Under the Dungy/Polian/Caldwell regime fans clearly knew what to expect during the preseason. Like clockwork the starters would trot out for their prescribed number of snaps or series, unheralded backups would duke it out for critical roster spots, the Colts would try out an ungodly number of kick and punt returners, at least one important veteran would be hurt, and the team would likely lose 3 of the 4 preseason games. Despite all of the machinations, the vaunted Colts would roll out their usual lineups on opening day and dominate the division with little or no regard for preseason performance.
Things have changed.
With the new firebrand staff here are seven questions weighing on my mind this preseason. Let’s peer into the crystal ball and see if we can find any answers.
- Will we see more of Andrew Luck than we saw of Peyton Manning in the preseason?
At this point it’s a coin toss. While Luck has certainly benefited from 7-on-7 drills and fewer 11-on-11 situations, it’s clear he needs snaps with his receivers. He’s also been playing against one of the league’s worst secondary units. That’s about to change but it may not mean the Colts are willing to put their crown jewel on the field for more than he needs to be. Also, this new offensive line needs some time to prove it can protect a quarterback before the team gets too fond of gambling.
- Will the Colts win more than a single game in the preseason?
A better question is: does it matter? Mike Shanahan is the king of the preseason going 47-22 since 1997. How has that worked out for him? He won two NFL titles with John Elway in 1997 and 1998 but hasn’t appeared in a Super Bowl since. In fact he’s not won a division crown or a playoff birth since 2005.
Statistically there is very little evidence that success in the preseason results in regular season wins. There is stronger correlation between teams that win 1 or fewer games in the preseason and those teams that do poorly in the regular season. Yet the data is inconclusive and there are more examples, including the Manning era Colts, that bucked the trend.
- Who will round out the receiving corps?
Donnie Avery’s career thus far has been marred by injury. If healthy the team will give him ever chance to snag the third spot although reports from camp indicate that T.Y. Hilton has been impressive. With both Allen and Fleener in the mix the need to carry six receivers is pretty low. My hunch is that Avery and Hilton will both have roster spots and one of the two will emerge as the third receiver by the end of preseason. After that it’s dicey.
- Will the 3-4 defense show its teeth or flap its gums?
The Houston Texans proved that a quick transition is possible although their roster was much more conducive to the change. Watch early to see if the Colts really have that two-gap nose tackle spot nailed down. If Brandon McKinney and Mookie Johnson manage to fill the need expect huge things from the linebackers.
- Can the secondary solidify and avoid being a liability?
This may be the biggest challenge for the Colts in 2012. There are admittedly more questions than answers. Also, the unit features more pride than talent. That’s a bad combination and I expect opposing teams to exploit the weaknesses.
- Who will start opposite Jerraud Powers?
Tentatively the depth chart shows Cassius Vaughn starting with Justin King backing him up. Vaughn excelled on special teams and started in Denver before being traded to the Colts. If he emerges as a playmaker and relieves some pressure on this weak group it will be a major coup for Ryan Grigson–he traded fullback Chris Gronkowski for what may be a quality starter.
- Will this be a run-first offense or a pass-heavy juggernaut?
Let’s get past this now: this isn’t a running team. They’ll have balance but you don’t blow your entire draft on passing weapons only to run the ball relentlessly. This team isn’t built to grind it out on the ground nor will they.
It has been a long-time since a preseason in Indianapolis featured this much intrigue. Stay tuned!