Indianapolis hoping offseason gambles produce Super Bowl run
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Colts are going all in on a Super Bowl run.
They've surrounded their perfectly groomed franchise quarterback with more speed, more power and a stronger defense. They've made no secret of their goal.
Now it's time to see if Indianapolis finally has a strong enough hand to trump New England.
''Robert (Mathis) pointed up to the 2006 (Super Bowl) banner and he said that needs to happen again this year,'' tight end Dwayne Allen said after a June practice at Lucas Oil Stadium. ''It's one of those things where, again, we all know the type of team that we have and we know what lies ahead.''
Training camp opens Saturday at nearby Anderson University, and nobody expects the next step on Indy's journey to come easily.
The Patriots still pose the biggest obstacle in the AFC, Peyton Manning still plays in Denver, Pittsburgh still causes matchup problems, and the Colts still must prove they can defend the league's top offenses.
Then again, the Colts have beaten longer odds.
They gambled by releasing the injured Manning in 2012 and turning the franchise over to the talented but untested Andrew Luck. All Luck has done is lead Indy to 11 wins and playoff appearances in each of his first three NFL seasons, two straight division titles, and taken the Colts one step deeper in the playoffs each year.
What's next? Winning a championship, of course.
''He (owner Jim Irsay) has the same goals we have, to hang another banner up and to win that Super Bowl,'' coach Chuck Pagano said. ''That's what we want to do and that's the plan.''
Here are some other things to watch at training camp:
HOLDING THE LINE: Indianapolis used 18 different starting offensive line combinations over the past two seasons. Finding continuity would help achieve two priorities - keeping Luck upright and establishing a ground game. Things are already off to a rough start. The Colts released right tackle Gosder Cherilus on Sunday after failing to agree on a revamped contract. With Cherilus gone, expect Jack Mewhort to move from left guard to right tackle. Herremans could start at right guard and there will be competitions to sort out at center and left guard.
POWER FOOTBALL: The Trent Richardson experiment didn't work. Injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw couldn't stay on the field long enough, and the promising Vick Ballard was derailed by back-to-back season-ending injuries. This year, the Colts think they may have found the answer to a power running game with Gore, San Francisco's career rushing leader (11,073 yards). Indy already knows what it has in Gore: a strong, grinding back who wears down defenses. If he plays well, the Colts could have one of the NFL's top offenses. But Gore is 32 and is working behind an unfamiliar line that hasn't yet proved it can consistently open running lanes.
CATCHING ON: Reggie Wayne is gone, but Luck will have his deepest receiving group yet. There's Johnson, a perennial Pro Bowler and Wayne's longtime friend, and Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton. Donte Moncrief flashed big-play potential as a rookie, and the Colts added Phillip Dorsett's game-breaking speed in the first round of the draft. So far, Dorsett has shown better hands than advertised, too. The Colts also signed veteran free agent Vincent Brown, former CFL star Duron Carter, and still have tight ends Allen and Coby Fleener. The only real question is how Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will keep everyone involved and happy?
RUN D: All eyes will be on a run defense New England pounded twice last season. The little-known Jonas Gray ran for 199 yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns in a 42-20 victory at Indy. Two months later, LeGarrette Blount rushed for 148 yards and three TDs in the 45-7 win in the AFC championship game. If the Colts can't solve this problem, they can forget about playing in February.
RETURN OF THE PASS RUSH: Mathis, the 2013 NFL sacks champ, missed last season because of a league-imposed suspension and a torn left Achilles tendon. Now the 34-year-old Mathis is attempting a comeback. If he defies the odds and plays like his old self, Indy would get one of the league's most feared pass rushers - a huge boost for a team looking for a more consistent pass rush.
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