Don’t Be Surprised Part III – Projecting the 2012 Indianapolis Colts

Over the last week, Colts Authority has broken down the Indianapolis Colts as a team in transition. The old names and faces that helped the team have an uprecedented level of regular season success and kept the team in the hunt for Super Bowl contention each year have moved on. New faces, particularly in the front office, are putting a new spin on the Colts that no one in the fan base can fully wrap their head around and accurately predict.

The upside of some of the moves is that many of the players who have departed were nearing the end of their best playing days — or had passed them — and took up too much of the team’s future salary cap for the front office to recover. The downside of the moves is that the “next man up” philosophy that has been a Colts staple since Tony Dungy took over as the head coach will be tested greatly in the team’s short-term future.

The basis for the discussion in this series has revolved around one question, idea, and answer:

Are the Colts in a full-scale rebuild? The obvious answer is yes, but the ramifications of that rebuild may be different than what it has been for teams in the past.

Monitoring the comments in previous articles it has become clear that two primary sections of the fan base exist. The first section is full of those who are looking for bits of hope for the team’s future, even in the near-term, and who appreciate what I hoped would be an objective analysis of the state of the Indianapolis Colts. The second section is full of those who reject any kind of “rosy glasses” perspective and who have resigned themselves entirely to a cold outlook and long-term approach to the team’s future.

These different perspectives painted some of my comments and observations as refreshing or unrealistic. The stark contrast has been interesting to watch.

For those who have been waiting for a more straight-forward opinion and a conclusion to this series that breaks down why it is titled “don’t be surprised,” this is it.

In this writer’s opinion, there is more talent on the Colts roster than the team’s biggest critics and the fan base’s biggest naysayers like to believe. I believe players like Brown, Collie, White are undervalued based upon fear of injury, uncertainty, or a perspective that is clouded due to concerns about unfilled needs at other offensive positions. I also believe that the key names on defense will be much more capable of being productive in Pagano’s new defense than some fans think.

I believe much of the defensive criticism and concern is born out of a two-fold observation on the part of much of the fan base, namely that going back to the Cover-2 isn’t going to happen — many are happy about that — and that the team does not have the personnel to be effective in a Pagano 3-4 base defense. The assumption for those who observe the personnel issue with the Pagano base 3-4 is that the team will in fact be a base 3-4 team in 2012.

These kinds of assumptions and differences in individual player talent evaluation will potentially lead to polarized projections for the 2012 Colts. Those looking for hope and craving the perspective that there is more talent on the team than some would like to believe may predict that the team can play 8-8 football in the coming season. Those who assume a full-scale imposition of offensive and defensive transitions that the team is not prepared for — primarily due to personnel concerns — may predict another 2-3 win season, regardless of who the Colts draft #1 overall later this month.

I have reached the conclusion that the 2012 Indianapolis Colts are probably going to be better than the most pessimistic of the Colts fan base predict and not as good as the hopeful bunch. I don’t think it is realistic to expect a 10-win team and I don’t think it is realistic to predict the Colts to finish 0-16.

Those who want to see the Colts at or above .500 will likely have to temper expectations (although I would not be astounded if they accomplished this), but will probably not be extremely disappointed by coming a game or two short of that mark. Those who see no hope for the 2012 Colts should not be surprised when the team out-performs the 2011 group even without the names and faces that team had, including Peyton Manning (although I would not be astounded if the team did worse).

There are simply too many variables involved to make a really insightful conclusion on where the team will end up in 2012. Numerous players from the draft are as yet unkown, further free agency additions may or may not come, and how the front office will organize the offensive and defensive schemes based upon team personnel is un-knowable until the team has fully come together.

There is more talent on this team than some are comfortable acknowledging, and much of it’s short-term success will depend upon general manager Ryan Grigson, Head Coach Chuck Pagano, and their respective staffs figuring out how to get the most out of these men in 2012. How the Indianapolis Colts will fare this season is uncertain but I suggest one thing to an ailing fan base: don’t be surprised.