News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 1, 2009

Colts’ to-do list long as camp opens

Get healthy, improve running game on agenda

By Tom James

INDIANAPOLIS — With training camp set to begin this afternoon on the Rose-Hulman campus, the Indianapolis Colts will certainly have plenty of work to accomplish before taking the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for the regular-season home opener with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 13.

Some of the Colts’ primary goals during training camp will no doubt include:

n Getting healthy again on the offensive line — Indianapolis was beat up, physically, along the offensive line for much of the 2008 season.

The Colts played without the services of offensive guard Ryan Lilja (knee) for the entire year while center Jeff Saturday (knee/leg) and offensive tackle Tony Ugoh (knee) both battled injuries during the course of the season.

Rookie offensive guard Mike Pollak, the team’s top draft pick in 2008, also missed significant playing time, which opened the door for two other draft picks, center/guard Jamey Richard and guard/center Steve Justice.

For much of the year, Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd was forced to mix and match his personnel in an attempt to form a more cohesive unit. It wasn’t easy. But it appears that Lilja is healthy again, as are Saturday, Ugoh and Pollack.

Veteran offensive guard/tackle Charlie Johnson incurred a shoulder injury during the offseason but he is expected to be available at some point during training camp.

n Improve the running game — It’s safe to say that that Indianapolis struggled to get a forceful running game untracked in 2008. The Colts ran for just 1,274 yards, which was the worst single-season total for the franchise since 1993 (1,288). Indianapolis averaged just 79.6 yards per rushing attempt, which was its lowest since 2002 (97.6).

Want more proof that the running game was nearly nonexistent in 2008? Joseph Addai had a team-leading 544 yards, which was the fewest yards by a Colts running back since Marshall Faulk had 587 in 1996.

Addai underwent knee surgery during the offseason and could be back to the form that he displayed as a rookie in 2006. The team also made a couple of significant moves by allowing veteran Dominic Rhodes to leave via free agency (Buffalo Bills) and making former Connecticut running back Donald Brown their top draft pick. Brown will split playing time with Addai.

Also back is 2008 rookie Mike Hart, who missed the second half of last season due to a knee injury, as well as practice squad runners Chad Simpson and Lance Ball.

n Finding a replacement for Marvin Harrison — There are several candidates in the mix to replace the franchise’s all-time leading receiver.

Based on work accomplished during the Colts’ spring mini-camps and organized team activities, second-year wide receiver Pierre Garcon would appear to be the leading candidate for the job.

While nothing will be decided until the end of training camp, the second-year receiver from Mount Union College showed great improvement from the fall. His confidence in knowing the team’s complicated offensive scheme was better, as was his consistency in making the tough catch. But he’s not the only one who has a chance to work themselves into a starting role.

Third-year receiver Roy Hall has battled injuries and inconsistency since being a fifth-round draft pick in 2007. His size (6-3, 240) and speed are definite plusses and would give the Colts a different look. Rookie Austin Collie, a fourth-round draft pick from Brigham Young University, is a contender as are 2008 practice squad members Sam Giguere and Taj Smith.

Key losses — Even though some of his skills had started to ebb a little over the past two seasons, losing a force like Harrison could have some effect on the Colts’ offense this year. Also gone are defensive tackle Darrell Reid (Denver), defensive end Josh Thomas, linebacker Buster Davis (Houston), running back Dominic Rhodes (Buffalo), cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (Pittsburgh), and punter Hunter Smith (Washington).

Position battle — Does talent trump inexperience? When it comes to Philip Wheeler, a second-year outside linebacker from Georgia Tech, that may very well be the case.

Wheeler is slotted to begin training camp as the Colts’ starter at strong side linebacker. But nothing is written in stone just yet. The hard-charging linebacker, though, has made quite an impression with the Indianapolis coaching staff thanks to his skills as a tackler and pass defender.

“Philip has size, strength and speed. Those are all the things that certainly will contribute to being able to function at the position pretty well. He has to learn the system and get a good feel for it,” Caldwell explained recently. “He hasn’t played a whole lot so the experience factor is something we’re going to have to make certain he gets enough reps through the preseason and also during this time of the year.”

Both of Indianapolis’ outside linebacking positions remain largely unsettled. With the return of free agents Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler, along with the rapid emergence of Wheeler and the continued improvement of third-year veteran Clint Session, the Colts appear to be as deep as they’ve been in several seasons.

Colts position breakdown

QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Peyton Manning. Backups – Curtis Painter, Jim Sorgi.

After missing all of preseason a year ago, Manning will undoubtedly be champing at the bit and ready to go as training camp begins this season. He underwent a pair of medical procedures to remove an infected bursa sac in his left knee. The surgeries put him behind timing-wise with his receivers, something that wasn’t completely rectified until midseason. Sorgi remains as the team’s primary backup, but he also suffered through some injury problems last season as well. The Colts added Painter, a local product, through the draft. Indianapolis has kept two quarterbacks on the regular season roster in recent years, but that may change in 2009.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter – Joseph Addai. Backups – Donald Brown, Lance Ball, Mike Hart, Chad Simpson.

Addai didn’t see much work this past spring after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason. Injuries have bothered the team’s former No. 1 draft pick and he hasn’t shown the form that he displayed as a rookie in 2006 for the past year and a half. It’s hoped that he will be able to get back to that level of play this year. Indianapolis, though, added Brown with the team’s first-round pick in April and he is expected to share the load with Addai. Brown is a good receiver out of the backfield and his cerebral approach to the game mirrors that of Manning and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts also have Hart, a 2008 draft pick who was impressive as a rookie before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a midseason game with Baltimore. He appears to be back to full strength heading into training camp. Ball and Simpson both got expanded playing time late in the season and looked good in the process.

TIGHT ENDS/H-BACK: Starters – Dallas Clark, Gijon Robinson. Backups – Colin Cloherty, Jamie Petrowski, Jacob Tamme, Tom Santi.

Clark is back after having a career year in 2008 (77 catches for 848 yards and six touchdowns). He remains a key cog in the Colts’ two tight end offensive scheme and can play as a slot receiver if called upon. Robinson, who had limited playing time entering last fall, stepped in to become the primary No. 2 tight end. Both were used in the tight end/H-Back roles a year ago. Tamme and Santi were 2008 draft picks who saw limited playing time as rookies due to injuries. They should both be ready to go this season. Petrowski was on the practice squad a year ago after coming over from the Tennessee Titans. He could push for an expanded role this year. Cloherty was an undrafted free agent who was signed this past spring.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters – Anthony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne. Backups – Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Sam Giguere, Roy Hall, John Matthews, Brett McDermott, Taj Smith.

After being referred to as the Colts’ 1A receiver for the past several seasons, Wayne is now ready to become the team’s primary pass catching threat. Prior to 2008, he had improved his stats every season since joining the team as a first-round draft pick in 2001. Wayne has become a leader both on and off the field and that alone should help the team better withstand the loss of Marvin Harrison. Gonzalez will take over Harrison’s spot in the lineup after bouncing between slot and outside receiver for the past two seasons. The big question, though, is who takes over as the regular slot receiver. It’s a full field with Garcon, Hall, Collie, Giguere and Smith the primary candidates. Matthews, an undrafted free agent, will also get a long look.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters – LT Tony Ugoh, LG Charlie Johnson, C Jeff Saturday, RG Mike Pollak, RT Ryan Diem. Backups – OT Brandon Barnes, OG Kyle DeVan, OT Daniel Federkeil, OT Corey Hillard, C/OG Steve Justice, OG Ryan Lilja, OG Tom Pestock, OG/C Jamey Richard, OG Jaimie Thomas, OT Michael Toudouze.

Having a healthy Saturday (with a new contract) and Ugoh, along with the expected return of Lilja, should help bolster the Colts’ offensive line heading into this year’s training camp. Johnson filled in at both guard spots a year ago but he is recovering from a shoulder injury that he suffered in the offseason. He is expected to be fine heading into camp, though. Pollak was the team’s top draft pick a year ago and suffered through injuries as a rookie. Richard, a seventh-round pick in 2008, was the major surprise starter for the Colts as he took over at center with Saturday sidelined. Justice, another 2008 draft pick, saw considerable work as a rookie.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters – LE Raheem Brock, LT Eric Foster, RT Keyunta Dawson, RE Dwight Freeney. Backups – DT Adrian Grady, DE Marcus Howard, DT Antonio Johnson, DE Curtis Johnson, DT Ed Johnson, DE Robert Mathis, DT Fili Moala, DT Daniel Muir, DT Terrance Taylor.

The Colts could be as deep as they’ve been in recent memory along the defensive line. Indianapolis officials made an concerted effort to get a big bigger along the front with the addition of draft picks Moala and Taylor along with the addition of Grady, an undrafted free agent. A veteran group of linemen return with Freeney, Brock, Mathis, Foster, Dawson and Ed Johnson. Ed Johnson was released by the team last year due to his arrest for speeding and possession of marijuana. While getting another chance to show the Colts that he belongs in the NFL, he will added much more bulk and athleticism to the team’s defensive front. Howard is due for a breakout year as a situational pass rusher. His speed and quickness off the line of scrimmage has drawn favorable comparisons to Freeney and Mathis.

LINEBACKERS: Starters – SLB Philip Wheeler, MLB Gary Brackett, WLB Clint Session. Backups – LB Tyjuan Hagler, LB Ramon Humber, LB Freddy Keiaho, LB Michael Okwo, LB Jordan Senn, LB Adam Seward, LB Mike Taulili.

With the possible exception of Brackett, the Colts linebacking positions at up for grabs heading into training camp. Wheeler had a strong spring and can play either outside spot. Session started on the strong side a year ago but may end up on the weak side this year. He has been impressive, although he needs to develop a bit more consistency. Keiaho and Hagler were free agents during the offseason who were re-signed and both could end up back in the starting lineup. Seward was brought in as an free agent from the Carolina Panthers and may work his way into a backup role behind Brackett. Senn was impressive as a special teams performer as an undrafted rookie a year ago and did a nice job defensively when called upon.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters – LCB Kelvin Hayden, RCB Marlin Jackson, SS Bob Sanders, FS Antoine Bethea. Backups – CB Brandon Anderson, S Melvin Bullitt, CB Michael Coe, S Matt Giordano, CB Nick Graham, CB Dante Hughes, CB Tim Jennings, CB Travis Key, CB Jacob Lacey, CB Jerraud Powers, CB T.J. Rushing, S Jamie Silva.

Hayden was re-signed during the offseason and Jackson made a strong recovery during the offseason from knee surgery. The pair gives Indianapolis as soon a set of starting cornerbacks in the league. When healthy, Sanders is one of the top strong safeties (and hardest hitters) around. He is due for a big, big year. Bethea’s performance appeared to have slipped a little bit in 2008 but he remains a major part of the Colts’ defensive secondary. Bullitt, Giordano, and Silva give Indianapolis really good depth at safety. All four can play either strong or free safety, giving the team a lot of flexibility. Jennings and Hughes will battle for the nickel role, as will Coe (who is coming off season-ending knee surgery) and Powers (a third-round draft past spring who was impressive in the team’s mini-camps and OTAs).

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Adam Vinatieri, P Pat McAfee, LS Justin Snow, PR Pierre Garcon, KR Chad Simpson. Backups – PK Shane Andrus, P Tim Masthay, PR/KR T.J. Rushing, LS Jacob Tamme.

Vinatieri remains as one of the NFL’s best kickers, but offseason hip and knee surgery could relegate him to limited work in training camp. He is, however, expected to be fine for the start of the regular season. Just in case, though, the Colts brought back Andrus as an insurance policy. He originally signed with Indianapolis as an undrafted rookie two years ago and has been with the Giants and Buccaneers. With Hunter Smith now with the Washington Redskins, seventh-round draft pick McAfee will take over as the Colts’ punter. He can also kickoff if needed and will probably be the team’s regular holder as well. Masthay, another rookie, was signed to split the punting duties in the offseason and preseason. Rushing was the Colts’ primary kickoff and punt return man in 2007 but missed all of last season with a knee injury. He hopes to get his job back but Garcon and Simpson will also be in the mix. The biggest impact on special teams, however, will be the addition of former University of South Carolina assistant coach Ray Rychelski as the Colts’ new special teams coach. His aggressive coaching style will be interesting to watch this season.