The Colts have done a great job over this offseason to improve the team across the board. Despite winning 11 games and reaching the playoffs in 2012, Ryan Grigson and the Colts' brass realized that their roster really was one of the least talented groups in the league.
Armed with the most cap space Indianapolis has had in years, Ryan Grigson went out and improved every single position in free agency and the draft, including up to 11 new starters.
It's the biggest overhaul in recent memory for a playoff team with a franchise quarterback, but one that should pay great dividends both in 2013 and in the long run.
With the unfamiliar roster, where can we expect to see the Colts both succeed and struggle in 2013? To answer that question, we'll take a look at each position's biggest strength and biggest weakness.
Andrew Luck was fantastic in 2012 for a number of reasons, but the most impressive part of his game was his ability to make something happen despite the talent around him. Whether he was making a big throw while getting hit on third down (The Miami and Green Bay games come to mind), avoiding defenders to give his receivers time to get open (Detroit), or simply threading the needle for a big gain down the field (Long TD to T.Y. Hilton against Houston), Luck was the force that allowed the Colts to succeed on offense despite having a poor offensive line and inexperienced weapons.
When it comes to the quarterback position, it's hard to find a weakness. The depth looks very good with veteran Matt Hasselbeck and prospect Chandler Harnish backing up Andrew Luck. What Luck and Harnish lack in experience, Hasselbeck makes up for in spades. So, we'll have to nitpick when it comes to Luck, who (knock on wood) should start every game in 2012.
Luck's biggest detraction in 2012 was his inconsistent accuracy. At times he would start missing receivers, whether it was overthrown, underthrown, etc. With an offensive system that should put less pressure on him to make a big play on every other snap, I expect this to improve in 2013, but don't be surprised if it rears its head every once in a while.
With Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, and Donald Brown, the Colts have three running backs who have experience starting (and experience that has been relatively successful). The rotation should allow for them to keep each back fresh throughout the season, not putting an unhealthy burden on one back.
With either Delone Carter or Kerwynn Williams filling the fourth spot on the roster, each back brings something unique to the table. Carter is a strong short-yardage back (9 of 12 in short yardage situations last season) while Williams can contribute as a returner.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown both have extensive injury histories during their careers in the NFL, part of the reason why a three-man rotation will be necessary as the season progresses. If serious injuries take either or both out for significant periods of time (especially Bradshaw), the Colts' talent at running back will look much worse on the field. The Colts hope that a smaller workload for the backs will limit the chance of injury, but that won't help freak injuries from occurring.
Strength: T.Y. Hilton
While Reggie Wayne will be the number one receiver in 2013, and Darius Heyward-Bey should be a significant upgrade over Donnie Avery, T.Y. Hilton is the most explosive weapon in the Colts' arsenal. Hilton's versatility will allow the Colts to use him in varying ways. Hilton can line up in the slot or on the outside, will be the target of long balls over the top as well as screen passes, and has also had several rush attempts last season.
Weakness: Fourth wide receiver
LaVon Brazill flashed talent last season, and produced in some key moments (such as the long touchdown in the comeback win against Detroit), but needs to show more. Nathan Palmer didn't add anything when he got on to the field in 2012, his lone catch being a 4-yard loss against the Jets. The one play that stuck out to me from Palmer was his drop on third down in the red zone against Green Bay.
I don't expect any of the UDFAs to compete for the fourth spot, and Brazill should win that spot vs. Palmer. But the Colts' coaches reportedly wanted to see more out of him this offseason, and he will have to earn his playing time.
Note: Inconsistent hands was the runner-up for this section. Hilton and Heyward-Bey both have been prone to drops at times, and it will need to improve this season. But DHB is better than Avery was in that department, and Hilton's consistency should improve after an offseason focused on the issue.
Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen provide a great one-two punch at tight end, and both should see an increased role in the new offense under Pep Hamilton. The best part about both young TEs having a significant part to play is the difference in their games and the varying ways Pep Hamilton can use them.
Dwayne Allen is a superb blocker, both in the pass and run game, but is a dependable target in the flats and over the middle that propelled him to Pro Football Focus' second best overall grade for a tight end in 2012. Fleener knows Hamilton's new offense well, and has the speed and athleticism to be one of the league' best receiving weapons if he lives up to his potential. He's was no slouch as a blocker in 2012 either, finishing the regular season with a +2.7 grade from PFF in run blocking (14th out of 62 qualifying TEs).
After Fleener and Allen, the Colts will have a three-man competition at tight end during training camp between Weslye Saunders, Dominique Jones, and 2013 Mr. Irrelevant Justice Cunningham. Saunders and Jones were sub-par replacements for Fleener while he was out with an injury in 2012, and the Colts looked to possibly upgrade by selecting Cunningham in the draft. But while Cunningham flashed potential in rookie mini camp, he hasn't made much noise since, and is still an unproven rookie. If Fleener or Allen misses time (as Fleener did in 2012), the third TE will be a noticeable drop-off.
Anthony Castonzo started off 2012 a bit shakily, the second half of the season was extremely strong. Consider this: Castonzo received a cumulative grade from PFF of -5.0 through the first eight games of the season, and a +12.8 for the rest of the season. His pass block grade was -11.4 for the first eight games, and +6.9 for the second half of the year.
Combine that kind of play with Gosder Cherilus' strong pass protection (10th in the league among tackles in pressure allowed per dropback in 2012), and the offensive tackles should be one of the league's better duo's in 2013.
Weakness: Interior line
The Colts' interior line was the biggest offensive detraction in 2012, and not much has changed for 2013. Donald Thomas should be a significant improvement at left guard, but he's never held a starting role before, and needs to show he can handle the increased workload.
Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn, on the other hand, are holding on to their starting positions for now, but will battle with Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes to keep their respective spots. Satele and McGlynn ranked fourth-worst and worst among centers and guards respectively last season (According to PFF's grades), and won't give Colts fans any confidence if they are starting again in 2013. Even if Holmes and/or Thornton win starting jobs, mid-round, rookie offensive linemen generally aren't the strengths of an offensive line.
Funny comment about Lucks inconsistencies. Gee maybe it had something to do with the style of offense and the constant extreme pressure he was under. Add a pile of rookie receiving targets and a rookie RB to that and I am guessing this was his problem.
Nice. We've got about 40 days of purgatory. I wouldn't mind one of these types of articles per position in the meantime.
I guess I was deluding myself into thinking that if Reitz could stay healthy, he would be a viable option at guard.
(And I still can't believe that Andy Reid and the Chiefs were so eager to take Avery off our hands)
@DougEngland I still like Reitz, but I think the Colts are going to use him exclusively as a backup to Thomas unless McGlynn goes down.