot of proving to do as the Colts have a long established tendency to let cornerbacks go when the time comes to pay big dollars.
Antoine Bethea has been to a Pro Bowl and has been an important part of one of the league's stingiest secondaries but Melvin Bullitt has impressed coaches with his hard hitting, excellent run support, and proven ball-hawking skills (Bullitt led the team in interceptions in 2008). Bethea will need to re-establish himself as a ball-hawk in the secondary if he wishes to earn a new contract.
Gary Brackett is the defensive captain but is coming off of a bone fracture and is entering the last "leg" of his career. If he wants to remain with the Colts and in the NFL, he will have to not only have a strong performance this year, he will have to be ready to play for a very reasonable contract price.
Since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2007, Bullitt has produced in whatever role he was asked to fill, from special teams to starting at safety. Fighting for time on the field will be no easy task with two Pro Bowlers ahead of him.
Another group of players who possess an extra incentive to perform are those who are playing to earn or retain a starting role.
Joseph Addai has struggled to produce as he did for the better part of his first two years in the league and has struggled to stay healthy. The addition of Donald Brown should spark his effort and urgency to increase his production.
Roy Hall is entering his third season and has missed most of his first two years in the league due to injury. Hall has all the physical gifts one could ask for to be a threat at wide receiver but his window of opportunity is closing.
Freddy Keiaho started at weak side linebacker the past two seasons but was allowed to test free agency for an extended period before he was picked back up by the Colts. With Session likely starting on the weak side, Keiaho finds himself again competing for a starting spot.
Tyjuan Hagler started at strong side linebacker in 2007 after Rob Morris went down with a career ending knee injury. He lost his starting job when he pulled a pectoral muscle while lifting weights in the 2008 off-season. His old spot is vacant and he has even more competition this year than in 2008.
Adam Seward has been with the Carolina Panthers since he entered the league and has failed to break the starting roster. This year he is on a new team, with a new defensive coordinator, and he is uncharacteristically big in the Colts linebacker rotations. He has the opportunity to prove himself against new competition.
Tony Ugoh has been the starting left tackle for the Colts since he was drafted in 2007. His first two years have been shaky at best. If Ugoh fails to prove that he is ready to be the full-time starter at left tackle this year, the Colts will probably look to add a new left tackle in the draft.
Ryan Lilja has been a starter on the Colts offensive line for years and is one of the three most veteran offensive linemen on the team. Injury held him out for the entirety of 2008. The Colts added three interior offensive linemen in the 2008 draft who all saw significant time on the field last season.
Eric Foster joined the team as an undrafted free agent last year and saw significant time at defensive tackle. With an emphasis on getting bigger on the defensive line, Foster is heading down a long road.
Finally, there are four players who have extra motivation to succeed either to retain a spot on the roster or to validate their status as NFL stars.
Bob Sanders won defensive MVP honors in 2007 and is still the heart of the Colts defense when he is on the field. If he cannot stay healthy, people will begin to question his large contract and a player like Bullitt will begin to look more attractive.
Kelvin Hayden was awarded with a lucrative contract but missed considerable time due to injury in 2008 and was never able to show just how valuable he is to the success of the Colts defense.
Mike Hart started 2008 with a great first-impression but he went down to a season-ending knee injury early in the season. In the NFL, running backs are not afforded a lot of time to prove their value.
T.J. Rushing’s season ended before it began in 2008, which opened up the competition for kick and punt returns. If Rushing wishes to maintain a spot on the roster he will have to show he is still the Colts best option on returns and is a serviceable back-up corner.
The intangible that is often overlooked is the additional inspiration players have entering a new season. In 2009, the presence of an extra incentive for many Colts players will add an extra dimension to the team and should have a significant impact on the team's success.
For an in-depth discussion of these players visit 2009 Colts: Players With Something to Prove.