By Justin Mertes-Mistretta
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Injuries struck the Colts big-time in 2010, especially at the skill positions. Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie each missed at least seven games over the course of the season. With no running back really stepping up in place of Addai, Peyton Manning was forced to throw the ball a career-high 679 times. Jacob Tamme filled in admirably for Dallas Clark, catching 67 balls for 631 yards and four touchdowns. Reggie Wayne also hauled in a career-high in receptions (111) for the second-highest yardage total of his career (1,355).
On the other side of the ball, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks, producing 21 of the teamsí 30 sacks. With a lack of playmakers surrounding the two defensive ends, the Colts finished tied for the second-fewest interceptions in the NFL. With the inability to create turnovers and the lack of an effective run defense, teams were able to manage the clock and keep Manning off the field, which is exactly what the New York Jets did to eliminate the Colts in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
Despite losing Clint Session, the Colts addressed their defensive line needs, signing Tommie Harris, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton. They also have a pair of young, talented cornerbacks in Jarraud Powers and Jacob Lacey, but they rely more on their defensive line, mainly Freeney and Mathis, to apply pressure and mask flaws in the secondary. If the defense can improve against the run, it will further allow their two bookends to feast on opposing quarterbacks and create more turnover opportunities for the secondary.
As for the offense, the offseason has not been kind. Following an injury-riddled 2010, it has only gotten worse for the Colts. Despite being activated off the PUP list, Manningís status for the start of the season is in question and Collie has been bothered by leg injuries throughout camp. While Manning isnít expected to miss more than a game or two at most, he will likely need time to get in a rhythm. This could mean more rushing attempts for the Colts, but that does not guarantee success on the ground. Addai heads into the season as the lead back, with Donald Brown and fourth-round draft pick Delone Carter backing him up.
With Manning 35 years old and Wayne turning 33 in November, the Colts are not getting any younger. Add in the offseason injury concerns and competitive AFC South division, especially the Houston Texans, and there is reason for concern. The Colts have been the gold standard of the NFL regular season for the past nine years, making it to the playoffs every year during that span, but itís starting to look like that era is nearing an end.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (22) Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
He will be asked to start in place of LT Charlie Johnson right away.
2. (49) Ben Ijalana, OT, Villanova
He started 53 games at left tackle in college but has the versatility to play guard as well.
3. (87) Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
He had a strong senior year, finishing with 56 tackles, 13 of which were for a loss, and six sacks.
4. (119) Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse
The Orangemenís third all-time leading rusher has been a standout at camp and may be the teamís goal line back.
6. (188) Chris Rucker, CB, Michigan State
An athletic cornerback who comes with good size but also character concerns.
Tommie Harris, DT (Bears)
The three-time Pro Bowler could give the run defense a huge boost, which is something the Colts have lacked for years.
Jamaal Anderson, DE (Falcons)
The eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft has only 4.5 sacks in 60 career games, but he will be looking to resurrect his career in Indy.
Kerry Collins, QB (Titans)
He could start Week 1 for the Colts if Peyton Manning isnít fully recovered from his neck surgery.
Clint Session, LB (Jaguars)
The Coltsí 2009 leader in tackles will be sorely missed in the run defense.
Bob Sanders, S (Chargers)
One of the best safeties in football when healthy, but he has only played nine games in the past three years.
Charlie Johnson, OT (Vikings)
He was drafted in 2006 to be the successor to Tarik Glenn at left tackle.
THE HEALTH OF Peyton Manning
Manning is recovering from his second offseason neck surgery in the past 15 months. Though he has yet to miss a start in his 13-year career, his status for Week 1 is in doubt. Since he was unable to work with team doctors during the lockout, his recovery process has gone slower than expected. The concerns peaked when Kerry Collins was signed. Theis star QBís neck is clearly something the team is being ultra cautious with at this point. Remember 2008, when Manning returned from offseason knee surgery: the Colts started the season 1-3 and Manning had a 4:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that span. Though he was voted the MVP that year, he finished with his third-lowest yardage total of his career. So even if Manning is able to play in Week 1, temper your expectations, at least for the first few weeks. The Coltsí pass-catchers also have to be downgraded this year with the uncertainty at quarterback. Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark should still be able to post serviceable numbers no matter who is throwing to them, but the likes of Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon rely on Manningís ability to take advantage of different matchups.
AN INEFFECTIVE RUNNING GAME
There was a reason Peyton Manning led the league in pass attempts (679) last year. The Coltsí run game was non-existent last year. Donald Brown was the teamís leading rusher with just 497 yards, as the team finished tied for fifth-worst in the NFL with 3.8 yards per carry average. Ideally, the Colts would like to ease Manning back by decreasing his pass attempts, but they may have no choice if no one steps up in the backfield. Joseph Addai is certainly capable of posting top-10 running back numbers, evident of his first two years in the league, but he has been hampered by injuries the past few seasons. When he is on the field, he is a do-it-all back with a nose for the end-zone and has the ability to catch passes. Backing him up the past two seasons has been Brown, who just hasnít been able to produce on a consistent basis thus far in his career. Fourth-rounder, Delone Carter, may be the back to own in this backfield sooner than later. He has done nothing but impress this offseason, leading the Colts in rushing with an impressive 4.7 yards per carry average. Whether itís Addai, Brown or Carter, one of these backs must step up to help shoulder the load with Manning hurt. If their running game is anything near as ineffective as it was last year, the Colts will be in serious trouble in 2011.
STOPPING THE RUN
The Colts never been known for their run defense, at least in recent memory. Last year was no exception, as they finished 25th in the NFL against the run. The loss of Clint Session certainly doesnít help matters. The Colts are hoping their new acquisitions of defensive linemen Tommie Harris, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton can help shore up the run defense. Harris is the most proven of that group, having anchored the Bearsí frontline for seven years, including three as a Pro Bowler. Could this finally be the year the Colts are able to stop the run?
Rising: With Peyton Manning banged up and no real competition for carries, Joseph Addai should see plenty of touches this season. The only question is can he stay healthy? Heís only played one full season in his career and that was his rookie year.
Declining: Despite leading the league in pass attempts last year, Peyton Manning recorded his lowest yard per attempt (6.9) since his rookie season. Considering he is 35 years old and recovering slowly from his offseason neck surgery, he may no longer be a top-three quarterback.
Sleeper: When healthy last season, Austin Collie put up top-10 wide receiver numbers. Surprisingly, his success last year came when Dallas Clark was healthy, averaging 7.3 catches, 83.8 receiving yards and a touchdown per game during that period.
Supersleeper: The rookie running back out of Syracuse, Delone Carter, has reportedly moved past Donald Brown as the backup to the injury-prone Joseph Addai. There is top-15 running back upside here if Addai goes down.
Robert Mathis, DE
He led the Colts in sacks last season with 11 total.
Antoine Bethea, S
He may lack the upside of other defensive backs, but he has produced three consecutive 100-plus tackle campaigns.
Dwight Freeney, DE
Freeney has recorded double-digit sacks in all but two of his nine NFL seasons.
RotoWire Rank: 28