Training camp is now underway, and these are the days that really matter for the future of the Colts. I'm not speaking strictly about this season, though that's true. It's the big picture beyond this season that I'm concerned about this morning. The brilliance of the Colts over the past decade has been the ability of the team to seamlessly reload year after year.
Next year (assuming there is a next year), the team will face their biggest challenge ever. There are 18 different Colts whose contracts are up at the end of this year. In some ways, it would be easy to say that 2010 is a 'last hurrah' season for the Colts. The key to holding open the 'window' beyond 2011 will be how well the team does in developing new talent beyond this season. While player development goes on all season long, training camp is the most focused and intense time the coaches will have to work with younger players.
A look at the list of 18 (oooh eerie), reveals just how much work the coaches have to do.
1. Peyton Manning-Ok, so we can skip this one. Peyton is going to be resigned, and if he didn't, nothing that happens at training camp could ever help to prepare the franchise for the gaping hole his departure would leave. Let's all think happy thoughts and move along.
2. Adam Vinateiri-Kickers aren't really a development position. AV is either brought back or he's not. This is hardly a worry at this point.
3. Joe Addai-Everyone assumes that this is Addai's last year with a horseshoe on his helmet. I agree and can't see more than 10-15% chance he'd come back. That means that the team desperately needs Don Brown to make big strides in this camp. I love Addai and have been his unwavering supporter at all times, but if I hear Don Brown is ready to take his starting job, I'll do a freaking jig.
4-8. Charlie Johnson, Tony Ugoh, Adam Terry, Andy Alleman, Kyle DeVan-No one is sheding a tear if any of these guys leave, but at the same time we need SOMEONE to step up on the offensive line. It goes without saying that this is by far the most important development to watch in training camp. Ironically, if in 6 months we are all desperately waiting to see if the Colts resign anyone of these four guys, it's a good thing. Is our future LT on the roster now? I hope so, but I wouldn't bet on it.
9. Clint Session-I love Clint Session. I expect him to play at a Pro Bowl level this year. Then I expect him to be allowed to walk in free agency (assuming the old rules of unrestricted free agency still apply...a big 'if ' for sure). The Colts must develop young linebacking talent. Pat Angerer, who could eventually replace Gary Brackett, might have to step into the starting lineup next year if Session goes. For the other young LBs like Humber and Glenn, training camp is their best chance to step and and earn a shot as a key backup and special teams player. If one of them really shines, it will make the team feel better about letting a guy like Session walk.
10. Melvin Bullit- Bullit will likely be important to the Colts' future. While I would love to believe that Bob Sanders is a Colt after this year, it won't happen unless he has an All Pro Season or renegotiates his contract. No one else on the roster would be ready to step in as a starter next year, so that makes Bullit critically important. He's not anywhere near the player a healthy Bob Sanders is, but he's a serviceable starter. I expect the Colts to draft a safety next year.
11-13. Antonio Johnson, Dan Muir, Eric Foster-Our tackle play was better last year, but we shouldn't confuse 'better' with 'good'. The Colts still need more from the DT spots. Maybe it's Moala who jumps into the rotation this year, but ultimately this story is similar to the OL. If we are sweating any of these guys coming back for 2011, then something good happened.
14-18. Kenyatta Dawson, Jaime Silva, Ervin Baldwin, Sam Giguere, Gijon Robinson-These guys have mostly contributed to some degree in the past (except for Baldwin), but all would be lucky to make the squad this year.
So, when you look at the roster and who might leave, the situation isn't as dire as it appears on the surface. Still this training camp is a critical time. Next year, the Colts will likely have needs at running back, safety, linebacker, DT, and along the offensive line. What happens now will go a long way toward determining the future look of the roster next year.