Fan Post Saturday: Story Lines to Watch in a Manning-less World

On Saturdays, I’ll try to run the best fan posts I get throughout the week. This week, Federico Pacheco checks in with his thoughts.

It seems like every storyline in a Colts game centers around Peyton Manning’s absence and eventual comeback. “That wouldn’t happen with Peyton Manning under center” has already become a frequent comment.

Even without Manning there are some other interesting storylines that can keep us tuned on games.

1. The Running Game

We all know the Indy running game has not been a factor since early 2007. Most put the blame on our offensive line and Joseph Addai being frequently banged up. I liked what Addai and Carter showed last week, averaging 4.9 and 3.6 carries, respectively.

This new offensive line looks better at run blocking, and the coaches had some trouble deciding which running backs to keep. Addai is currently healthy, and Carter looks like the real deal. Plus, we still have 2009 1st-round pick Donald Brown who may offer some big plays, and there is also undrafted rookie Darren Evans who played good enough to deserve a roster spot.

If the team decides to try to become run oriented this season, I’m all for it. A good, consistent running game would be the best gift they can give to an aging Manning. (See John Elway)


2. The Breakout Players

This is a classic Polian and Co. Every year, some no-name players come out of nowhere and start contributing consistently and/or showing starter potential. 2007 undrafted free agent Melvin Bullit is a great example of this.

Last year we saw players like Jacob Tamme, Kavell Conner and Blair White making important contributions. While some could argue that the absence of Manning will affect this year’s emergence, I still think someone will pop out of nowhere. Undrafted rookie SS Joe Lefeged is an interesting candidate if Melvin Bullit can’t stay healthy. Maybe CBs Terrence Johnson and Kevin Thomas will surprise us all. Now that Angerer will move to the MLB position, Phillip Wheeler could show some consistency.

Rookies Delone Carter and Drake Nevis impressed in the pre-season. They have showed the maturity to deserve consideration for playing time. 2nd year TE Brody Eldridge won’t make some flashy, big plays, but his blocking abilities make him a serious candidate for a breakout player (if he can stay healthy).

3. The Emergence of Pat Angerer

Our starting MLB and defensive captain is supposedly out for a while. 2010 2nd-round player Pat Angerer has got some pretty big shoes to fill. He has been OLB since stepping in for Brackett last year and subbed in for him last week at Houston. Angerer finished the game with 13 total tackles, 9 solo.

We should certainly keep an eye on him next Sunday. I really think he brings promise to our future MLB spot, considering Gary Brackett’s age. The future is approaching faster than we thought.

4. Underachieving Early Draft Picks.

There are many interesting mini-plots here. 2007 first rounder Anthony Gonzalez showed promise but has fallen short due to injuries. He’s probably got his last chance to prove he’s worth a roster spot. Gonzo is likely playing this week.

2008 2nd rounder Mike Pollak hasn’t been thrilling, and he’s behind Jeff Saturday at center. Players like Kyle DeVan were cut for him, and he should prove the coaching staff right. DeVan is now starting in Philadelphia.

2009 1st rounder Donald Brown has had trouble especially on pass blocking plays, and is now third on the depth chart behind 4th round rookie Delone Carter. Brown has got to make the most out of the opportunities he gets; we all know he has the tools to make some big plays.

2009 1st-rounder Jerry Hughes went without a single sack last year, and was often inactive. He was a healthy scratch for Week 1. Hughes has the speed and quickness to make linemen dizzy, and if he subs in effectively for a tired Freeney or Mathis on passing downs, he will prove he deserved the roster spot instead of John Chick

5. Anthony Castonzo (and maybe Ben Ijalana)

Castonzo is our first round pick. He’s supposed to be the blind side protector for years to come. His development this season is definitely something to watch for. If he proves he can be a franchise LT, he’ll silence all the Polians’ critics. He would also be a great start for Chris Polian’s tenure as the main man.

If 2nd round pick “Bigger Ben” Ijalana steps up at some point, his playing would also be something to watch for.

6. Austin Collie

WR Austin Collie showed real Pro Bowl potential last season. Last week, he went catchless. There may be a lot of reasons for that: Kerry Collins and the protection issues, his concussions, his knee, etc. Still, I think very high of this player, and if he can overcome all of his obstacles and make some nice plays, I would be very excited thinking of an 18 to 17 combo in the future.

7.  Players on their contract years.

Have we seen the last of Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne? If Peyton doesn’t play this season, it is possible that we’ve seen the last of this combo. I doubt it, because Wayne’s abilities showed last week even without No. 18.  A reliable wideout is something Peyton should have when he comes back.  Still, Reggie Wayne knows his future is not granted, and he’s giving all he has to deserve a new contract.

LE Robert Mathis is also on the last year of his contract, and it shows. He has already proven he is more than just than just the guy on Freeney’s other end, and he played great on week 1. Look for this guy to keep giving 110% of his effort all season long.

WR Pierre Garcon has given us amazing plays in the last couple of years. He, like Wayne and Mathis, is a free agent after this season. We all know he is quick, fast, and elusive; he’s got all the tools to make big plays. Still, he drops some passes when he is open and disappears from games. If he becomes consistent this year, especially without Manning, he might get a new contract. Would he replace Wayne?

It is also worth noting that Jeff Saturday is on the last year of his contract. This might as well be his final year with the Colts. This makes it all even more interesting. We have three starters right now (Wayne, Mathis and Saturday) with potential replacements behind them (Garcon, Hughes and Pollak). And it would be four if you count Brackett-Angerer.

I know the current starters look a lot better right now, but that could change throughout the season. Let’s remember it’s not just “a choice”; age and money are also in the mix.

Kerry on, Colts fans.