Colts training camp primer: Defense, Luck must stay upright to contend
A season after appearing in the AFC Championship Game, things went south for the Colts in 2015, as injuries to Andrew Luck derailed a season filled with high hopes. Luck started only seven games last year, but Indy still managed eight wins thanks in large part to four victories within a subpar AFC South. Coach Chuck Pagano looked dead in the water down the stretch, but after multiple reports of his imminent firing and friction with general manager Ryan Grigson, owner Jim Irsay had a change of heart and brought Pagano back for 2016.
Front office discord aside, the Colts should emerge from the preseason as favorites to win the division, provided Luck stays healthy. The former No. 1 pick threw too many interceptions last year (12 in seven games), but he was also continually failed by a porous offensive line. If that unit steps up comes together in camp under the direction of new position coach Joe Philbin, it would be a game-changer for Luck. The Colts have some key players on the wrong side of 30 on defense, including linebackers Robert Mathis and Trent Cole. Though they may be talented, Pagano will again be asking a lot from players outside of their primes and crossing his fingers that injuries don’t test their depth. Still, Luck’s return to form seems likely. If Pagano can shepherd his defense out of the bottom third of the league, Indy could have serious Super Bowl aspirations. Here’s everything you need to know about Colts training camp, from a rookie on the rise to position battle predictions to tips for tolerating the preseason.
The Rookie: With a strong camp, safety T.J. Green could push to join second-year pro Clayton Geathers as another young contributor at the back of the Colts’ veteran secondary. Green only played defense full-time for two years at Clemson and only had one full season of starting experience. Can he live up to his second-round status? The Colts will play their share of shootouts, and Green’s speed at safety could earn him more time as the season wears on. If Indy hit on this pick, it could pay serious dividends against the Colts’ top rivals.
Position Battle Spoilers: The right side of the offensive line is up for grabs, and whoever wins those spots will be counted on to keep Luck upright consistently for first time in his career. With rookie Ryan Kelly sliding in at center, all eyes will be on Hugh Thornton and Jonotthan Harrison at right guard and Joe Reitz and Denzelle Good at right tackle to see who can solidify the line. Harrison and Good should have the upper hand thanks to an experience edge over their competitors.
The Stat: 118, the number of quarterback hits the Colts gave up last season, second most in the NFL. If Luck’s health is the key to the team’s success, then the entire offense, Luck included, needs to make a concerted effort to bring that number way down in 2016.
Preseason Watchability Guide: Right off the bat, Indy will face a solid front seven in the Bengals for their preseason opener. A drive or two against Cincy’s first team should the help the Colts get an early sense of where they are with their offensive line and who fits best on the right side.