Over the last week, Colts Authority has broken down the Indianapolis Colts as a team in transition. The old names and faces that helped the team have an uprecedented level of regular season success and kept the team in the hunt for Super Bowl contention each year have moved on. New faces, particularly in the front office, are putting a new spin on the Colts that no one in the fan base can fully wrap their head around and accurately predict.
The upside of some of the moves is that many of the players who have departed were nearing the end of their best playing days -- or had passed them -- and took up too much of the team's future salary cap for the front office to recover. The downside of the moves is that the "next man up" philosophy that has been a Colts staple since Tony Dungy took over as the head coach will be tested greatly in the team's short-term future.
The basis for the discussion in this series has revolved around one question, idea, and answer:
Are the Colts in a full-scale rebuild? The obvious answer is yes, but the ramifications of that rebuild may be different than what it has been for teams in the past.
Monitoring the comments in previous articles it has become clear that two primary sections of the fan base exist. The first section is full of those who are looking for bits of hope for the team's future, even in the near-term, and who appreciate what I hoped would be an objective analysis of the state of the Indianapolis Colts. The second section is full of those who reject any kind of "rosy glasses" perspective and who have resigned themselves entirely to a cold outlook and long-term approach to the team's future.
These different perspectives painted some of my comments and observations as refreshing or unrealistic. The stark contrast has been interesting to watch.
For those who have been waiting for a more straight-forward opinion and a conclusion to this series that breaks down why it is titled "don't be surprised," this is it.
In this writer's opinion, there is more talent on the Colts roster than the team's biggest critics and the fan base's biggest naysayers like to believe. I believe players like Brown, Collie, White are undervalued based upon fear of injury, uncertainty, or a perspective that is clouded due to concerns about unfilled needs at other offensive positions. I also believe that the key names on defense will be much more capable of being productive in Pagano's new defense than some fans think.
I believe much of the defensive criticism and concern is born out of a two-fold observation on the part of much of the fan base, namely that going back to the Cover-2 isn't going to happen -- many are happy about that -- and that the team does not have the personnel to be effective in a Pagano 3-4 base defense. The assumption for those who observe the personnel issue with the Pagano base 3-4 is that the team will in fact be a base 3-4 team in 2012.
These kinds of assumptions and differences in individual player talent evaluation will potentially lead to polarized projections for the 2012 Colts. Those looking for hope and craving the perspective that there is more talent on the team than some would like to believe may predict that the team can play 8-8 football in the coming season. Those who assume a full-scale imposition of offensive and defensive transitions that the team is not prepared for -- primarily due to personnel concerns -- may predict another 2-3 win season, regardless of who the Colts draft #1 overall later this month.
I have reached the conclusion that the 2012 Indianapolis Colts are probably going to be better than the most pessimistic of the Colts fan base predict and not as good as the hopeful bunch. I don't think it is realistic to expect a 10-win team and I don't think it is realistic to predict the Colts to finish 0-16.
Those who want to see the Colts at or above .500 will likely have to temper expectations (although I would not be astounded if they accomplished this), but will probably not be extremely disappointed by coming a game or two short of that mark. Those who see no hope for the 2012 Colts should not be surprised when the team out-performs the 2011 group even without the names and faces that team had, including Peyton Manning (although I would not be astounded if the team did worse).
There are simply too many variables involved to make a really insightful conclusion on where the team will end up in 2012. Numerous players from the draft are as yet unkown, further free agency additions may or may not come, and how the front office will organize the offensive and defensive schemes based upon team personnel is un-knowable until the team has fully come together.
There is more talent on this team than some are comfortable acknowledging, and much of it's short-term success will depend upon general manager Ryan Grigson, Head Coach Chuck Pagano, and their respective staffs figuring out how to get the most out of these men in 2012. How the Indianapolis Colts will fare this season is uncertain but I suggest one thing to an ailing fan base: don't be surprised.
I would want an encouraging record, but not too good. Another year of high picks would really help set this team up for awhile if drafting goes better than it has in recent memory.
Luck shows why he was the best overall quarterback prospect since Elway and the offense is competetive throughout the season. The running game showed flashes last year and with a bigger o line and Luck behind center Carter and Brown find running room. Colts find a couple weapons for Luck in the draft and the passing game shows life, although I'm not holding out for a Cam Newton-4,000+ yard season. Could be but that's asking a lot with Wayne and Collie as our top 2 (currently).
Defense gets some sacks and sets the foundation for what Pagano and Manusky want to do. By this I mean we show some physicality and attitude and find out who's worth keeping around for the eventual transition to a full time 3-4. I'm less concerned with the defense this year because I think the finished product will not resemble what we see in the 2012 season and it will take time to find, develop and consolidate impact players on this side of the ball.
6-10 wouild be a good bounce back year and I think with some of the teams we play at home this is very attainable. 5-11 or 4-12 isn't out of the question if the offense can't gain traction and/or defense is further away than we think but I think 6 wins is a reasonalbe and attainable goal for 12'
I know it doesn't make for very interesting analysis, but the 2012 season is going to be about one thing and one thing only.
How does Andrew Luck look. It's that simple. The Colts aren't going to win the Super Bowl in 2012. They probably won't even make the playoffs or even challenge for a spot.
Despite all the interceptions Peyton threw his rookie year, you could still tell he had "it". Despite only going 3-13, I watched every play that year, because you just knew that #18 was going to be special.
For me, 2012 will not be about wins and losses. It will be about presence. Will #12 make me feel that he is going to be our franchise QB for the next 15 years.
I confess, I am one of those who has lost his rose colored glasses. I do not expect the 2012-13 Colts to be a very good football team. This is a very, very "OK" thing! Reasons being: 1. Old veterans are gone. Younger players have a chance to prove their worth.
2. The system is changing. Younger players have a chance to prove their worth.
3. 26 million dollars in dead cap space. First year GM and HC couldn't rush out and spend tens of millions of guaranteed $$ on players to fill gaps. This provides further opportunities for young players to prove their worth.
4. The Colts are not going to wint the Super Bowl next year. They will likely miss the playoffs. This means? High draft picks!! More young players!!
Alright, I clearly have a fixation on young players, but why?
Two things. First, they're cheap. By my estimation, between 9-13 of the Colts '12 STARTERS will be on their rookie contracts. (Luck, Brown, Collie, Castonzo, Ijalana, Powers, Conner, Angerer, Nevis, along with TE, LG, CB, and NT). That is cheap, and will leave room to re-sign those who earn their second contract, as well as (hopefully few) free agents.
Second, these players have room to grow, and none are pegged as "one-system players." The new coaching staff will either be able to mold them, or lose them at little cost.
@trentdowney1 I have this team winning 5/6 games however remember that a lot of young guys had to play last year because of injuries...these young cats will be more ready than I think lots of people have given 'em credit for.
The key for us in the new season will be how healthy we stay. We had terrible fortune with that last time!!
The bottom line is that the 2011 team was better than their 2-14 record. Forget about the fact that the Colts blew some close games that they could have won. For most of the year, the coaching staff ran the offense as if Peyton Manning was running it. It was an offense only Peyton Manning could have run.
The team lost loads of talent in the off-season, but some of this lost talent really didn't contribute much. Plus, the team was actually active in picking up free agents this year. How do they compare to last year's team? Let's look position by position:
QB -- Upgrade from last year. I'll go out on a limb and say that Luck will do better in a system designed for him than Collins/Painter/Orlovsky did in a system designed for Manning. Actually...thinking about it...it's a pretty solid limb.
RB -- Somewhat worse -- Losing Addai is going to hurt...some. I'll assume we won't draft a RB in the 2nd/3rd round and that a rookie RB won't compete for serious playing time. There is nobody to do the little things Addai did, but Carter and Evans will have a chance to develop into NFL running backs. New coaching shoud help here. Even when Addai or Brown was running well, the offense didn't seem to exploit their success. Addai is a loss but probably not a big loss
WR -- Somewhat worse (right now) -- Garcon had a good season...all things considered. Collie seemed very under used. I think Avery can fill most of Garcon's production. Garcon was never consistent. Much like RB, this position is not much worse off and may even fair equal or slightly better than last year.
TE -- Worse than last year. Clark's loss is negligible. He was hurt most of the time...even when he was playing. Tamme's loss hurt. We are left with only one TE who has any real NFL experience, and he is pretty one-dimensional.
OL -- Upgrade from last year. I'm not saying this is a great OL, but after the last couple of years, it has to be better. Diem and Saturday left. Physically, these are not losses. The only question is whether Satele has the mental capacity of Saturday. I don't think many centers do, but how much is the drop off? Costanzo will come into his second season healthy, and Ijalana seems to have promise (but is still essentially a rookie and coming off major knee surgery). There should be a healthy competition at guard. Although the Eagles gave up Justice for a box of donuts (the equivalent of swapping 6th round picks), all he has to do is be better than Linkenbach. I'd take that bet. Overall, there is something to like on the line.
DL -- Upgrade from last year. The Colts picked up Redding for not very much. He'll be a DT (in a 4-3) or a DE (in a 3-4) that will demand attention and help the pass rushers and the tacklers. There were no significant losses and there should be some healthy competition in camp.
LB -- Worse than last year. Wheeler was a loss than has not been filled. Yes, I really Brackett was cut, and I liked Brackett. But he only played part of one game last year. Wheeler, on the other hand, had a solid season. In a 4-3, I have absolutely no idea who takes Wheeler's place. In a 3-4, I have a hard time seeing both Freeney and Mathis as the OLBs. It simply makes no sense to routinely use either of them as anything but a pass rusher. Perhaps Freeney will stay at DE and Hughes is at OLB. In one way this makes sense; in another way, it makes no sense. I don't expect a traditional 3-4, if we play much of it, but regardless of the set up, we need another OLB. Angerer and Conner should be just fine and will benefit from another year.
DB -- Upgrade from last year. Bullitt was a great guy, but he was hurt most of last year. Zbikowski will be an upgrade to Caldwell/Legefed. Lacey was not a big loss (at least last year's Lacey), and another year of development from one of the young CBs will be make up for Lacey's departure. It's still a weak unit, but it's better than last year.
Overall, the offense is upgraded at QB and OL. In today's NFL that compensates for losses at the other skill positions. I am not saying this is going to massive overhaul from last year's offense, but it should be better. The defense is in flux. It has some big holes (NT, OLB, CB), but two of these holes were there last year. The additions will help this defense. The defense should be better, but how much will depend on the pass rush it gets. If the coaches can figure out how to best use the front 7 and can get ot the passer, it may be able to compensate for an otherwise lackluster pass defense.
Of course, I have no idea who we will draft in the second round and beyond, which could change the assessment. Furthermore, a band-aid free agent or two could fill some of the bigger holes for a year or two. The Colts also benefit from being in a weak division. The Texans and Titans look to have some problems. Jacksonville still looks dysfunctional.
Let's say the Colts go 3-3 in the AFC South. They also play the Browns, Dolphins, and Vikings at home. There are probably a few other winnable games on the schedule. Again, the 2011 were better than their record showed, and I believe the talent level is slightly better even without knowing the draft picks. If the Colts can come together and if they can avoid injuries, they should win 5-8 games.
@rebuild2012 Good take, I think I agree with the majority of your analysis. I think I'm a little more optimistic on the RB's and a little more pessimistic on the receiving core.
Addai was overall an underrated player and the subtleties of his skillset will be missed no doubt. However, 500 yards rushing is not difficult to comeby and I think a healthy Donald Brown will have a solid season this year. Also, despite fumbles, I'm high on Delone Carter and looks like a legit power back who should have some production with the new approach on offense (bigger o line, FB)
I think I'll really only be comfortable with the receivers if we spend our 2nd on the bpa at WR or TE. Avery was a nice signing and Collie is worth keeping around but we can't fully expect those 2 and Reggie Wayne to play all 16 games together. I hope Reuben Randle or Alshon Jeffrey is the pick at 34.
Defense will require a lot of patience going forward but I'm very much pleased with the commitment and firm action taken to improve there, if only with the hiring of Pagano. I think some holdover players will have success this year but as it's been said by a few people on here we will need the Ed Reeds, Ngata's, Suggs and Lewis' and this will all take time. I think with the players we'll have on D we should be able to generate a respectable pass rush throughout the season, fingers crossed for the light to go on for Hughes in this defense.
Surely we stand a solid chance of beating the Vikings, Browns, Chiefs, Dolphins, and maybe a couple more divisional games. If we achieve even half of that its an improvement, with the possibility of bigger scalps also! It could easily be as bad, or worse than last season, but it could be far better. The only justification for forthright doom and gloom scenarios is to taper excitement in my opinion!
"There are simply too many variables involved to make a really insightful conclusion on where the team will end up in 2012." ...but we will continue to blog and predict anyway!
Just teasing. There really is no way to know how it'll shake out. And our expectations will largely determine how we react to it, individually. Personally, I would guess we win 2-3 games against crappy/mediocre teams and have a surprising win or two against decent teams. But really, who knows. It will be by far the most unpredictable season we've had in a long time and that along provides excitement.
I agree that we can't assume a 3-4 base; Pagano has hinted (or said?) that we can expect a hybrid defense as they transition. It will be necessarily so unless Pagano simply doesn't know how to make the best use of his resources; there are too many guys who are LBs in a 3-4 and not enough to play DL. On the offense, I'm feeling 'meh.' I, too, believe in Collie, Brown and of course Wayne, but I think it was Peyton who made White and it was Peyton who made the O-Line respectable. IMO Luck would need 75% of Peyton's talent for this team to achieve an 8-8 season, and because I doubt he has that (yet), I'm hovering in the 3-5 win season range. And I'm ok with that.
@LovinBlue I think the hybrid 3-4/4-3 will be our permanent D, since that's what is run in Baltimore.
I completely agree with you. I don't understand why so many people are ripping the team saying it has no talent. Look at the 1998 team. Glenn, Harrison, Faulk, Manning. And a bunch of so-so players. I think the Colts right now have much better talent than that team. I expect around a 7-9 season.
@heavywoody I think it goes beyond just those four. Marvin had been in the league for two years. He looked like a good receiver, but we didn't know that he would be a Hall of Famer. Tarik Glenn had just completed his rookie year and was about to play left tackle for the first time in the NFL. We didn't know he would be the All-Pro he became. Manning was a rookie who we didn't know anything about. Faulk was the only established player on the team.
People are overvaluing the 1998 team by cherry-picking from a decade later and playing down the young up-and-comers with the argument that they're not All-Pros. There is no historical context in that argument.
TrueBlue87, while I agree with the your above assessment, I disagree that our view of the talent on the 98 team is cherry picking. We are viewing that team with the luxury of time, which allows us to gauge what those players became. It's hard to see the offensive talent on the current team because we don't know what some of these players will become. IMO, I think our current O-line could develop into a very good O-line, but I don't think our WRs, TEs (do we even have any?) or RBs will be great. Luckily, this draft is a great chance to get a WR and a TE, and while I don't think the RBs are great, I think when we look back in 7 years they will be viewed as good, especially if the O-line develops as I think.
As far as defense, the change in philosphy and the coach, more than any talent we have, give me cause for optimism.
And most importantly, I think Luck will be great. I am really excited he will be a Colt and firmly believe there is an excellent chance he will develop into a pro-bowl caliber QB.
The great thing about the NFL is that teams can turn around their fortunes very quickly. Good coaching, good drafting, and above all, a good QB, can turn a team around in a year. I'm thinking we will be around the 6 or 7-win mark next year. I also think we will see flashes of greatness from our young QB, the O-line start get better and better, and a defense that is more aggressive but is lacking talent in a couple major areas (CB and NT especially).
Regardless, it should be a fun year!
@rogcohen When I refer to cherry picking I'm referring to people who claim the '98 team, specifically the O-line, was better because of Tarik Glenn when in fact Glenn was in almost the same position then as Costanzo is now.
I also disagree that this is a great draft for tight ends. Outside of Fleener and Allen there really isn't anyone who is anything special. Fleener is probably gone at pick 34. Drafting Allen at that spot is a bit of an overdraft but he's not there at pick 65.
I also wouldn't undersell McKinney. I live in DC and talked to a number of Raven's fans and they said they only saw good things from him when he's on the field. Plus, NTs tend to be overvalued. There are none worth an early pick and only Chapman is worth a pick in the middle rounds. Otherwise you're better off with someone like Fangupo, Hicks, Harrison or Anouby for a late round developmental pick.
@TrueBlue87 I think we are in agreement. I think the team now is better than the 1998 team. I don't know why people are so down on the talent this year.
For me the issue isn't necessarily the talent level as much as how much (or little) the players have worked together in game situations. Peyton, Saturday, Clarke, Wayne and even Collie and White had a seemingly kismit connection. Perhaps Luck will be able to slide in with Satele, Eldridge (or Fleener - pleasepleasepleaseplease), Wayne, Collie and White, but we just won't know that for several games.