Since the Indianapolis Colts lost future Hall of Fame wide receiver Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL, nothing has come easy. The offense has struggled to find a stride and a new identity. The defense has had to shoulder a much greater level of pressure as offenses have become more aggressive, unafraid of a limping Colts offense. Comebacks have become harder to come by as first half deficits have continued to mount.
Still, Indianapolis has won the AFC South and has a guaranteed spot in the playoffs with home-field advantage — likely in the wild card round. While this is an accomplishment the team and fans can be proud of, it has been difficult from a fan perspective to get too excited when the likelihood that the team can mount any kind of playoff push under its current state is minimal at best.
So what then can be a silver lining in a 42-28 trouncing against the Cincinnati Bengals? Well, frankly, there are a lot of things that should give Colts fans something to root for in 2013 and as many of the team's fans begin accepting reality and glancing into the future.
With Reggie Wayne already in the final years of his illustrious career, the team has always had a ticking clock on finding the receivers of the future. Wayne's injury doomed the 2013 campaign but provided all the reason Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano needed to begin giving some of the team's younger options a shot. In Cincinnati Da'Rick Rogers and Lavonn Brazill both stepped up to give quarterback Andrew Luck new targets.
With their production, the offense has an opportunity to establish a passing game and find contributions from players other than T.Y. Hilton. Coby Fleener, and Donald Brown. These new "weapons" will help the offense find more balance, will force defenses to focus more on other players, and should help open things up for Luck.
The beautiful thing is that having an opportunity to rediscover an offensive identity late this year will pay off huge next year as the team gets healthy and gets key offensive components back onto the field. Imagine if Rogers, Brazill, or both can continue increasing their level of production, their timing with Luck, and their reliability as NFL receivers. How big would that be when the team also gets players like Dwayne Allen, Reggie Wayne, and Vick Ballard back into the fold? How big would that be for running backs like Donald Brown and Trent Richardson who are both capable receivers out of the back field and who can serve as check downs for Luck.?
While Rogers and Brazill have a long way to go to prove their NFL relevance and usefulness on a weekly basis, the very threat of them and the experience they can gain may provide depth the Colts sorely need at offensive skill positions and take pressure off of the front office in the draft and free agency this coming off-season to find expensive play-makers and focus more on the trenches.
This is no sure thing yet,but it gives a fan base in the dumps a reason to watch football games.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has struggled to be consistent but some welcome changes and new faces are getting worked into the fold that should give fans a reason to tune in. What will the freakish athleticism of Daniel Adongo bring to the table and when? Will Josh McNary be able to become another unlikely find for GM Ryan Grigson? Will NT Josh Chapman continue developing late in his first healthy NFL season?
The funny thing about this Indianapolis Colts team is that it is scary close to being one of the league's most talented groups. It will be one of the wealthiest teams in the off-season, with approximately $40 million in cap room. It will not have a lot of draft picks to use but it will be chalk full of very young and cheap, developing players.
Don't expect the Colts to turn things around in a big way in 2013. A win in the playoffs would be a huge accomplishment and a major point of pride, but if young players in Indianapolis continue to get opportunities and show promise the future should be very bright.