OPEN CAMP: July 29, Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Indianapolis.
LAST YEAR: Statistically, Andrew Luck had best season of career. RB Frank Gore and K Adam Vinatieri continued moving up NFL’s career lists, and WR T.Y. Hilton led league in yards receiving. It still wasn’t enough to get Indy into playoffs. Owner Jim Irsay responded to Colts’ second straight playoff absence by retaining coach Chuck Pagano and firing GM Ryan Grigson in hopes of easing conflict inside team complex. Franchise sacks leader Robert Mathis retired, former Pro Bowlers Mike Adams and D’Qwell Jackson were released and team sacks leader Erik Walden walked away in free agency. Results: First-time GM Chris Ballard began transition to rebuild defense with younger, faster, less expensive players. Inexperienced offensive line struggled early, allowing Luck to be sacked career-high-tying 41 times in 15 games. It showed significant improvement over final month of season, enough to give Colts hope they may have solid unit to protect Luck.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Johnathan Hankins, LB Jabaal Sheard, rookie S Malik Hooker, LB John Simon, NT Al Woods, rookie DE Tarell Basham, P Jeff Locke, LB Sean Spence, LB Barkevious Mingo.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Mathis, Adams, Jackson, LB Erik Walden, P Pat McAfee, TE Dwayne Allen, CB Patrick Robinson.
CAMP NEEDS: As usual, Luck will be center of attention. This year’s big question: Will Luck throw at Colts’ first practice, July 30? If not, when? Luck attended team’s offseason workouts but was restricted because of surgery for partially torn labrum in throwing shoulder. It’s still unclear when he might return. Pagano and Colts have, understandably, played it safe with franchise QB; it’s doubtful they rush him back at camp even though they need him on field. If Luck isn’t ready, Scott Tolzien will take bulk of snaps. Colts also are seeking successor to Gore and more improvement from offensive line. Defensively, Indy is looking to fill six more starting spots. Training camp will be first real time for newcomers to get acclimated to second-year defensive coordinator Ted Monachino. Colts also are hoping Locke is adequate replacement for McAfee, Pro Bowl punter who handled kickoff duties. McAfee retired unexpectedly.
EXPECTATIONS: Making playoffs is annual expectation for Colts, and Irsay believes they should make postseason in 2017. If Luck is healthy, offensive line continues to improve and defense can finish in top half of NFL, Indy could make run at another AFC South crown. If not, Pagano faces uncertain fate in January.
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