The Colts’ offseason workouts have begun. Most of the teams that didn’t go back to work on April 7 did so today, and the last few will join them tomorrow.
They’ll continue their spring and summer work with a voluntary Minicamp May 6-8, followed by OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) May 27-29, June 2-3, 5, 9-10, and 12-13, before wrapping things up with a mandatory Minicamp June 17-19.
Colts.com’s Craig Kelley listed fifteen storylines heading into the offseason, not the least of which was Trent Richardson. Can Richardson make a Donald Brown-like resurgence, or will fans continue to see frustrating performance after not-funny-anymore frustrating performance? The clock is certainly ticking, and this time of year, hopes are high.
Kelley also discussed the center position, Andrew Luck’s development, Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen’s health, and something about setting the edge – all worth a read, especially if you like setting the edge.
Meanwhile, here are four somewhat broader areas we’ll be watching here at Colts Authority (Yes, there’s some overlap here – Kelley went over virtually everything but punting).
1. Pass Rush. Robert Mathis is great, but he likely isn’t going to get 19.5 sacks every year. The Colts need help in that department. The other aspects of the game matter too, but passing is the most important thing in the NFL. Thus, disrupting the opponent’s aerial attack is paramount to defensive success.
The Colts want to force obvious passing situations by stopping the run early and often, but assuming they can, when those obvious passing situations arise, they need more than one guy who can get to the quarterback.
If they can come up with a compliment to Mathis, whether it’s a healthier Bjoern Werner, another rookie, or a time travelling 25-year old Dwight Freeney in disguise, the Colts’ entire defense will look better, starting with the front seven, and extending into the secondary, where receivers would have less time to get open against the Colts’ physical corners and safeties
2. Offensive Line. Yeah, I believe in success in the trenches. The Colts are set at tackle with Anthony Castonzo (in a contract year) and Gosder Cherilus anchoring the outsides of the line, but the middle is a bit murkier…again.
The likely starters at guard are Hugh Thornton and, provided he can make it back to 100%, Donald Thomas. Thomas’s season ended after just seven quarters in 2013 due to a torn quad. Thornton struggled as a rookie, but he showed some serious promise as well, including a propensity to look as though he was trying to destroy and demoralize his defender on every play.
One cannot discount guard Lance Louis either. Louis, a starter for Chicago before losing his job to an injury, quietly signed with the Colts in January shortly after the playoff loss to New England.
The working theory here is that whoever starts at the two guard spots should look significantly better playing next to a more effective – even an average – center. Many of Hugh Thornton’s blown plays in 2014, for example, came while trying to take on former center Samson Satele’s defender, resulting in two missed blocks instead of just one.
Of course, it’s easy to speculate that the Colts may not have gotten exactly whom they wanted at center in free agency. With Satele’s departure, this year’s battle for the starting role will pit the unproven Khaled Holmes, a smart player though not known for his strength (yet), against free agent signee Phil Costa, a guy who lost his starting job in Dallas due to injuries and never quite returned to form.
Time will tell if anyone else will be added to the fray at center, whether through the draft or a position change, but this position battle will be a key to the Colts’ continued success. The guy they’re protecting is kind of important, you know.
3. About that stopping the run thing… Chuck Pagano wants to stop the run. You may have heard him mention it before, once or twice. Like it or not, his defense is built around that concept. Stop the run, force the aforementioned obvious passing situation, and then get the offense back on the field.
It sounds like a decent theory, even if it’s a bit outdated by some standards and opinions. But imagine a Ravens-level defense with Andrew Luck and the Colts offense getting the ball back in good field position over and over. It sounds nice in theory, at least.
The problem is it hasn’t worked that way yet. Indy’s defense certainly has gotten bigger and stronger in the past two years, but they still allowed 4.5 yards per carry and 125 yards per game in 2013.
Because it’s so central to Pagano and the Colts’ philosophy, fixing the run defense should make the rest of the unit look better, as long as it isn’t done at the expense of any other area.
4. Is competition for playing time always a good thing? We’ll go into this again at some point, but while fostering competition is great and can make all players involved better, at some point, isn’t it even better to have a team with more clear-cut starters – players who are so good, no one can push them for a job – than multiple open competitions?
As this young roster develops, we should hope to see more positions, besides just quarterback and wide receiver, that look as though they are locked up for the next few years. The Colts may like seeing players make each other better as they vie for starting jobs (iron sharpens iron cliché, anyone?), but nothing beats seeing a player rise above and transcend the competition at their position.
As the offseason progresses, especially when Training Camp rolls around, look for a couple more players to do just that, maybe a skill position guy, defensive end (I’m a fan of Arthur Jones so far), or a couple offensive linemen.
For now, it’s just good to hear there are official preparations for football going on once again in Indianapolis. Just another 20 weeks or so until the real thing.