By Peter Schoenke
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Colts won Super Bowl XLI in surprising fashion as their defense, muchmaligned
in the regular season, stepped up in the postseason, giving room for
Peyton Manning to finally win a championship. While every starter returns on
offense, the quantity of losses on defense looms large as the team tries to repeat.
The offense returns its key components and even has a new weapon for Manning this
season. First-round draft pick Anthony Gonzalez could give the unit the kind of slot option
in three-receiver sets that Brandon Stokley provided when Manning threw his record 49
touchdown passes in 2004. Stokley was hurt most of last season and released in the offseason.
Not that the passing game was hurting, as Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison
quietly finished in the top three of
all wide receivers in fantasy points.
Manning once again was the top fantasy
quarterback with a league-leading
31 touchdown passes, 4,397 yards and
an uncharacteristic four rushing touchdowns.
The offensive line should be
improved as well with Rick DeMulling
returning after a year in Detroit to add
depth and the Colts using a secondround
pick on guard Tony Ugoh.
The only change on offense will be at
running back where Joesph Addai will
take over the every-down role after the
departure of Dominic Rhodes. While the
Colts have said they'd like to keep a two-back
system, there's no other back on the
roster with a carry in an NFL game. The
team will likely sign a veteran backup this
summer. However, unless the player is a
big name, it's hard to see any other back on the roster getting consistent touches, which could
mean Addai will get the sort of heavy workload Edgerrin James once saw in the Indy offense.
The defense, however, sustained major losses in free agency with the departure of four
starters and the Colts didn't sign any free agents to replace them given a tight salary cap.
Head coach Tony Dungy will thus have little margin for error in working his magic to turn
low-round draft picks into impact players. Along with the turnover, the Colts also made no
major moves to improve the defense against the run, which was dead last in the NFL last
season. Cato June's departure means an inexperienced player has to start in the linebacking
corps and there's little veteran depth. Freddy Keiaho showed promise in his rookie season,
but he'll be taking a big leap to replace June at weakside linebacker, perhaps the most
important position in Dungy's Cover-2 defense.
The secondary lost three starters in free agency (Nick Harper, Jason David and Mike
Doss), but that will be offset by Antoine Bethea and Marlin Jackson, who both played well
when pressed into duty last season. However, depth will remain an issue with every backup
having two or less years of experience.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (32) Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Ohio St.
Great speed could give offense a slot receiver
like Brandon Stokley in his prime.
2. (42) Tony Ugoh, G, Arkansas
Potential replacement for Tarik Glenn or Ryan
Diem down the road.
3. (95) Daymeion Hughes, CB, California
Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year lacks
speed, but could get playing time right away
in thin secondary.
3. (98) Quinn Pitcock, DT, Ohio State
Could add needed help as a run-stuffer.
4. (131) Brannon Condren, S, Troy
Should make impact on special teams and
add needed secondary depth.
4. (136) Clint Session, LB, Pittsburgh
The sort of fast, undersized linebacker the
Colts have had success with.
5. (169) Roy Hall, WR, Ohio State
Project will have hard time finding playing
time right away.
5. (173) Michael Coe, CB Alabama State
Strong tackler could be a late-round surprise.
7. (242) Keyunta Dawson, DE, Texas Tech
Another attempt to bolster defensive line
against the run.
1. Rick DeMulling, G (Lions)
Former Colt starter knows system and adds
1. Cato June, LB (Buccaneers)
Leaves inexperienced Freddy Keiaho starting
on the weak side.
2. Nick Harper, CB (Titans) &
Jason David, CB (Saints)
Departures may cripple secondary depth.
3. Dominic Rhodes, RB (Raiders)
Joesph Addai will get the bulk of carries, but
there's no proven backup.
4. Brandon Stokley, WR (Broncos)
Replaced by Anthony Gonzalez.
1. WILL THE COLTS PASS MORE TO COUNTER LOSSES ON D?
With free agency ravaging the Indianapolis defense, GM Bill Polian's answer was to
take a wide receiver in the first round. That move could signal a shift in offensive philosophy
back to 2004 when Peyton Manning broke the NFL record with 49 touchdown
passes. The Colts utilized a three-receiver set that season with Brandon Stokley catching
10 touchdowns from the slot position. Anthony Gonzalez has the speed (4.4 in 40-yard
dash) to excel right away down the middle of the field. The draft pick is reminiscent of
when the Colts faced needs on defense but took Dallas Clark in the first round in 2003
and similarly took Reggie Wayne in 2001.
2. CAN Joseph Addai CARRY THE LOAD?
With the departure of Dominic Rhodes, Addai will be the every-down back for the
Colts. He could be set for a huge workload with no clear backup on the roster. DeDe
Dorsey has never had a carry in an NFL game, and he's the most experienced backup.
Addai could approach the 435-plus touches Edgerrin James received out of the Indy
backfield in each of his first two seasons. With the lack of depth on the roster, the Colts
will likely sign a veteran running back this summer. While Tony Dungy has said he'd
like to keep the two-back system of last season, it's hard to envision any mid-summer
signing winning the time-sharing role that Rhodes had last year.
3. WILL THE RUN DEFENSE LIMIT OFFENSIVE SNAPS?
The Colts had the worst regular season rushing defense of any Super Bowl winner,
giving up a league-worst 173 yards per game. Injuries played a part as the run defense
improved significantly in the playoffs (83 yards per game) once Bob Sanders and several
secondary members returned to action. But the Colts still allowed over 100 yards
rushing in every regular season game, even when fully healthy. Opposing defenses
limited the number of opportunities for the Colts to score as a result. The Indy offense
had the fewest possessions in the NFL last season and almost 10 percent less than the
previous season. Dwight Freeney also saw fewer sack opportunities when opposing
offenses threw fewer passes.
With Corey Simon lost to an undisclosed off-field illness and contract dispute,
Indianapolis remains vulnerable on the defensive line. Sanders plays a key role as a
strong safety in Dungy's Cover-2 scheme, but he's been injury prone during his career.
Key losses at linebacker could also hurt the rush defense. Indianapolis will need to
get production right away from first-year starters Freddy Keiaho at linebacker, Kelvin
Hayden at cornerback and Antoine Bethea at safety.
Rising: Joseph Addai should be
the every-down back after the departure of
Dominic Rhodes and could be used in the
mold of Edgerrin James in his prime in this
Falling: Dwight Freeney's sack
totals could be hurt again by the Colts'
struggles against the run.
Sleeper: Anthony Gonzalez could be
a faster version of Brandon Stokley as Indy's
Supersleeper: Freddy Keiaho should
win the weakside linebacker job, which
is always an IDP monster in Tony Dungy
1. Dwight Freeney, DE
Shoulder and knee injuries helped limit him to
5.5 sacks, but still must be accounted for by
2. Bob Sanders, S
May have been team's postseason MVP (two
INTs & forced fumble) but can't stay healthy.
3. Robert Mathis, DE
Averaged 9.5 sacks last three seasons and
had 65 tackles last year.
Article first appeared 6/15/07
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