Last season was painful for the Colts. Painful in that they couldn't advance in the postseason and painful in that they incurred a ton of injuries. And at least for their star quarterback, the offseason has been painful thanks to neck surgery.
The Colts are recovered from what ailed them and turn to another season as Peyton Manning's career clock ticks away. No doubt, he's got the receivers -- at least on paper -- to keep the passing game threatening, but it remains to be seen if said receivers will stay healthy. Dallas Clark is over his freak wrist injury and should be ready to resume his role as a middle-of-the-field receiving monster. Austin Collie's well-documented issues with head injuries put his future in question even though he says he's ready to roll. Anthony Gonzalez's leg injuries make him unlikely to contribute much, especially behind Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, both of whom are thankfully healthy.
The run game remains a question mark, and injuries aren't entirely to blame. Joseph Addai's return to the team is not guaranteed but he might be the best shot they have at presenting an effective run game that defenses respect. Backup running back Donald Brown has not gotten it done outside of being a good third-down option and others behind him on the depth chart have not stayed healthy. Drafting Syracuse bulldozer Delone Carter should provide some youth and depth, not to mention a potential goal-line vulture.
Manning himself is coming off of a neck procedure that kept him sidelined in the late spring, but he's been in the same offense his entire career with receivers he's comfortable with, and his rehab is not considered to be impactful or long lasting, so it would be a huge upset if he's not ready to roll by training camp. Indy did spend two prominent draft picks on offensive linemen to better protect Manning (and run block, too).
If the Colts' offense heals up and can move the ball on the ground, then there's less pressure on the defense to perform. But there's pressure nonetheless as they struggled to hold back opponents in 2010 and did little this offseason to improve the unit. The run defense, ranked 25th last season, got one addition in the NFL draft while the secondary, which was pretty good, shed themselves of perpetually injured safety Bob Sanders and also added one player. Fantasy owners have been used to the Colts being an offensive machine and a struggling defense for years, and from the looks of it this season might not be any different.
Bust ... Austin Collie, WR
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A year ago this time, Collie's potential stood out like a blue horse. He appeared as a sure-handed short-area target Peyton Manning could lean on, and that's exactly what he was for several weeks. But he hurt his thumb, recovered, got concussed, eventually recovered, took another hit to the head that wasn't declared a concussion, recovered, and then got concussed for a second time (or is it a third time?) before ending on injured reserve. Collie will tell you this offseason that he's feeling great and ready to contribute, but until he takes that first helmet to helmet hit, no one can tell you how he'll respond. There's no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet, and there's a higher likelihood that he'll take on another concussion compared to a player who has had one or none. Worst of all, Fantasy owners are eyeballing Collie with a pick as soon as Round 6! Don't do it -- there are safer options out there.
Late-round flier ... Blair White, WR
If Collie is one hit away from seeing canaries and stars revolve around his head and Anthony Gonzalez is one hit away from spending another season on injured reserve, then it stands to reason that White could be a factor for the Colts. Last year he went from undrafted practice squadder to a guy who caught nearly half as many catches as Jacob Tamme but scored one more touchdown than him. White has had the offseason to study his game and study the offense some more, and chances are it's just a matter of time before he gets on the field. If you're so hooked on Collie that you draft him, go ahead and spend a late pick on White. Or, skip Collie and get White late anyway.
Impact rookie ... Delone Carter, RB
Last season the Colts had trouble finding a run game once Joseph Addai got hurt. Donald Brown couldn't hack it despite getting more touches than anyone, Mike Hart got hurt, Javarris James was OK at the goal line but couldn't make a dent otherwise. They had to re-sign veteran Dominic Rhodes to help them out, and he wasn't overly effective. Clearly running back help was needed, so the team sunk a fourth-round pick into Carter, a bruiser from Syracuse. Carter had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in college with 23 total touchdowns, and given the state of his competition in Indy, he might work his way into a decent role this season. In a rookie class loaded with attractive running backs, Carter stands as a late-round option that might do very well. It never hurts to draft a running back playing behind Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning & Co. have a much lighter load this year compared to 2010, so hopefully their stats will reflect that. There isn't a secondary on the schedule that should give Manning trouble other than potentially the Patriots and Ravens in consecutive road games in Weeks 13 and 14. And the pass rushes they'll go up against (the aforementioned teams plus the Steelers in Week 3) aren't troubling, either. Only injuries should slow down Indy's passing game, and even its run game should have the chance at being productive. One note: The meat of their schedule begins with a three-game road trip followed by spending the entire month of November in Indianapolis (three games), then the gauntlet of New England and Baltimore. With division games the final three weeks of the season, the Colts should finish strong while chasing a playoff berth.
Training camp topics
Who will be more important to the Colts this summer: Their head coach or their head trainer? Not to slight Jim Caldwell at all, but keeping up with all of Indy's injured stars will be a priority as they put the finishing touches on their rehab and get ready for the season. The inability to have constant contact with their players through the offseason because of the labor dispute does not help the Colts' situation.
Getting the run game going will be a focal point. Whether Joseph Addai returns or not, Donald Brown has to get moving. The former first-round pick has gotten nicked up while averaging 3.8 yards per run with five touchdowns over 207 career carries. His receiving skills (374 yards on 31 catches) are fantastic, so if he can turn on the jets after a handoff, he could be one of Fantasy Football's most prominent rushers. If not him, then the Colts have to find someone to eventually overtake Addai since he can't be considered a long-term solution.
Similar pressure might be placed on Pierre Garcon, who has yet to record an 800-yard season. He's entering his fourth year but as far as playing regularly this is more like his third season, so there are no excuses for him to not play better than before. He's also entering a contract year, so a huge season would break the bank. We already know defenses will try to contain Reggie Wayne, so there is room for Garcon to be a bigger factor if he puts it all together.
And is there anything the Colts' run defense can do to help the rest of the team? Anything at all? The last time the Colts run defense was a Top 10 unit was 1995, and only once in Manning's tenure has the run defense cracked the Top 15. It's a pretty safe bet that the Colts' run D will be its Achilles' heel again in 2011, which means it's probably a safe bet to pass on the DST.
Oh, and one last teeny-weeny detail: The Colts need to re-sign Peyton Manning. No biggie, right? Probably just the biggest guaranteed contract per season in NFL history. Expect it to be a priority for the franchise.
Peyton Manning (neck; probable for the start of training camp) ... Austin Collie (head; probable for the start of training camp) ... Dallas Clark (wrist; probable for the start of training camp) ... Anthony Gonzalez (knee; questionable for the start of training camp).
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