In the wake of the Cinderella season that the Indianapolis Colts experienced last year, where everything seemingly went right on the field, perhaps what’s been happening to the team over the past few days shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
Maybe it was time for a little bad luck to set in. How bad? Since late last week, the Colts have lost three offensive starters for the season – running back Vick Ballard (knee, torn ACL), offensive guard Donald Thomas (quad, torn ligament) and, the most recent, tight end Dwayne Allen (hip).
Ballard was injured in a non-contact drill during practice last Thursday. Thomas was sidelined midway through the first quarter of last Sunday’s home loss to Miami.
It was announced Wednesday afternoon that Allen, who was injured in Indianapolis’ season-opening win over Oakland two weeks ago, would soon be undergoing surgery that would end his season.
He was hurt while trying to haul in a third-quarter pass from quarterback Andrew Luck in the Raiders' game, falling awkwardly after being hit by an Oakland defender.
To say that the Colts will be limping into this week’s road game with the San Francisco 49ers might be stretching it a bit. But it is safe to assume that the Indianapolis coaching staff will be busy trying to put together a game plan that will feature a few different parts on offense.
“Like Donald [Thomas], like Vick [Ballard], like anybody we’ve lost to this point, makes you sick. Injuries are part of this game. We all understand that. We know that. But it will be next man up,” Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday.
“Like the others, we feel for him. But [Allen] will go and get it taken care of, rehab and be back for the offseason program in 2014.”
The decision to sit the second-year tight end from Clemson came somewhat as a surprise.
“We were all hoping that it would be something that with time and with rest, he would come around. [Allen] is a tough, tough, tough kid,” Pagano explained.
“Playing through the foot injury [for example]. But once we got the [hip] evaluated, we saw exactly what the doctors saw in there and what needed to be done. For the long term and the big picture, it’s the right thing to do right now.”
Ballard will be replaced by running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Offensive guards Joe Reitz or rookie Hugh Thornton will take over for Thomas. And second-year tight end Coby Fleener will now get the bulk of the work instead of splitting time with Allen.
Dominique Jones and recently signed Jack Doyle should rotate as Fleener’s primary backups. Rookie Justice Cunningham, who is currently on the practice squad, may be elevated to the active roster as well.
“We’re going to do whatever we have to do that gives us the best chance to win [Sunday],” the Colts coach said.
Moving on – As tough as it will be to move on from their recent spate of major injuries, the Colts’ concentration is now on facing what is expected to be a surly San Francisco team this week. The 49ers are coming off a 29-3 loss to NFC West rival Seattle.
“Guys are excited to get back out on the football field [after Indianapolis’ 24-20 home loss to Oakland] and get ready. We know that we have a great challenge ahead of us. First road game, hostile environment, you can go on and on and on,” Pagano said. “But we’re worrying about us. Fixing the things that we need to fix and prepare the best we can. Go execute and stick to the process.”
That’s the key, the Colts coach stressed.
“Just focus on us. Need to be more consistent. Play 60 minutes of consistent football. Don’t leave plays out there. Don’t leave points out there on the field. Take care of us. We know what we’re about to face. We’re playing a really good football team,” Pagano said.
“They’re well-coached. They’ve got great players all over the place. So it’s more about us. It’s more about our preparation, it’s more about our focus. Knowing exactly what to do so we can go out there and play fast.”
Lot of connections – There will be plenty of familiar faces on both sidelines Sunday when the Colts arrive at San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh played quarterback for the Colts from 1994-97 and is in the team's Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium.
He also was the head coach at Stanford who recruited current Indianapolis players Andrew Luck, Delano Howell and Fleener. Luck, Howell, Fleener and wide receiver Griff Whalen (who had been a walk-on) all played for Harbaugh in college.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio served in the same capacity with the Colts (1999-01) and at Stanford. Indianapolis cornerback Vontae Davis is the younger brother of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton served on Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff at Stanford. He served as wide receivers coach on Harbaugh’s Stanford 2010 team. Hamilton also served as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach in San Francisco during the 2006 season.
Indianapolis defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was the San Francisco defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2010. Colts defensive line coach Gary Emanuel was the 49ers defensive line coach from 2005-06.
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois played for the 49ers from 2009 to 2012. Outside linebacker Cam Johnson played for San Francisco last season.
Injury list – Sitting out practice Wednesday, besides Allen, were inside linebacker Pat Angerer (knee), safety Antoine Bethea (toe) and safety LaRon Landry (ankle).
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (groin) and wide receiver/kick returner David Reed (quad) both saw limited work. Inside linebacker Kavell Conner (ankle), wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (ribs), center Samson Satele (elbow) and wide receiver Reggie Wayne (shoulder) all had full practice.