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Indianapolis Colts Season Preview

The Indianapolis Colts success in 2017 will depend on star quarterback Andrew Luck‘s health and availability. During the offseason, Luck had surgery on his throwing shoulder for an injury that occurred in 2015. He was finally removed from the physically unable to perform list on Saturday’s deadline, which means he is now able to practice with the team and is on the active roster.

The Colts have been very shallow when it comes to Lucks injury, not giving a timeline or telling anybody when he will be back on the field. Colts GM Chris Ballard said Luck will not play in the teams September 10th season opener. It is unclear when Luck will see the field for the Colts in 2017.

Key Additions

The Colts fired GM Ryan Grigson in January and shortly after began the Chris Ballard era. Ballard was the director of player personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs before being brought to Indianapolis as the general manager.

Ballard got to work quickly, releasing many Colts veterans that were no longer contributing to the team.

The Colts immediately improved their defense in free agency by adding linebackers John Simon and Jabaal Sheard. Both have high expectations to improve the pass rush in Indy in 2017.

Simon signed a three year, 13.5 million dollar deal with the Colts after spending the first four years of his career with the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. Simon has recorded 120 tackles and 10 sacks in his NFL career. He showed his worth in the preseason by forcing a turnover in each of the first three games. Simon is expected to have a breakout year with the largest role he’s ever had in the NFL.

Sheard signed a three year, 25.5 million dollar deal with the Colts after winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2016. He spent the first four years of his career with the Browns before signing with the Patriots in 2015. In 89 career games, Sheard has recorded 260 tackles, 36 sacks and 18 pass deflections. Sheard was a starter and key contributor for the 2016 NFL Super Bowl winning Patriots. He has high expectations as Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said he sees Sheard as a double-digit sack guy.

The Colts also beefed up their defensive line in free agency, adding nose tackle Al Woods and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

Woods, an eight year veteran, was brought in as a free agent from division rival Tennessee Titans on a two year, four million dollar deal. In 81 career games Woods has accumulated 104 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Woods is not a flashy signing, but he will be a good veteran leader for the Colts defense who provides great depth and run defense.

Hankins spent the first four years with the New York Giants, appearing in 52 games and recording 140 tackles and 10 sacks. Hankins cashed in with the Colts, getting a three year, 27 million dollar deal. Hankins was a very good player with the Giants in his first three seasons, but had an off year in 2016 when he had to switch positions along the defensive line due to the arrival of Damon Harrison. Hankins is expected to anchor the Colts defense against the run while being able to provide an interior pass rush.

The Colts made key additions to both sides of the ball through the draft including Malik HookerQuincy Wilson, and Marlon Mack, as well as many others.

Hooker, a 6’1″, 206 pound free safety out of Ohio State, was the Colts first round pick in the draft, selected 15th overall. As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, he recorded 74 tackles, seven interceptions, and four pass deflections. Hooker earned first team All-American and first team All-Big Ten awards due to his impressive performance. Hooker had almost as many interceptions (seven) last year as the Colts did (eight), so he will come in and provide instant improvement to the Colts secondary.

Wilson, a 6’1″ corner out of Florida, was selected in the second round of the draft by the Colts. In 2016, Wilson recorded 33 tackles, three interceptions, and six pass deflections, while allowing an NFL passer rating of just 29.9 on throws into his coverage. Wilson was only targeted 49 times in 2016 and was regarded as one of the best corners in all of college football. He is expected to immediately improve one of the Colts worst position groups.

Mack, a 5’11” running back out of South Florida, was selected in the fourth round of the draft by the Colts. Mack had an impressive training camp and preseason with the Colts. Last year at South Florida, Mack ran 174 times for 1187 yards and 15 touchdowns. Mack has shown he can run, catch, and block. He provides a skillset that no other back on the  Colts can offer.

Overall, the addition of Chris Ballard as GM was the greatest addition, as he provides football knowledge that Ryan Grigson never seemed to have. Ballard had a great offseason and acquired players that will improve the Colts on both sides of the ball.

Key Losses

During the offseason, the Colts lost a few key players while getting rid of some dead weight. Some players retired, while others were cut, traded, or got injured.

Due to retirement, the Colts lost All-Pro punter and two-time pro-bowler Pat McAfee, six-time pro-bowler and future Hall of Famer Robert Mathis, and starting right tackle Joe Reitz.

McAfee, only 30 years old, retired during the offseason to join Barstool Sports. McAfee was one of the best punters in the league before hanging up the cleats. McAfee, a comedian, was a fan favorite and locker room favorite, so even though he’s a punter it is a big loss for the Colts.

Mathis was drafted in 2003 by the Colts and spent his whole 14 year career with the Colts before retiring after the season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. At age 36, Mathis had a very long and productive career, finishing with the 17th most sacks in NFL history and most strip sacks in NFL history. Last year Mathis provided five sacks. Losing Mathis is a huge blow as he was the leader and heart of the defense and is a future Hall of Famer. However, Mathis has been with the team coaching and teaching the linebackers throughout the offseason and is expected to continue to help the team in a coaching role during the regular season.

Reitz retired at the age of 32 after spending the past six seasons with the Colts. Reitz was the starting right tackle, and while he had his ups and downs, was a solid player. In 2016, Reitz was named the Colts Man of the Year for his efforts to help the community, which nominated him as a candidate for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Reitz’ efforts in the community will be missed in Indianapolis.

The Colts didn’t retain veterans Mike Adams and Erik Walden in free agency who played large roles on the defense.

Adams was one of the main leaders for the Colts defense, but at age 36 the Colts decided to let him walk. In his three years with the Colts, Adams recorded 12 interceptions and 19 pass deflections.

Walden had a career year in 2016 with 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, and 42 tackles, but at 32 years old the Colts decided not to retain him in free agency. Walden was terrific at setting the edge and provided some toughness to the Colts front seven.

In two separate trades, the Colts got rid of Dwayne Allen and Phillip Dorsett, both landing in New England.

Dwayne Allen was a third round pick by the Colts in the 2012 NFL draft. In 2016, Allen appeared in 14 games catching 35 passes for 406 yards and six touchdowns. Jack Doyle will take over as the teams number one tight end.

Dorsett was a first round pick by the Colts in the 2015 NFL draft but never lived up to expectations. In his first two seasons, Dorsett caught 51 passes for 753 yards and three touchdowns.

A neck injury will sideline starting strong safety Clayton Geathers for six weeks as he was placed on the PUP list before training camp.

Strengths

The main strength of the Colts has always been their offense, but with the status of Andrew Luck still cloudy for the beginning of the season, the offense may turn into a weakness until Luck returns.

However, when Luck returns to the offense, the Colts biggest strength will be their offense. Luck has the ability to light up any defense and score points no matter what.

The wide receiver corps is a strong group for the Colts, with 2016 NFL receiving leader T.Y. Hilton leading the pack. Donte Moncrief had an impressive OTA’s and training camp and is set for a breakout year if he can stay healthy. Undrafted second year receiver Chester Rogers had an impressive training camp before getting hurt, but he is expected to be ready week one.

The defensive line of the Indianapolis Colts is another very strong group. Henry Anderson is fully recovered from a knee injury he suffered in 2015. John Hankins is a major upgrade over former starter David Parry. Newly acquired Al Woods, second year player Hassan Ridgeway, and rookie Tarell Basham all provide great depth for a strong defensive line.

Weaknesses

The Colts cornerback group is extremely underwhelming, especially with Vontae Davis expected to miss a few weeks with a significant groin injury. Rashaan Melvin is the starting corner opposite of Davis, but will slide into the number one spot until he is healthy. Rookies Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston are expected to receive significant playing time.

The right tackle void left by Joe Reitz retirement has yet to be figured out. Heading into training camp, it was second-year Le’Raven Clark ‘s job to lose, but it appeared as if he didn’t even want the job. The right tackle starting spot is still completely up for grabs as week one quickly approaches.

Season Prediction

It is very hard to predict how the Colts will do this season considering we don’t know when Andrew Luck, Ryan Kelly, Vontae Davis, or Clayton Geathers will play.

Based on 2016, the Colts have the easiest strength of schedule in 2017, facing only two teams who won 10 games or more last season.

Without Andrew Luck, things aren’t very bright for the Colts, but they could be able to steal a couple of wins without him as they face both the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns in the first three weeks.

Once Luck returns, I think the Colts will do much better than many are expecting. I see the Colts winning nine games, finishing with a record of 9-7 in a much better season than expected. Luck will play lights out when he returns, and the faster, younger defense will create more turnovers and play much better than the Colts defense has in recent years.

 

Photo Credits: USA Today
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