After a sputtering start to the season and a very un-Colts-like 3-4 record, it appeared we were finally watching an elite team begin its decline.
Even more disturbing for Colts fans was that Peyton Manning looked, well, normal. Actually, worse than normal, as he looked old behind a very suspect offensive line. Of course, chalk it up to injury because Manning soon made us wonder why we ever doubted him at all.
With the nagging injury behind him and a stable running game thanks to the return of Dominic Rhodes, who picked up the slack during a disappointing year for Joseph Addai, a healthy Manning took his team on a nine-game winning streak.
The Colts ended the season with a 12-4 record, snagging a wild card spot in the playoffs (it was the first season since 2002 the Colts did not win the AFC South title), while Manning’s heroics earned him another MVP.
Despite a great comeback story fueling fans’ hopes for another Super Bowl appearance, the Colts lost in upset fashion to a dominant Chargers team in the playoffs.
If anything, the 2008 season showed that, even though the Colts may still belong in the upper echelon of teams in the NFL, there are some serious cracks in the armor. And, with the departure of Tony Dungy and the retirements of offensive line coach Howard Mudd and offensive coordinator Tom Moore, the upcoming 2009 season could be a difficult time of transition for Indianapolis.
Jim Caldwell (HC)—Talk about a tough act to follow. A day after Tony Dungy announced his retirement, Jim Caldwell was promptly named the Colts head coach.
Having spent the last eight seasons on Dungy’s staff (three of those years as assistant head coach), Caldwell shares many of the same coaching philosophies and will likely stick with the same system and staff the players are used to. This is good news if you are eyeing any Colts for this upcoming season, considering the success the team has had in the past.
Something to keep in mind though is that, while the switch to Caldwell should keep the transition smooth for the Colts, he is not Dungy and may want to make that very clear in the beginning.
Keep an eye on how players react to the new regime. Some people just don’t respond well to change.
Tony Dungy (HC)—The biggest question mark hanging over the 2009 Colts may be what kind of team they are without Tony Dungy.
Peyton Manning is the unquestioned leader of the team, and Caldwell, as coach, should keep things running smoothly. But nothing can immediately replace Dungy’s professionalism, mentorship, and knowledge of the game.
As a coach, not only did he set the record for consecutive playoff appearances, his total career numbers are an impressive 139-69 in the regular season. The only knock on Dungy was his 9-10 record in playoff games, but in 2007 he quieted those critics with a Colts Super Bowl win, making him the first black head coach to do so.
He was a class act in every facet of the game and he will be missed in the NFL (and I’m a Patriot’s fan).
As far as fantasy football implications, if Manning remains healthy and Caldwell sticks pretty closely to their current philosophy and system, I wouldn’t expect a huge drop off in numbers.
Marvin Harrison (WR)—If the Marvin Harrison from 3-4 years ago were leaving the Colts, fans might be setting fires in the streets of Indianapolis. The truth is, age may have finally caught up with Peyton Manning’s long time favorite receiver and the Colts fans know it.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone will miss Harrison in white and blue. A future Hall of Famer and second on the all-time NFL receptions list with 1,102, Harrison has had an outstanding career in his 13 seasons with the Colts.
However, after spending most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons without him due to injuries, the Colts showed they could still be a successful team despite his absence.
While fantasy football mourns the end of Harrison’s elite status as a wide out, his departure further solidifies Reggie Wayne as the No. 1 receiver on one of the most dynamic offenses in the league, and, it also boosts the value of third-year wide out Anthony Gonzalez.
Dominic Rhodes (RB)—Who says you can’t go home?
Rhodes returned to the Colts in 2008 to back up starting running back Joseph Addai. Due to injuries and a lack of running back depth on the roster, he proved to be even more valuable, giving the Colts the dependable running game they direly needed after Addai faltered.
This offseason, Rhodes got himself a new gig with the Buffalo Bills. With Addai healthy (for now) and the addition of rookie back Donald Brown, this shouldn’t affect the Colt’s solid running game.
Rhodes’ new role in Buffalo could be interesting though. Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the 2009 season and has a history of off-field issues, putting Rhodes behind Fred Jackson at the start of the season.
Right now, he may only have value as a late-round pickup, but if he impresses the coaches for those first few games and the cards fall right, Rhodes could quickly turn into a solid fantasy contributor.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
Donald Brown (RB)—Joseph Addai may still be the Colts No. 1 running back, but the team made a statement by spending their first draft pick on Donald Brown, the rookie from Connecticut.
At 5’10" and 210 lbs, Brown ran for 2,083 yards and 18 TDs his junior year. He’s quick with excellent vision and has great work ethic. Plus, he should fit the Colts’ running style very nicely.
Really, the kid has Colt written all over him.
Right off the bat, Brown should get a decent amount of the carries and could even be starting mid-season, due to Addai’s history of getting hurt. If this happens, Brown would instantly become a No. 2 running back in fantasy football leagues.
In keeper leagues, he should be one of the top 3 rookies taken off the board.
BRUNO BOYS SPOTLIGHT
Anthony Gonzalez (WR)—With the departure of Harrison, Gonzalez could be in for a breakout season.
He’s entering his third year, which is usually when wide outs take their game to the next level.
Plus, he’s just spent the last two years forming a relationship with one of the league’s elite quarterbacks in Peyton Manning. In 2009, he should be one of Manning’s favorite targets, especially with Reggie Wayne drawing double coverage.
If you can land Gonzalez as your third receiver in this year’s fantasy football draft, he will be a steal. If you’re in a keeper league and he’s available, get this guy on your team stat.
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