NFL team preview: Indianapolis Colts
Heading into training camp, the Indianapolis Colts had one major goal -- improve an anemic running game.
To that end, the Colts attempted to get bigger and more physical at the point of attack. Indianapolis released veteran offensive guard Ryan Lilja, a smaller but very effective performer, while adding offensive tackle Adam Terry (Baltimore) and offensive guard Andy Alleman (Kansas City).
Those plans took a big hit when Alleman suffered a back injury and was subsequently released. Two key starters, center Jeff Saturday (knee) and left offensive tackle Charlie Johnson (foot), were also hurt early and have missed valuable practice time.
Rookie Jacques McClendon, an offensive guard drafted in the fourth round, missed about a week of work with a sore knee. Also, offensive guard Tony Ugoh had slid inside from tackle and was pushing for a starting job. But he was moved back to tackle when Johnson was hurt.
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The Colts have played most of the preseason with a makeshift starting offensive line that has featured center/offensive guard Jamey Richard along with offensive guards Mike Pollak, Kyle DeVan, Jaimie Thomas and McClendon.
Offensive line hasn't been the only area that has been hit by the injury bug. Wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie have seen limited work as have tight end Dallas Clark, weak side linebacker Clint Session, middle linebacker Gary Brackett along with cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey.
Despite all the injuries, Colts coach Jim Caldwell likes the way that his team has progressed over the past few weeks.
"It has been good up to this point. I don't think there has been anything out of the ordinary. Every year you are faced with real challenges (such as injuries). Sometimes it hits one position more than others, but that is not unusual. I think that is your typical training camp," Caldwell said.
"As a matter of fact, I think those things serve to give you a little sense of what's going to happen during the season. What you have to do is embrace those challenges and difficulties and move forward. Like I have said time and time again, we have to find ways to emerge out of those situations stronger. I think that is the key."
Quarterback Peyton Manning isn't as much concerned by the Colts' preseason struggles as he is making sure that the team is ready for the Sept. 12 season opener at Houston.
"I would probably say that it's been a good training camp. We've gotten good work done. We have had a number of injuries that have put new guys in there, which I think in the long run we can make into a positive because some guys -- whether it's Jamey Richard at center or a defensive guy or Jacob Tamme getting more repetitions at tight end -- that are going to have to play for us down the road in critical situations, I think it's been positive to get those guys so much work," Manning said.
"We are still in training camp mode. We are still working on things, still installing things. We need to use every day of these practices to get ready for (the Texans). We are still deciding what injured guys will be available. We are still tinkering with those things. I do think after these (next) two weeks, we will be ready."
COACHING: Jim Caldwell, 2nd year, 2nd with Colts (16-3)
REMEMBERING: 2009 record: 14-2 (1st in AFC South); lost in Super Bowl XLIV to New Orleans, 31-17.
PREDICTING: 2010 regular-season record: 13-3 (1st in AFC South); lose in AFC title game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
C Jeff Saturday recently returned to practice after undergoing knee surgery on Aug. 10. Saturday remains hopeful of being able to start against Houston in the season opener on Sept. 12.
OT Charlie Johnson (foot), OG/OT Tony Ugoh (toe), DT Antonio Johnson (groin), CB Jacob Lacey (concussion) and LB Cody Glenn (undisclosed) have also missed some practice time. CB Jerraud Powers (foot) has seen some light work in recent workouts.
There is no timeline for a possible return of Saturday and Charlie Johnson to the Colts' starting offensive line.
--S Bob Sanders has been given some normal time off during practice to rest old injuries but should be in good shape to begin the regular season.
--The battle to be the primary kickoff and punt returner includes three rookies -- WR Brandon James, CB Ray Fisher and RB Javarris James -- along with first-year RB Devin Moore.
--OG/C Jamey Richard has done a pretty good job of filling in for Jeff Saturday during the preseason. This is the second time in three years that Richard took over for an injured Saturday at center.
--S Melvin Bullitt expects to see his regular amount of playing time this season even with the return of S Bob Sanders. The Colts have used both Bullitt and Sanders together during preseason games, along with S Antoine Bethea.
--Rookie S Mike Newton, an undrafted free agent, has a chance to make the 53-man regular season roster. Newton has gotten more work in the preseason due to the loss of veteran S Jamie Silva to a season-ending knee injury.
--Veteran CB Deshea Townsend and rookie CB Brandon King have both played well in the preseason. King, an undrafted free agent from Purdue, could very well end up as being as one the final players kept on the regular season roster.
--TE Gijon Robinson has been a starter for the Colts over the last couple of seasons. But the play of rookie TE Brody Eldridge could eventually make for some tough decisions as the regular season roster is being formulated.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK
Rd. 2/63, LB Pat Angerer, Iowa -- Has played relatively well in the preseason. Was pushed into the starting lineup against Green Bay when LB Gary Brackett suffered a hand injury. Did well in getting the defensive calls in and setting the lineup.
Rd. 3/94, CB Kevin Thomas, USC -- Has been placed on injured reserve after suffering a season-ending knee injury during a May rookie mini-camp.
Rd. 4/129, OG Jacques McClendon, Tennessee -- Was bothered by a sore right leg during the early portion of training camp. Has gotten work both at offensive guard and at center.
Rd. 5/162, TE Brody Eldridge, Oklahoma -- Has exceeded most expectations during OTAs and training camp. Was drafted primarily as an end-line blocker but has proven to be athletic enough to be a pretty good secondary pass receiver.
Rd. 7/238, DE Ricardo Mathews, Cincinnati -- Could very well beat out former CFL standout John Chick for a spot on the regular-season roster. Needs to develop more consistency in his game.
Rd. 7/2430, LB Kavell Conner, Clemson -- Started the first preseason game, against San Francisco, when Clint Session was sidelined with a pectoral injury. Should end up playing special teams, primarily on the kickoff and punt return coverage units.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS
Manning has shown no ill-effects after undergoing neck surgery in the offseason. He's played pretty well despite an inconsistent and makeshift offensive line. Painter would appear to be his primary backup despite late-season struggles a year ago. He has also struggled a bit in the preseason. Brandstater was picked up off waivers from Denver in the spring.
Addai hopes to have another injury-free season. Brown struggled with injuries as a rookie but has looked good in training camp. Hart has been a productive short-yardage runner. James, the nephew of former Indianapolis RB Edgerrin James, was signed as an undrafted free agent. Moore is an Indianapolis native who flashed plenty of potential and could win a job.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Dallas Clark. Backups -- Colin Cloherty, Brody Eldridge, Gijon Robinson, Jacob Tamme.
Clark could have yet another big year in 2010 but he could use some help from a group of younger tight ends. Robinson is most likely on the hot seat. Tamme certainly has the ability to push for more work. Eldridge's ability to catch the football, as well as his overall versatility, could push him ahead of Robinson on the depth chart heading into the regular season.
The Colts could be loaded at receiver with the return of Wayne, Garcon, and Collie plus Gonzalez, who missed most of the 2009 season with a knee injury. Garcon made a huge jump in 2009 after seeing limited playing time as a rookie. Collie had a breakout year as a rookie. Gonzalez can play outside and in the slot, where he will push both Garcon and Collie for playing time.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Charlie Johnson, LG Mike Pollak, C Jeff Saturday, RG Kyle DeVan, RT Ryan Diem. Backups --OT Jeff Linkenbach, OT Chris Marinelli, OG Jacques McClendon, OG/C Jamey Richard, OT Adam Terry, OG Jaimie Thomas, OT/OG Tony Ugoh.
The Colts hope that Pollak, DeVan, Thomas, or rookie McClendon can step in to fill the starting jobs at right and left offensive guard. Pro Bowler Saturday is a fixture at center, as is Diem at right offensive tackle. Johnson played well at left offensive tackle after moving outside from guard last year. Ugoh has been moved inside to guard although he could wind up back at tackle. Terry (Baltimore) will also be an option at left tackle. McClendon might work his way into the lineup at either guard spot.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Robert Mathis, LT Antonio Johnson, RT Dan Muir, RE Dwight Freeney. Backups -- DE Ervin Baldwin, DE John Chick, DE Keyunta Dawson, DT Marlon Favorite, DT Eric Foster, DE Jerry Hughes, DT Mitch King, DE Ricardo Mathews, DT Fili Moala,
The starting defensive line of Mathis, Johnson, Muir and Freeney return intact from the Colts' Super Bowl defensive lineup. Freeney looks to be healthy (ankle). The addition of Hughes should help in the defensive end rotation, as should the emergence of Chick and Mathews. Dawson and Foster are experienced backups. Moala struggled to learn the defense as a rookie but is being counted on to be a force this season.
Brackett, Session and Wheeler form a good group of hard-hitting linebackers. Angerer and Conner, both 2010 draft picks, should see work on special teams but could also get playing time backing up Brackett and Session, respectively. Humber and Glenn were special teams aces a year ago and could push for more work on the defense in 2010.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Kelvin Hayden, RCB Jerraud Powers, SS Bob Sanders, FS Antoine Bethea. Backups -- S Melvin Bullitt, CB Ray Fisher, CB Danny Gorrer, S Ashton Hall, CB Brandon King, CB Jacob Lacey, S Mike Newton, CB Terrail Lambert, S Bob Sanders, CB Glenn Sharpe, S Terrell Skinner, CB Deshea Townsend.
Powers and Lacey figure to fight it out for a starting job. Hayden has looked good after battling an array of injuries in 2009. Bethea could be up for a big year in 2010. Sanders looks to be back healthy. Bullitt can play either safety spot. Fisher may be a contender for a role as a nickel back. Veteran S Jamie Silva suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
Vinatieri is back after missing most of the 2009 season with hip and knee issues. McAfee came on strong asthe Colts' punter, holder and kickoff specialist as a rookie. Snow remains the team's primary long snapper. The punt return and kickoff return jobs are open. The primary candidates figure to be both of the James' (Brandon and Javarris), Fisher, Giguere and RB Devin Moore.