Indianapolis Colts 2010 Season Preview
By Michael Rushton, NFL Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's not very often that a 16-win campaign is considered a disappointment, but with the regular season the Indianapolis Colts put together in 2009, anything shy of a Super Bowl victory has to be thought of as such.
The Colts seemed like a lock to bring home their second championship in four seasons, winning their first 14 games before going mostly with their reserves over the final two contests, both losses. In fact Indianapolis only lost three games in all under first-year head coach Jim Caldwell, but one of those was a 31-17 setback to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl, a contest in which the Colts couldn't hold early leads.
The silver lining for the Colts is that they didn't miss a beat in their transition from the Tony Dungy era to Caldwell. Indy once again had one of the game's top offensive units, led by Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning under center, and was able to overcome some deficiencies on defense to reach the NFL title game.
Given last year's success, earth-moving changes didn't seem to be on the horizon for the Colts, but a closer look will show some things are different in the Circle City.
For starters, Tom Moore will not serve as the team's offensive coordinator for the first time in 13 seasons. The coaching veteran will move into the position of senior offensive assistant, with Clyde Christensen taking over the offense.
Peyton Manning won last season's Most Valuable Player award.
"Certainly this is still [Moore's] offense that Clyde will tweak in places and be running," said Manning. "It's Tom's offense and we're glad he is still going to be here and be in meetings."
Caldwell had even more shuffling to do with the retirement of offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Assistant O-line coach Pete Metzelaars was promoted to take his place, while former Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner replaces Christensen as the wide receivers coach to lead a group that is headed by Reggie Wayne and also features dangerous tight end Dallas Clark as well as 2009 breakout receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon.
Given general manager Bill Polian's criticism of the Colts' offensive line play in the Super Bowl, it came as little surprise when that unit underwent an overhaul that featured the release of guard Ryan Lilja and the signings of guard Andy Alleman and tackle Adam Terry.
"We really have to find out quite a bit about our offensive line this preseason," said Caldwell early on in training camp. "We have numerous guys who are playing multiple positions, tackles, guards, centers, some rotations in there."
While the Colts dipped into the free agency pool to help on offense, they spent their first three draft picks on the other side of the ball. The defensive line got a big addition with the selection of TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, while linebacker Pat Angerer and cornerback Kevin Thomas were selected over the next two rounds. Thomas, though, could miss the season due to a knee injury suffered during rookie camp.
The Colts were built to win it all in 2009 and a similar formula this year has the club ready to get back to the promised land.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2010 edition of the Indianapolis Colts, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2009 RECORD: 14-2 (1st, AFC South)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2009, lost to New Orleans, 31-17, in Super Bowl
COACH (RECORD): Jim Caldwell (14-2 in one season with Colts, 14-2 overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Clyde Christensen
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Larry Coyer
OFFENSIVE STAR: Peyton Manning, QB (4500 passing yards, 33 TD, 16 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Dwight Freeney, DE (24 tackles, 13.5 sacks)
OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 32nd rushing, 2nd passing, 7th scoring
DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 24th rushing, 14th passing, 8th scoring
KEY ADDITIONS: T Adam Terry (from Ravens), G Andy Alleman (from Chiefs), DE/OLB Jerry Hughes, (1st Round, TCU), LB Pat Angerer, (2nd Round, Iowa), CB Kevin Thomas (3rd Round, USC)
KEY DEPARTURES: QB Jim Sorgi (to Giants), RB/KR Chad Simpson (to Bills), WR Hank Baskett (to Eagles), T Michael Toudouze (not tendered), G Ryan Lilja (to Chiefs), G Daniel Federkeil (not tendered), DE Raheem Brock (released), LB Freddie Keiaho (to Jaguars), LB Tyjuan Hagler (not tendered), CB Tim Jennings (to Bears), CB Marlin Jackson (to Eagles), CB T.J. Rushing (not tendered), S Aaron Francisco (to Panthers), K Matt Stover (not tendered)
QB: The Colts will always be expected to win while Manning is under center. The four-time MVP captured the award for a second straight season after throwing 33 touchdown passes and reaching the 4,000-yard passing mark for a fourth season in a row. The 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback has played in all 16 regular-season games in each of his 12 seasons and an offseason procedure to relieve pain in his neck stemming from a pinched nerve isn't expected to sideline him at all. Jim Sorgi had served as Manning's backup each season since getting drafted in 2004, a big reason he owns just 16 games of experience without a start, but he was let go in the offseason. That leaves the backup job to Curtis Painter, who struggled in two games of action last year. The 25-year-old completed just eight of his 28 pass attempts while also getting picked off twice. He could easily be pushed for the backup job, but the Colts don't feature many options behind Manning.
RB: A down season in 2008 by Joseph Addai, who had just 544 rushing yards in 12 games, led to the Colts taking Donald Brown in the first round of the 2009 draft. However, Addai bounced back to run for 828 yards in 15 games a season ago, scoring 10 touchdowns on the ground while also catching a career-high 51 passes for another 336 yards and three scores. Indy, though, still finished last in the league in rushing. While the Colts' commitment to Brown (281 rushing yards, 3 TD) as a first-round pick likely won't leave Addai with enough carries to reach the 1,000-yard mark he hit in his first two NFL seasons, his rebound season gives Indianapolis two legitimate backs to work with that have different styles. Brown serves as the power back to Addai's shifty style. The unit could be even deeper if former Michigan running back Mike Hart can continue to recover from a knee injury that cost him most of his 2008 rookie season.
WR/TE: A weapon is only as good as the ammunition you feed it, and Manning has no shortage of bullets for his rifle arm. After Marvin Harrison's 13-year run with the club ended following the 2008 season, Wayne had no trouble as the main guy for the Colts, making 100 catches, four off his career high, for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns. Without Harrison, defenses were able to shift extra focus on Wayne, leaving plenty of room for Clark, who matched Wayne with 100 receptions for 1,106 yards, both career-highs. The tight end also hauled in 10 receiving TDs en route to establishing himself as one of the NFL's best at his position. Wayne and Clarke also opened up the field for Garcon (47 catches, 4 TD) and Collie (60 catches, 7 TD). That duo stepped in for the Colts' originally-projected No. 2 WR starter Anthony Gonzalez, a 2007 first-round pick who was limited to just one game last year due to a knee injury. While Clark hauls in passes from Manning, 2010 fifth-round pick Brody Eldridge was brought in to help with the run-blocking.
OL: Though the Colts allowed the fewest sacks in the league last year (13) thanks in part to Manning's quick release, this unit will have a different look in addition to the aforementioned changes to the coaching staff. Jeff Saturday is still the leader and anchor at center, but the release of Lilja opens up a spot at left guard for either Mike Pollak, who was pushed out of the starting job at right guard last year, Jaimie Thomas or free agent signee Alleman if Kyle DeVan holds onto the right side. Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson started at right and left guard last year, respectively, and will be pushed by former starter Tony Ugoh and Terry as the Colts look for their best starting four to put around Saturday, a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
DL: While Indy will be trying to find its starting five combo on the offensive line, the d-line figures to return all four starters from last year in ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, as well as tackles Antonio Johnson and Dan Muir. Freeney, the Colts' all-time leader in sacks with 84, and Mathis combined for 23 of Indianapolis' 34 sacks a season ago and the duo will look for some help this year. That could come in the form of Hughes, who led the nation in sacks during his junior year at TCU. At the very least, he will provide occasional rest for the 30-year-old Freeney and Mathis, 29, after fellow end Raheem Brock was released during the offseason. Keyunta Dawson will also serve as backup. Johnson and Muir are both former castoffs who combined for 25 starts a season ago. Though Muir managed 43 tackles, the Colts did allow opponents to run for 126.5 yards per game, so the big bodies have work to do in 2010. Backup Eric Foster has starting experience, and like Dawson can fill in at end or tackle. The Colts will also look for more out of 2009 second-round pick Fili Moala, who played in 10 games a season ago.
LB: When the Colts re-signed Gary Brackett in the offseason, they ensured themselves that all three of their starting linebackers at season's end would be with the team in 2010. Playing between Clint Session and Philip Wheeler, Brackett had 99 tackles a season ago, second only to Session's 103 that came after he switched from the strong side to the weak side. Following a season- ending biceps injury to Tyjuan Hagler, Wheeler ended the year as the starter on the other side, with the 2008 third-round pick registering 61 tackles. Indianapolis would like to see this group get to the quarterback a little more, as the trio combined for just 2.5 sacks on the season. Angerer was drafted in the hopes that he can back up Brackett, while Ramon Humber should step in as Session's reserve. Cody Glenn can spell Wheeler.
DB: Despite injuries to safety Bob Sanders and cornerback Kelvin Hayden last year, the Colts were able to rank 14th in the league versus the pass (212.7 yards per game) and eighth in points allowed (19.2 PPG). Both Sanders and safety Antoine Bethea have been to the Pro Bowl, but Sanders missed 10 games in 2008 and all but two last year due to knee and biceps injuries. Bethea ended with 95 tackles and a team-high four interceptions, while Melvin Bullitt stepped in for Sanders and made 77 tackles. Special teamer Jamie Silva will also serve as insurance if Sanders can't stay healthy again. Ideally, Hayden will start at the corner spot along with Jerraud Powers, but Hayden was limited to eight starts and 50 tackles in 2009 due to injury. That put a lot of pressure on Powers, but the 2009 third-round pick out of Auburn impressed with 66 tackles and an interception. Injury also opened up time on the field for Jacob Lacey, with the undrafted free agent notching three interceptions and 85 tackles in 16 games, nine of those starts. He gives the bench depth if Hayden is healthy. Indianapolis took Thomas to strengthen the reserves, but his injury opens the way for 2010 seven-round pick Ray Fisher to work his way onto the field after the Colts elected to let Tim Jennings, Marlin Jackson and T.J. Rushing all walk at season's end.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Like in the secondary, the Colts are counting on a player returning from injury here. Knee issues limited Adam Vinatieri to just six games a season ago, but the clutch kicker is healthy this year, which will be his fifth with the Colts. As a rookie last year, punter Pat McAfee averaged 44.3 yards per punt and put 21 of his 64 attempts inside the 20-yard line. He also excelled at kickoffs with Vinatieri out. Rushing and Chad Simpson served as the primary returners last year, but neither is back in 2010. Fisher averaged 37.4 yards per kickoff return as a senior at Indiana last year, while undrafted signee Brandon James set 11 University of Florida return records during his stay at the school. Justin Snow returns for his 11th year as long snapper.
PROGNOSIS: As usual, the Colts have all the tools to compete again in 2010. They have one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history in Manning and the future Hall of Famer has no shortage of weapons to throw to. An improved offensive line will make the run game more of a factor, and any addition to the pass blocking is just icing for Manning, who is one of the smartest quarterbacks ever. Defensive play has always given the Colts trouble, but they hope that their additions through the draft - as well as healthy seasons from Sanders and Hayden - strengthen them this year and in the future. Minor changes aside, the Colts seem likely to stick to the same formula that got them to the Super Bowl a season ago. As long as Manning is healthy and calling the shots, that seems like a smart move.