Published August 29, 2012
| Sports Network
When Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay wasn't using the twitter machine to update the status of his team last season, Peyton Manning's neck issues filled the rest of the void.
In 145 characters or less, Irsay kept the world abreast of what was going on in the 46225 zip code, but not once did he envision the Colts having an 0-13 start and a 2-14 finish without Manning available. Whether the Colts tanked it or not, they were able to obtain the No. 1 overall selection in April's NFL Draft and nab coveted Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Irsay, of course, flirted via social media that drafting Baylor's Robert Griffin III instead of Luck wasn't out of the question. Still, the worst-kept secret in the draft became official when the always-smiling Luck walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall to greet Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The "Suck for Luck" mantra became popular in October, just not with the Indianapolis players.
"It's ridiculous, man. We've got 12 games left. Who knows what's going to happen?," Colts veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne said back then. "We don't even know if Luck is what everybody says he is. One thing we do know is there is a big difference between college and the pros. You don't know what's going to happen until he makes it to the next stage. Until then, we have our quarterbacks. We're going to go rock with them."
Wayne, who questioned the team's decision when veteran Kerry Collins was brought in to replace Manning to start last season, was forced to catch passes from the former Penn State star, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. Neither one proved to be an admirable replacement for the great Manning, who is now making audibles at the line of scrimmage with the Denver Broncos.
But no matter how the story is twisted, the Colts were finished with Manning and the ongoing saga over his injured neck, and "lucked" out by adding another incredibly talented quarterback to the franchise. Luck has impressed so far in the preseason for Indianapolis, which had a streak of nine straight seasons of at least 10 wins come to an end in 2011, and had won that many games in 11 of the previous 12 campaigns.
The despondent season led to the firing of head coach Jim Caldwell, who went 28-24 and led the team to a Super Bowl in a brief three-year tenure after taking over in January of 2009 following Tony Dungy's retirement."
"Change sometimes isn't always the easiest transition to make, but it's part of this game, part of this league and part of the steps needed for us to get going in this new era of Colts football," new general manager Ryan Grigson said when announcing Caldwell's departure.
Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and his son Chris -- replaced as GM by Grigson -- couldn't avoid the guillotine either, as both were relieved of their duties. That's when Grigson stepped in and tabbed Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as the new head coach in January.
"I can't tell you how excited I am," the first-time head coach Pagano said. "It's the next chapter, another journey, and it's going to be a great journey."
Pagano brings a defensive pedigree to the table, which some may say may not mesh well with Luck. Then again, Dungy was a defensive-minded coach and won a Super Bowl with arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in Manning.
Getting back to the big game will take some time and a lot of work for Indianapolis. Many of the Colts' big weapons are over 30 years old, and some of the younger players have yet to prove themselves. And can a rookie quarterback come into a new environment and win right away? Sure, but that will most likely be tough to happen here with all the rebuilding the Colts are doing.
Luck has had time to get acclimated with the speed and complexity of the NFL, and with some patience and guidance from his peers, has an extremely bright future. And so may the Colts once again.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Colts, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 2-14 (4th, AFC South)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to N.Y. Jets in AFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Chuck Pagano (first season)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bruce Arians (first season with Colts)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Manusky (first season with Colts)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Andrew Luck, QB (1st Round, Stanford)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Dwight Freeney, OLB (19 tackles, 8.5 sacks)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 30th overall (26th rushing, 27th passing), tied 28th scoring (15.2 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 25th overall (29th rushing, 15th passing), 28th scoring (26.9 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Andrew Luck (1st Round, Stanford), TE Dwayne Allen (3rd Round, Clemson), TE Coby Fleener (2nd Round, Stanford), C Samson Satele (from Raiders), RG Mike McGlynn (from Bengals), RT Winston Justice (from Eagles), DE Cory Redding (from Ravens), ILB Jerrell Freeman (free agent), CB Vontae Davis (from Dolphins), SS Tom Zbikowski (from Ravens), QB Drew Stanton (from Jets), RB Vick Ballard (5th Round, Mississippi State), RB Mewelde Moore (from Steelers), RB Deji Karim (from Jaguars), WR Donnie Avery (from Titans), WR T.Y. Hilton (3rd Round, Florida International), ILB Moise Fokou (from Eagles), CB Justin King (from Rams), CB Josh Gordy (from Rams), CB Cassius Vaughn (from Broncos)
KEY DEPARTURES: QB Peyton Manning (to Broncos), RB Joseph Addai (to Patriots), WR Pierre Garcon (to Redskins), TE Dallas Clark (to Buccaneers), TE Brody Eldridge (to Rams), C Jeff Saturday (to Packers), RG Ryan Diem (retired), SLB Philip Wheeler (to Raiders), MLB Gary Brackett (released), CB Jacob Lacey (to Lions), SS Melvin Bullitt (released), QB Dan Orlovsky (to Buccaneers), QB Curtis Painter (to Ravens), QB Kerry Collins (free agent), FB Jerome Felton (to Vikings), FB Chris Gronkowski (to Broncos), FB Ryan Mahaffey (to Dolphins), WR Anthony Gonzalez (free agent), WR Blair White (released), TE Jacob Tamme (to Broncos), TE Anthony Hill (free agent), C Jamey Richard (to Patriots), OG Mike Pollak (to Panthers), OT Quinn Ojinnaka (to Rams), DE Jamaal Anderson (to Bengals), DE Tyler Brayton (free agent), DT Eric Foster (free agent), OLB Ernie Sims (free agent), OLB Zac Diles (to Titans), CB Kevin Thomas (to Eagles)
QB: Luck obviously has gigantic shoes to fill with Manning now out West, but possesses all the tools of a future leader and elite quarterback. However, the same was said about the likes of David Klingler, Andre Ware, Heath Shuler, Ryan Leaf, and so on. As a Stanford product, Luck brings the cerebral aspect of the game onto the field and has a strong arm to compliment his smarts. He may need a few years under his belt to reach his full potential, but seems right on course so far. Drew Stanton was traded to Indianapolis from the New York Jets right after Tim Tebow landed in the Big Apple and is expected to back up Luck. He has completed 104 passes for 1,158 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions in his career, all of which had come with Detroit before signing with the Jets in March. Chandler Harnish was selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft out of Northern Illinois and will try to stick on a Colts team that was 27th in passing yards (187.2 ypg) minus Manning last year.
RB: The Joseph Addai era is also over in Indianapolis, though the Colts may not miss the oft-injured running back after battling medical issues the past few years. Addai played in 12 games last season and hasn't participated in a full 16-game slate since his rookie campaign in 2006. Donald Brown (645 rushing yards, 5 TD) led the Colts with 134 rushes last season and won't have to look over his shoulder this year with a lack of experience behind him. He is also a receiving threat out of the backfield and scored a 63-yard touchdown on a short pass from Luck in the rookie's first preseason attempt, giving Colts fans a glimpse of what could be a solid connection. Delone Carter (377 rushing yards, 2 TD) can spell Brown at times and was third on the team in carries (101) in 2011. Mewelde Moore (157 rushing yards) was added in the offseason after spending the last four years in Pittsburgh, while rookie Vick Ballard was drafted out of Mississippi State in the fifth round to compete as well. The Colts were 26th in rushing yards a year ago, averaging just 99.6 ypg.
WR: Wayne (75 receptions, 4 TD) is expected to help Luck along in his young days as quarterback, but also needs to bounce back from a subpar year that was mainly caused to the drop-off at quarterback. The veteran, who has played in all 16 regular-season games since 2002, had a string of seven straight 1,000-yard seasons come to an end during the tumultuous 2011 campaign. Wayne also missed reaching the 100-catch mark for the first time since 2008, while his four receiving touchdowns were the lowest since compiling four in 2002 -- his second season as a pro. No. 2 receiver Pierre Garcon is now with Washington after posting 70 receptions for 947 yards and a team-best six touchdown catches a season ago. His departure opens the door for more playing time for Austin Collie (54 receptions, 1 TD) if he can get over a history of concussions that included one in the preseason. Rookies T.Y. Hilton (3rd Round, Florida International) and LaVon Brazill (6th Round, Ohio) and newcomer Donnie Avery should see action as well. Avery was added in the offseason and played eight games for Tennessee in 2011 after missing the entire 2010 campaign. Undrafted rookie Griff Whalen, a teammate of Luck at Stanford, was making a case for a roster spot but was placed on injured reserve.
TE: The Colts no longer have Dwight Clark lining up at tight end, as the longtime fan favorite was one of several players and staff members to receive the axe in the rebuilding process. Clark was drafted by the Colts in 2003 and had 352 yards and just two touchdown catches in 11 games last season. His 17 games played due to injuries over the past two seasons were a disappointment to upper management. Rookie tight end Coby Fleener (2nd Round), another Stanford teammate of Luck, is expected to get the nod now that both Clark and Jacob Tamme are gone. Tamme, who had 177 yards and a score on 19 catches in 2011, re-united with Manning in Denver. Fleener is bigger, stronger and has more upside than his replacements, however, as does Dwayne Allen (Clemson), a third-round pick in this past draft who's regarded as a better blocker than Fleener. Kyle Miller and Andre Smith are players who've bounced around camps that are hoping to catch on as the third tight end.
OL: Along with Manning, perhaps one of the biggest losses for the Colts this offseason was center Jeff Saturday, who is now with powerhouse Green Bay. Saturday was the anchor of the team's offensive line and one of Manning's closest companions, but now it's up to Samson Satele to develop a similar bond with Luck. Satele started 15 games at the center position for Oakland in each of the past two years and has started at least 12 times in each of the last five seasons. The Colts allowed 35 sacks a season ago and the line didn't do much to prevent a 30th overall ranking in total yards (286.8 ypg), a reason why there's even more changes in 2012. Winston Justice is expected to start at right tackle and was acquired from Philadelphia, but struggled in his time with the Eagles. New right guard Mike McGlynn, who spent last season with Cincinnati, is in the same boat as far as talent goes. 2011 first-round pick Anthony Castonzo and Joe Reitz will start at left tackle and left guard, respectively, though Jeff Linkenbach could push Reitz for time at the guard spot. Linkenbach also can play tackle, too. Second-year pro Ben Ijalana was in the mix for a starting job at one of the guard spots as well before landing on injured reserve with a torn ACL in July. With a line filled with no-namers, Luck and the offense could struggle.
DL: Greg Manusky was named Indy's new defensive coordinator in the offseason and served in the same capacity with San Diego last year. He also held the same position with the San Francisco 49ers from 2007-10. Whether the Colts have defensive success with the change is yet unknown, but Pagano brings in an excellent track record from his time with the Ravens. The Colts will run a 3-4 scheme with Fili Moala (22 tackles, 2 sacks) and Cory Redding (43 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks), who spent the last two years with Pagano in Baltimore, taking the end spots. Tackle Brandon McKinney is another Pagano disciple from the Ravens, but was placed in IR in the preseason after tearing his ACL, leaving Antonio Johnson (21 tackles) slated to play nose tackle and rookie Josh Chapman, drafted in the fifth round out of Alabama, also slated to help out once he returns from his own knee injury. The Colts were awful against the run in 2011, finishing 29th with an average of 143.9 yards allowed per game. They were also 25th in total yards permitted (370.9 ypg).
LB: Indianapolis has two strong veteran outside linebackers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Freeney (19 tackles, 8 1/2 sacks) was drafted by the Colts back in 2002 and has played at least 14 games in each of the past four seasons. He may be getting older, but the converted defensive end can still wreak havoc on opposing offenses. His presence on the outside often created one-on-one matchups for Mathis (43 tackles, 9 1/2 sacks), who was bothered by the firing of Caldwell and spoke his mind, saying Irsay doesn't play on the field. He still re-signed with the Colts in the offseason and remains one of their top defenders and longest-tenured players, having been drafted by Indy in 2003. Jerry Hughes (15 tackles, 1 sack) is entering his third season and should see more time at outside linebacker, while second-year pro Mario Addison (5 tackles) is still raw and needs to get more experience under his belt. Tim Fugger was taken in the seventh round of April's draft to play on the outside and had a strong career at Vanderbilt. The inside linebackers could see a rotation of Kavell Conner (104 tackles), former CFL standout Jerrell Freeman and two players acquired from Philadelphia -- Moise Fokou (22 tackles) and Greg Lloyd, at least until 2011 leading tackler Pat Angerer (148 tackles, 1 sack) gets back from a broken foot that will sideline him for the early part of the season. Mario Harvey could see time there as well. The unit could miss the leadership of former captain Gary Brackett, who was not brought back.
DB: The Colts were decent in stopping the pass a year ago, finishing 15th in yards allowed through the air (227.0). They added cornerback Justin King (58 tackles, 1 INT) in the offseason after he spent the first four years of his career with the Rams, then acquired former Miami first-round pick Vontae Davis (43 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT) late in the preseason for a 2013 second-round choice. He'll immediately take the spot previously held by departure Jacob Lacey next to Jerraud Powers (51 tackles, 2 INT), with King the favorite to be the nickel back. Josh Gordy (43 tackles, 3 INT), obtained in a deal with St. Louis in August, will also push for time along with Brandon King and Korey Lindsey. The leader of the secondary is veteran safety Antoine Bethea (139 tackles), who will be surrounded by youth and will have his hands full showing them around. He is a reliable defender and will play alongside newcomer Tom Zbikowski (23 tackles, 1 sack), who came over from Baltimore to join Pagano. Jermale Hines (6 tackles) and Joe Lefeged (34 tackles, 2 INT) can fill in at safety and should be the top reserves.
SPECIAL TEAMS: With Garcon with the Redskins, Brazill is expected to handle the load in the return game. The speedster from Ohio excelled in that area in college, but these are not the Bobcats he is playing with. Hilton is another rookie who may see action in the return game. Lefeged returned 31 kickoffs last season but averaged 18.6 yards. Possible future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri is back for another season and made 23-of-27 field goal attempts last season, including 8-of-10 from 40-to-49 yards away. Punter Pat McAfee boomed 88 punts, averaging 46.6 yards and landing 21 inside the 20-yard line. It will be important for him to have a good season with a new defensive scheme in place. Justin Snow is penciled in again as the long snapper and has handled that role for the last 12 years.
PROGNOSIS: If new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians can take Luck under his wing much like he did with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the Colts will be well on their way back to respectability. It may take a few years, but at least Luck has the right coordinator to work with. And then there should be no more two-win seasons for a long time, or at least hopefully. This appears to be a two-year process before Luck is anointed as the next savior of Indianapolis. The offensive line needs to gel quickly since it's the weakest link on the team, and expect a new defensive scheme to battle through growing pains as well.