Peter Schoenke is the president and co-founder of RotoWire.com. He's been elected to the hall of fame for both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Writers Association and also won the Best Fantasy Baseball Article on the Internet in 2005 from the FSWA. He roots for for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and T-Wolves.
The Colts are about to enter a new era in which the blue chip fantasy status of their offensive stars can no longer be taken for granted. Gone are head coach Tony Dungy, offensive coordinator Tom Moore, offensive line coach Howard Mudd and wideout Marvin Harrison. All four have been pillars of an offense that has led the NFL in points and total yards per game since 1998.
Last season started slowly for the Colts after Peyton Manning missed training camp due to surgery for an infected bursa sac in his left knee, and the Colts suffered several injuries on the offensive line. The normally fast-starting team lost four of its first seven games. But led by the defense, the Colts won their final nine games to finish 12-4. However, problems rushing the ball helped perpetuate recent struggles against the Chargers, and Indy suffered another playoff bust, losing their first playoff game for the third time in four years.
Before last season, Indianapolis' offense had finished in the top three in scoring each of the previous five campaigns. Manning's injury had the offense somewhat out of sync early on. But the bigger problem was the ground game, which finished 31st in yards per game. Joseph Addai missed four games due to hamstring and shoulder injuries and also played with several other nagging ailments. He had career lows with 155 rushing attempts and 3.5 yards per carry (rushing for 544 yards). The passing game, however, continued it's usual production (fifth in yards passing per game) despite the decline of Harrison.
The growth of several younger members of the offensive line should help the rushing game improve, along with the addition of first-round pick Donald Brown. Anthony Gonzalez improved in his sophomore season and should be ready to fill the void left by Harrison. The game plan on offense shouldn't change much since new head coach Jim Caldwell has been the team's quarterbacks coach and special offensive assistant, so perennial stalwarts Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark should remain productive.
Any drop-off in the offense has been offset by a defense that's gone from a liability earlier this decade, to arguably the better unit. The Colts set an NFL record with just six passing touchdowns allowed by the defense, finishing sixth in yards per game. The total was particularly impressive considering 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders missed 10 games due to ankle and knee injuries, and starting cornerback Marlin Jackson missed nine games after tearing two knee ligaments. Dwight Freeney (10.5 sacks) rebounded from a 2007 season-ending foot injury to combine with Robert Mathis (11.5 sacks) for a lethal pass rush.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (27) Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut
Will back up Joseph Addai, but Indy didn't take him in the first round just as insurance.
2. (56) Fili Moala, DT, USC
The team finally drafts a big body to help the interior defense against the run.
3. (92) Jerraud Powers, CB, Auburn
Will compete for the nickel back role, but may not be a strong enough tackler for the Cover-2 system.
4. (127) Austin Collie, WR, BYU
He'll compete for third receiver role.
4. (136) Terrance Taylor, DT, Michigan
A true nose tackle who can help the rush defense.
6. (201) Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue
Rare pick of a quarterback in the draft figures to be a long-term project.
Hunter Smith, P (Redskins)
The Colts are looking for a new punter for first time in 10 years.
HOW WILL THE COACHING CHANGES IMPACT THE OFFENSE?
The Colts will be missing the architects of an offense that has been among the league's most prolific over the last decade. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd arrived along with Peyton Manning in 1998, and Tony Dungy helped improve the offense when he arrived in 2002. The transition may not be too bumpy since new head coach Jim Caldwell has been heavily involved in the offense since 2002, first as the quarterbacks coach for three seasons and then as a special assistant. New offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen was the receivers coach, adding to the continuity. Don't expect the philosophy to change much initially, and the nucleus of talent still exists to make it a top-five offense again. There's also a chance Moore and Mudd could return since their retirements were largely based on reductions in league-wide retirement benefits for assistant coaches that could later be overcome by the league or Colts.
Harrison leaves the Colts as the franchise's all-time leader with 14,580 receiving yards (fourth all time) and touchdowns (128). But his production had fallen significantly since a 2007 knee injury, and letting him go gave the team needed cap relief. Anthony Gonzalez improved in his sophomore season with 664 yards and four touchdowns by developing a rapport with Peyton Manning. He was being groomed as Harrison's eventual replacement and should capably fill the void now that he's clearly the No. 2 option behind Reggie Wayne. Harrison's departure has a bigger impact on the third receiver role where a wide-open competition will take place between Roy Hall, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. If a third receiver doesn't emerge, Dallas Clark may play more in the slot and could see another season of 70-plus receptions.
CAN THE RUNNING GAME IMPROVE AND WHAT'S Joseph Addai'S ROLE?
The Colts were 31st in rushing yards per game amid a disappointing season from Joseph Addai and injuries on the offensive line. Center Jeff Saturday missed four games with a knee injury, left tackle Tony Ugoh missed or was limited in four games due to a hamstring injury and veteran Ryan Lilja missed the entire season with a knee injury. Rookies Mike Pollack and Steve Justice struggled to fill the void.
By taking Donald Brown in the first round of April's draft, Colts president Bill Polian seems to have inferred that Addai may be the problem with the running game. While the Colts say Addai is the starter, a time-share seems likely. Addai received 63 percent of the touches during the 2006 Super Bowl season (splitting work with Dominic Rhodes), which the Colts hold up as their model situation. However, as a highly touted draft pick, Brown could see a larger share than that.