As the Indianapolis Colts prepare for the start of training camp at Anderson University, there are plenty of questions facing a National Football League team that posted an 11-5 record, finished second in the AFC South and earned an AFC wild-card playoff spot.
Players and coaches are scheduled to report Saturday for the three-week workouts. The first public practice is set for 1:50 p.m. Sunday. There will be a closed session at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
As for the questions surrounding the Colts, the first is how the team will perform with the return of head coach Chuck Pagano to full-time status this season. Pagano missed most of the 2012 campaign as he battled leukemia, although he was back on the sidelines for the final game of the regular season and for the Colts’ playoff game with eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore.
Pagano appears to be back on the road to recovery and was impressive during the team’s spring organized team activity workouts. Despite being away from the sidelines last year, he was able to stay involved in the team’s weekly game preparations. Make no mistake about it, this team is being molded to his style of play.
Added to that equation is the addition of former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as the new offensive coordinator, taking over from new Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.
Secondly, how quickly will the Colts’ long list of new players become acclimated with their new surroundings? Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson was quite busy during the offseason, adding several new potential starters.
Nearly two-thirds of the Indianapolis roster was turned over from a year ago. Defensive end Dwight Freeney, cornerback Jerraud Powers, wide receivers Austin Collie and Donnie Avery and strong safety Tom Zbikowski are no longer with the team.
Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, offensive guard Donald Thomas, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, outside linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler and strong safety LaRon Landry all figure to start.
Cherilus and Thomas should help to solidify an inconsistent offensive line. Heyward-Bey is expected to give the Colts some help as a deep threat in the pass game. Francois, Franklin, Walden, Toler and Landry are being counted on to give the Colts’ defense an infusion of athletic ability and talent.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and outside linebacker Lawrence Sidbury will be valuable backups. Bradshaw, if fully recovered from offseason foot surgery, will most likely share the workload at running back with returnees Vick Ballard, Donald Brown and Delone Carter.
Thirdly, how will the first-year newcomers work themselves into key roles with the team? Nose tackle Josh Chapman, a 2012 draft pick, missed his entire rookie season as he recovered from knee surgery. And outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2013, will be in the mix for a starting role this year.
The expectations are high for the Colts in 2013. Indianapolis coaches and players want to prove that last year was no fluke and that the franchise is well on it ways towards re-establishing itself as one of the AFC’s best.
TRAINING CAMP: Camp will be on the Anderson University campus. It will wrap up on Aug. 16 with a 10:30 a.m. practice. There will be only one public evening session, at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 6.
Colts City will be open to fans during most of the training camp sessions.
With Werner, the team’s top draft pick, signing with Indianapolis on Wednesday, all of the Colts drafty picks are in the fold and ready for the start of practice.
Werner inked a four-year deal worth $7.896 million. That includes a $4.122 million signing bonus. The first three years of his contract are fully guaranteed.
STRENGTHS: Talented play-making youth on offense. Starting with second-year quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts will be able to utilize talented players like wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and Ballard.
Luck had a very good rookie season, as did Hilton, Fleener, Allen and Ballard. But there is still plenty of room to improve.
There is a new offensive system, but its one in which Luck, Fleener and backup wide receiver Griff Whalen are all very familiar with. First-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton coached Luck, Fleener and Whalen two years ago at Stanford.
WEAKNESSES: The offensive line and special teams play. Three starters on the offensive line return — center Samson Satele, offensive guard Mike McGlynn and offensive tackle Anthony Castanzo.
There will be two new starters in Thomas (New England) and Cherilus (Detroit). There is also a new offensive line coach in Joe Gilbert, who was promoted from assistant offensive line coach in the offseason.
Indianapolis also brought in a new special teams coordinator in Tom McMahon, who previously led Kansas City’s special teams unit. There has to be steady improvement in kickoff and punt coverage as well as in kickoff and punt returns.
BIGGEST SURPRISE OF OFFSEASON: That the Colts were able to add a running back with the talents of Bradshaw so late in the process.
The former Giants workhorse was signed to the Indianapolis roster during the final week of OTA practices and did not take part in any workouts with the team. He had foot surgery in January and will not be ready to go for the start of training camp.
When he is completely healed, Bradshaw will be the most complete back and most likely the best pass blocker in the Colts’ offensive backfield. He will become part of a three-back rotation, along with Ballard and Brown.
ON THE HOT SEAT: Fleener. Fleener was the Colts’ second-round draft pick in 2012, following the selection of his former Stanford teammate, Luck.
Considered the top tight end prospect available in last year’s draft, he was slowed during OTAs and training camp by minor injuries. Consequently, another tight end — third-round pick Allen — got the bulk of the offseason and preseason work.
Allen showed that he is a pretty good tight end in his own right and proved to be a much better end-line blocker than some scouting reports may have suggested.
As for Fleener, he came on towards the middle portion of last season and finished the year on an up note. With Hamilton now running the Indianapolis offense, his overall production is expected to skyrocket.
QUESTION MARKS: Wide receiver LaVon Brazill was suspended by the NFL for violations of the league’s substance abuse policies.
Brazill will miss the first four games of the regular season. Also, safety Joe Lefeged was arrested several weeks ago after an incident in Washington, D.C.
Before the end of the Colts’ OTA workouts, Pagano talked to the Colts’ players about making smart decisions this summer.
“So the big thing was No. 1, make great choices. Take time off, spend time with family, recharge, do what you have to do mentally, physically, but make great choices,” he said.
“Don’t put yourself in a bad situation because really the only thing that will derail us from having a successful training camp and the start of a great season is a distraction, having something bad happen. We see it all the time, we read about it all the time, so those are the things we emphasized.”
The status of outside linebacker Josh McNary is also up in the air. McNary played at West Point and signed a free agent contract with the Colts this past spring.
He was scheduled to be released from his United States Army commitment in late May or early June. McNary had hoped to participate in a few days of OTA practices, but that didn’t happen.
It’s not know if he will be available to the Colts for the start of training camp.
ROSTER MOVES: The Colts made some late changes to their roster Thursday, signing outside linebacker Daniel Adongo and waiving suspended tight end Weslye Saunders.
Adongo (6-5, 257) is a 23-year-old Kenyan national who most recently played for the Southern Kings of Super 15 Rugby, the highest level of pro rugby in the world. Previously, he played in the 2012 Varsity Cup for the University of Pretoria Tuks and is currently working toward earning his degree from the school.
In 2011, Adongo was signed by the Vodacom Blue Bulls, but was released from his contact after six months to join the New Zealand ITM Cup team Counties Manukau. He graduated from Strathmore High School (Nairobi, Kenya) in 2006 and attended the University of South Africa the following year.
He also attended the Sharks Academy, a rugby academy accredited by South African Rugby, and made his senior debut in the 2010 Vodacom Cup. In addition, Adongo played for the Kenya Harlequins junior team before going on to play for Kenya’s U-18 and U-19 national teams.
“We are excited as an organization with the acquisition of Daniel Adongo,” Grigson said in a prepared statement. “He is not only an elite athlete and rising international rugby player, but he is an exceptional competitor and human being that has the right makeup for our sport. We all look forward to watching his growth and development in the ensuing weeks.”
Saunders was originally signed by the Colts last October. He played in 11 games (four starts) last season and recorded two receptions for 15 yards. Saunders had been suspended by league officials for the first eight games of the 2013 season after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policies. It was the second time during his pro career that he had run afoul of league substance abuse policies (previously while with the Pittsburgh Steelers).
QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Luck. Backups — Chandler Harnish, Hasselbeck.
Luck heads into his second year in the league in pretty good position to make huge improvement in his game. First of all, he was able to attend all of the Colts’ offseason and OTA workouts this past spring. That’s something he couldn’t do a year ago due to school commitments. He has a year of league experience under his belt. And, most importantly, his former coordinator at Stanford is now running the Indianapolis offense. Improving completion percentage along with doing a better job of avoiding turnovers are the primary objectives. The addition of Hasselbeck gives the Colts their best primary backup in nearly a decade. Harnish is still learning his way.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Ballard. Backups — Bradshaw, Brown, Carter, Stanley Havili (FB), Dave Meggett, Dan Moore (RB/FB), Kerwynn Williams.
The addition of Bradshaw towards the end of OTA workouts put the starting job up for grabs. Ballard was the top man for most of last season and was spelled by Brown and Carter. If healthy, though, Bradshaw is the most complete back on the Colts roster. Getting and staying healthy will determine how much Bradshaw plays in 2013. Carter might be the odd man out due to continued injury issues. Havili was an offseason addition to give the Colts at least one fullback on the roster, although Moore could play that role too. Williams is expected to get his feet wet on special teams as a kickoff and punt returner.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Allen. Backups — Justice Cunningham, Fleener, Dominque Jones.
Allen and Fleener gives Indianapolis perhaps the best one-two tight end punch in the AFC if not the entire league. They’re both entering their second seasons in the NFL. Allen and Fleener are big, quick and athletic. They can become game-changers as downfield receivers. Cunningham was a seventh-round pick last spring and impressed during OTAs. Jones was a backup contributor a year ago.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starter — Reggie Wayne, Heyward-Bey. Backups — Brazill, Hilton, Jeremy Kelley, Nathan Palmer, Rodrick Rumble, Lanear Sampson, Jabin Sambrano, Whalen.
Wayne is coming off an outstanding season. Hilton burst onto the NFL scene as a rookie last year and is expected to be even more involved in the Colts offense in 2013. The addition of Heyward-Bey gives the Colts a big, quick and extremely athletic downfield threat. His biggest issue in Oakland was with consistency. Brazill is suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. He has the ability to match Hilton as a big-play performer. How hard he works at it remains to be seen. Palmer and Whalen are expected to make a big push during training camp.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starter — LT Castonzo, LG McGlynn, C Satele, RG Thomas, RT Cherilus. Backups — OG Justin Anderson, OT Emmett Cleary, C Khaled Holmes, OG/OT Ben Ijalana, OT Jeff Linkenbach, OG Joe Reitz, C Rick Schmeig, OT Bradley Sowell, OG Hugh Thornton, OT Lee Ziemba.
Castonzo had a solid second year as a starter for Indianapolis. The Colts will have two new starters on the offensive line with the addition of Thomas and Cherilus through veteran free agency. That number could end up at four by the end of the season if rookies Thornton and Holmes are as good as most people think they are. Reitz and Linkenbach have proven to be good backup guys who can step in and start if needed. The jury is still out on Anderson and Ijalana, who have both battled injuries during their short NFL careers.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starter — DE Cory Redding, NT Chapman, DT Jean Francois. Backups — DT Aubrayo Franklin, DE Lawrence Guy, DT Kellen Heard, DT/NT Montori Hughes, DT Ricardo Mathews, NT Brandon McKinney, DE Fili Moala, DT Drake Nevis, NT Martin Tevasue.
Redding is the lone returning starter after a strong season in 2012. Chapman returns after missing his rookie year with a knee injury incurred in college. Jean Francois moves over from San Francisco and is expected to move right into the Colts’ starting lineup. Chapman had a great spring and could be a major difference maker on the defensive line for Indianapolis. McKinney (who missed all of last season with a knee injury), Franklin, Moala are all quality backups who could start. Mathews and Nevis could be on the bubble during training camp. Hughes is a project who has huge upside physically.
LINEBACKERS: Starter — SLB Walden, MLB Kavell Conner, WLB Jerrell Freeman, Rush LB Robert Mathis. Backups — OLB Daniel Adongo, ILB Pat Angerer, ILB Mario Harvey, OLB Justin Hickman, ILB Scott Lutrus, OLB C.O. Prime, OLB Caesar Rayford, ILB Kelvin Sheppard, OLB Lawrence Sidbury, OLB Quinton Spears. Military reserve list — OLB Josh McNary.
A bit of a shakeup at linebacker for the Colts heading into the 2013 season. Walden comes over from Green Bay will start on the strong side. With Dwight Freeney no longer on the roster, Mathis moves over to the rush linebacker spot. Conner, Angerer and Sheppard — picked up in a trade with Buffalo for former first-round pick Jerry Hughes — figure to battle it out for one of the inside linebacking positions. Freeman made a huge impression as a first-year starter last season as he led the team in total tackles. He is expected to be even better this time around. Indianapolis has good depth at linebacker with Harvey, Hickman, Sidbury ready to play if needed.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starter — LCB Vontae Davis, SS Landry, FS Antoine Bethea, RCB Toler. Backups — SS Larry Asante, SS John Boyett, FS Sergio Brown, CB Darius Butler, CB Allen Chapman, CB Josh Gordy, CB Marshay Green, CB Sheldon Price, S Daxton Swanson, CB Cassius Vaughn, CB Teddy Williams.
Toler and Landry give Indianapolis two athletic and hard-hitting defensive backs. The starting secondary of Davis, Landry, Bethea and Toler — if they can remain healthy — can develop into a pretty solid group. Landry’s addition should help fortify a leaky run defense. Butler, Vaughn and Williams provide pretty good depth at cornerback. Brown has shown glimpses of his skills but needs to do it on a more consistent basis. The Colts added some young defensive backs — Boyett, Chapman, Price, Swanson — who could develop into pretty good players.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Starter — PK Adam Vinatieri, P/KO/H Pat McAfee, LS Matt Overton. Backups — P/K Brandon McManus.
Vinatieri is entering the final year of his Colts contract. He remains, however, one of the best clutch placekickers in the league. McAfee handles punting and kickoffs for Indianapolis and is also the team’s primary holder. He is playing 2013 under his franchise player contract, although a new deal is expected to be signed at some point this season. Overton took over last year as the long snapper and did a nice job in a tough situation. McManus was impressive during OTAs and may end up on the practice squad. Hilton, Vaughn, and Williams are all expected to get long looks as punt and kickoff returners.