An Over-long Season Preview

With most of the preseason completed, it’s time to take a look at what the Colts have put together. This is a comprehensive look at all the position groupings, and then the units as a whole. The final roster isn’t set yet, but we have a pretty good idea where things stand.

Sit back and strap in. This will take awhile.

Depth Chart – Offense

Offensive Line

It looks like Ryan Diem will actually be starting at right guard. This is a great move to the inside where he will be more effective, and it probably moves Mike Pollak into a back-up role where he belongs. Diem cost the Colts multiple games last season at right tackle.

This means the right tackle position will be filled by either Jeff Linkebach or rookie Ben Ijalana. Anthony Castonzo looks to be protecting the blind side at left tackle.

All of these moves should make for a better line all around.

Running Back

Delone Carter is definitely the number two back on this team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him playing on first down for much of the season. He needs to work on his pass protection, but that seems to be true of all rookie running backs in recent memory.

It looks like it has taken Donald Brown over two years to figure out how to block for Peyton.

 

Depth Chart – Defense

Defensive Line

This line is coming together. There is a nice mix of depth, leadership, and overall talent. It appears that they may be using situational packages, as indicated by the Green Bay preseason game. This could be exceptional, as it would alleviate the stress put on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. By cutting their reps it will allow them to be more effective in the fourth quarter and reduce the chance of injury. Drake Nevis could be the Colts rookie of the year.

The additions of Tommie Harris and Jamaal Anderson were on display against Green Bay as well. They both made some very good plays and could be solid additions to the line.

According to Football Outsiders Almanac, the Colts had one of the best defensive lines in the Manning era last season. I think it will be much improved this year.

Linebackers

The Colts have long had a ‘plug and play’ approach to their linebackers. This year will probably be no exception. The starting unit appears to be Pat Angerer, Gary Brackett (your high school janitor), and possibly Kavell Conner. Ernie Sims was impressive in his debut and Phillip Wheeler has been strong most of the preseason. Wheeler was especially effective as a joker linebacker rushing the quarterback.

Secondary

This unit is one injury away from devastation. I liked the idea of keeping Kelvin Hayden around because he wasn’t a big hit against the cap and he is a proven starter, but alas, he is gone. Jerraud Powers is capable as a starting corner, but he doesn’t seem to be able to stay healthy. Jacob Lacey is better utilized as a nickel back on a team’s slot receiver. Justin Tryon should probably be the starting corner opposite Powers, but he doesn’t seem to have pushed Lacey all that much.

After those three, the Colts have a lot of unknowns.

The safety position is in much the same boat as the corners. Melvin Bullitt is coming off his second shoulder surgery in as many seasons and it is probably only a matter of time before he is hurt again. I also think the injuries may be making him a bit gun shy, so to speak. Back in 2009 he was solid in run support and made a number of big plays. Now, he seems a bit tentative and out of place.

Behind Bullitt and Antoine Bethea, there is Joe Lefeged who has looked fairly good during the preseason. The backup spot here is a big question mark and it will have to be filled by someone already on the roster.

On Peyton Manning’s Injury

No discussion of the 2011 Colts is complete without a run down of Peyton Manning’s health.

Manning’s neck injury has everyone confused. There have been a lot of conflicting reports. Back in May, it was reported that the surgery would require 6-8 weeks of recovery. It has now been over 12 weeks and he is still not ready to go. Manning even told the Indianapolis Star that there was plenty of time for recovery. In May, it was no big thing and he would bounce back quickly.

Now, the Colts are two weeks away from opening day, and they have no idea (or are saying they have no idea) as to whether or not Manning will play.

Some reports have stated that he did no rehab during the lockout. That doesn’t sound like Manning at all and would be counter intuitive with any surgery period. All surgeries featuring a limb, joint or neck will require some sort of physical rehabilitation. Manning is all about work ethic and preparation; I don’t think he would skimp on the rehab.

Another troubling report is on the nature of what is physically preventing Manning from playing right now. Reports indicate that he has numbness in his throwing arm. This is due to nerve damage from the bulging disc in his neck. If he does indeed have numbness ranging from his neck to his finger-tips, this could be a problem. Nerves regenerate at a rate of about 2mm to 5mm per day. This can be accelerated through different types of therapy, but the end result isn’t much better. At best this means he could have full feeling in 240 days. At worst about 500 days. You don’t sign someone to a five year contract if they can’t throw the ball for the next few seasons.

Manning vs Collins

Recently Reggie Wayne defended Curtis Painter and implied that it would be difficult for Kerry Collins to pick up the Colts offense.

What the Colts offense does is not inherently complex. They plays are not that difficult. It is an offense that requires timing and execution. Any offense in the country can get positive yards with superb execution.

The key difference is what Manning does at the line of scrimmage. He is adjusting plays on the fly. The reason they run the no huddle, hurry up style is so Manning can get to the line, see what the defensive set is and make adjustments to burn them. He is changing the offensive line protection and calling out hot routes to his receivers.

He is having the O-line block left and , telling Joseph Addai to stay in and block for him, having Dallas Clark run a slant instead of a hook route. It’s little nuances that are changed and tweaked.

That is not what Kerry Collins will be doing. He will make adjustments, but not to the extent Manning does. There is a good chance the Colts will huddle up before each play and I doubt Collins will get the option to pick what play is going to be run. Manning typically gets two run plays and a pass play, picks one, and then makes adjustments. He is, for all intents and purposes, an offensive coordinator on the field. Collins, is not.

Unit Analysis

Offense

This all depends on how much time, if any, Manning will miss. With Kerry Collins under center, I have little faith in the Colts ability to put up points. In moving from Tennessee, Collins is trading a better offensive line and a monster running back, for better receivers.

But, let’s assume Manning doesn’t miss time and I don’t spend Week 1 of the NFL season crying.

I expect a much improved offense. The offensive line will be better with the addition of Anthony Castonzo and the moving of Ryan Diem to right guard. It looks line Indy finally has a long term answer at left tackle and possibly left tackle if Ben Ijalana develops as he should.

The running back situation is also better. Joseph Addai is healthy and it appears that Donald Brown has learned how to pass block. Adding Delone Carter will definitely help in 3rd and short situations, but he could also get a few carries on earlier downs as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was running the ball on first down to get Manning into more 2nd and short situations.

Last season the Colts led the league in dropped passes at 48. It wasn’t just Pierre Garcon either. It was a group effort. The Colts now get Austin Collie back, complete with a fancy new helmet to limit concussions. Collie led the team in catch rate at 82 percent. He was by far the most reliable wideout on the team. Having him back is like adding nitrous to a Ferrari (albeit a Ferrari from the early 2000s).

Also back is Dallas Clark from a wrist injury, and Manning is always more comfortable with Clark in the game.

Defense

Before the preseason, I would have told you that this defense would be absolutely awful. That still might be true, but they have made some key additions that look very promising. But with that said, they are still just a couple injuries away from dismal failure.

The Colts only managed 30 sacks last year, in the bottom third of the league. Jerry Hughes absolutely has to step up or he will get cut. The team needs to be effective when they blitz and they have to stop with the fake blitz nonsense, it fools no one. If Wheeler’s preseason performance is any indication, he could be an extremely effective blitzer.

Overall, I like the additions to the defensive line and the linebacking corp. Jamaal Anderson and Tommie Harris have looked good when they played, Ernie Simms also appears to be pushing hard for a starting spot.

Turnovers are key. They were -4 on give/take-away. Tony Dungy subscribed to the rule of three. Three forced turnovers, and you will win the game. This team had 21 takeaways last year and gave it up 25 times.

Last year’s secondary was the worst since the Colts adopted the Tampa-2 style defense. Part of that was Aaron Fransisco, the rest was injuries. I don’t expect it to be much better. This unit is one injury away from total failure. However last season, they did allow only a 39 percent completion rate on third down.

For all the crap Hayden took, he did have 61 tackles last season in addition to eight passes defended in 11 games. He only had two interceptions, but at least he made the most of them and returned both for touchdowns.  Obviously, the issue with him was durability, his last full season was 2007. However, depth is always an issue with this team, and it would have made sense to keep him from that standpoint. Jerraud Powers has yet to play a full season, but is solid when he does play.

Special Teams

The Colts might just be the biggest winners with the new kickoff rule. Pat McAfee has been blasting his kickoffs into the back of the endzone. If this rule was in effect for the playoff game against the Jets last season, New York is starting that final drive from the 20 yard line and losing. The kickoff rule should greatly help the Colts coverage units which have been weak for years.

Adam Vinateri has also shown the ability to stave off the effects of age. His 55 yard field goal in the preseason was an encouraging sign that he still has a big leg when the Colts need it.

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