In 1998 the debate about the best quarterback available in the draft centered around the word “upside.” While most appreciated Peyton Manning’s football acumen, pedigree and polish most agreed that Ryan Leaf had a better arm as well as the potential to grow more. The pundits felt Manning was too ready. In hindsight they look like the buffoons in Major League proclaiming the towering shot was “too high” to make it out of the park.
You’d think they’d learn but as the world has proven many times, history will indeed be repeated.
Before the 2012 NFL draft more than one talking head declared Robert Griffin III had better arm strength and more upside than future Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. In fact, one such well-respected talent evaluator went as far as to say that Luck lacked “elite” arm strength. Someone wasn’t paying attention in 1998.
That’s not to say Robert Griffin III will be Ryan Leaf. In fact the two couldn’t be more different. Where Leaf was brash, lacked intelligence and had serious work ethics questions Griffin is impeccably prepared, works hard and is the walking image of humility. The only similarities to date are that they both went second overall to horrible teams.
Of course that’s my opinion, poorly formed as it may be since we’ve yet to see enough of either quarterback to know exactly how their careers will be defined. Guys like me don’t get to decide the verdict on these two young men–they will write their own destiny beginning with a matchup this weekend certain to draw some comparisons.
Which brings us to this week’s 7 questions.
1. Who will walk away from this week’s preseason tilt with bragging rights?
Does it matter? In 1998 Ryan Leaf firmly drubbed Peyton Manning leaving many with the firm opinion the Colts had indeed screwed up. Manning went on to a 3-13 rookie season riddled with turnovers and giving the Colts yet another high draft pick in 1999. Of course he followed that up with one of the NFL’s greatest single-season turnarounds.
What we really care about in this third preseason game is how Luck manages the half-time adjustments. This is the last good look we’ll get at Andrew Luck and the starters so it’s critical that they exhibit resilience, good decision making and most importantly they escape with no injuries. If they win and Luck outplays Griffin it’s just icing on the cake.
2. Who will have a better career?
Wow. Who dreamed up these questions?
As I look into my crystal ball I see the only factor holding Robert Griffin III back is the franchise that drafted him. Daniel Snyder isn’t the worst owner in football but he may be among the least capable of running a team. He’s got oodles of money and spends it in ways that make you scratch your head. While Griffin must be estatic with his opportunity I fear the Redskins will never consistently put a quality product on the field around him. The thought of such a tremendous talent wasted with such a horrible franchise is truly upsetting.
Andrew Luck’s owner is a screwball who loves Twitter and giveaways yet has figured out how to win. His charisma aside, Jim Irsay has proven to be a great owner for both fans and the city. There’s no question that Irsay will put his considerable resources into bringing the Lombardi back to the Circle City. The difference is he knows when to let football people make football decisions.
3. Can the Colts find a reasonable solution along the right side of the offensive line?
I’m firing my editor for this assignment. I can do that right?
My head literally hurts thinking about how bad the right side of the offensive line looks. Winston Justice is serviceable at best and quite possibly could be edged off the roster by a broom in a bucket of sand. While the left side of the line has been stable it’s clear that the Colts haven’t found a road grader on the right nor can they reliably maintain the pocket. If the team continues to struggle there against the Redskins it will be up to Ryan Grigson to rebuild his rebuilt offensive line before Andrew Luck gets his head knocked off.
4. How will the receiving corps battle take shape?
Reggie Wayne was Reggie Wayne against the Steelers. He looked like a dominant player again rather than a guy riding off into the sunset. While the loss of Austin Collie hurts tremendously LaVon Brazill had a pretty good game and Griff Whalen suddenly decided to make his presence known. T.Y. Hilton has shown tremendous potential and speed but definitely heard from the coaching staff after essentially causing an interception. Donnie Avery needs to play this week if he wants to make the roster. I’m not convinced that’s enough either and wouldn’t be shocked if he’s released.
In all reality it’s a shootout behind Wayne and this week will go a long way toward deciding who makes the roster.
5. Who will back up Donald Brown?
Donald Brown has clearly asserted control over the starting spot but three other backs have shown tremendous potential in the first two preseason games. Against the Rams Mewelde Moore shocked some and emerged as a front-runner for the backup spot. Both Vick Ballard and XXX showed signs of life but Moore had a pretty good day. Vick Ballard rolled over the competition in week 2 against the Steelers leading some to believe the rookie would be the backup.
The great thing about this discussion is that among the running backs there really is no bad option. As a whole the group is impressive, more impressive than we’ve had in Indianapolis since Joe Addai’s rookie year in which he split time with Dom Rhodes.
6. Will Pierre Garçon give the wounded Colts secondary fits?
Garçon’s departure is a sore subject. While they ridiculed his propensity to drop the football they also adored his toughness and little-guy mentality. When he abandoned the team without even considering their offer he hurt fans.
This week he hopes to hurt the Colts secondary whose pride is admittedly already wounded. With one trade for help in books this week and the rumors of another, those fighting for roster spots should be worried. It’s the perfect opportunity to show off by fencing in a former teammate.
That will be a tough task however as Garçon is simply a bad matchup. He’ll give the soft cushion fits as he can stretch the field but is tough enough to go across the middle. While I don’t expect him to have his way with the Colts secondary he has all the tools to decimate them.
7. Who will the Colts lose to injury this week?
The biggest challenge facing the 2012 Colts is depth. If every player Chuck Pagano expected to start before training camp were still available this team would look pretty good. The reality is the second stringers aren’t very good but are now being pressed into starting roles thanks to Dr. Doom and his infinite injury machine.
The biggest areas of deficiency are the offensive line, the secondary, inside linebacker and wide receiver. We’ve covered the offensive line woes in depth but those challenges would likely be moot had Ben Ijalana not been injured. The secondary was thin to start. An injury to Antoine Bethea or Tom Zbikowski would be devastating. After Pat Angerer’s foot injury that will sideline him for six weeks the Colts are suddenly also looking for help at inside linebacker. The wideouts are a minor concern as we’ve seen some good moments from guys fighting for the fifth and sixth roster spot. Still the potential loss of Austin Collie is huge as the veteran showed signs of being the most reliable and crafty receiver on the roster.
In short the Colts can’t afford a significant injury at any of those spots. With good luck they escape unscathed and GM Ryan Grigson shores up the weak spots as the Colts prepare for the regular season.