1 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

September 04, 2011

The health of their franchise quarterback isn't the only concern

Sooner or later, the Colts will have to confront the unimaginable: winning without Peyton Manning carrying the team. For the first time since the Clinton Administration, the franchise has a glimpse of that future. The uncertainty looming over the health of the four-time MVP, who is recovering from neck surgery and will miss the entire preseason, prompted the front office to sign 38-year-old Kerry Collins as insurance for any prolonged absence. Regardless of when Manning returns, the Colts appear more vulnerable than they have in years.

But more than their franchise quarterback separates the Colts from another run deep into January. Team owner Jim Irsay said it all with a tweet during the preseason: "defense has 2 pick it up, big time!"

An inconsistent—soft, really—defense, which allowed its most yards per game (353.7) and points (24.3) since 2001, was the big reason why the Colts finished with their worst record in nine seasons and needed wins in their last four games just to sneak into the playoffs. "Last year we weren't horrible, but we didn't have close to that same consistency [we've had in the past]," says defensive end Dwight Freeney. "We need to get back to being dominant every game, and it all starts with getting more pressure on the quarterback."

The Colts' front office rarely spends on free agents, but this off-season they opened the wallet for a trio of former first-round picks whose approval ratings have sunk more than your congressman's: defensive tackle Tommie Harris (from the Bears), defensive end Jamaal Anderson (Falcons) and linebacker Ernie Sims (Eagles). The signings were aimed at bolstering a defensive front seven that tied for 23rd in the league in sacks, with Freeney and Robert Mathis accounting for 21 of the team's 30. The Colts need more production from defensive end and 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes, who is already being declared a bust after a poor rookie year—team vice chairman Bill Polian admitted on a radio show that Indy should have used the pick on an offensive tackle. "The game felt really fast last year," says Hughes, who worked on short-burst drills to improve his explosiveness off the edge. "They say you have to be a pitcher, not a thrower, and right now I'm working on adding pitches—adding more moves—to my repertoire."

The biggest difference-makers in camp have been Harris and Sims, "two veterans who have really energized the defense," says Freeney. "People have kind of forgotten about them, but when they're healthy they can be as good as anyone. And they're healthy." The Colts believe both will thrive in the team's Tampa Two scheme, which relies on speedy, agile players who can take advantage of the fast Lucas Oil turf or drop 10 to 12 yards into coverage. Sims, 26, is a 6-foot, 230-pound fleet-footed linebacker in the mold, at his best, of Derrick Brooks; he excelled in the Tampa Two in Detroit (420 tackles in four seasons) before struggling in Philadelphia's 3--4 defense last year. Harris, 28, has been slowed by knee injuries for the last two seasons—"I'm feeling great," he insisted during camp, "and ready to prove I have a lot left in the tank"—but the 6'3", 295-pound lineman was a three-time Pro Bowler in Lovie Smith's Tampa Two in Chicago. "This team was the best fit for me," says Harris, who auditioned for the Patriots before coming to Indy. "I wanted to be somewhere where guys get up the field."

Last year the Colts, who survived a tsunami of injuries (21 players on the injured reserve list), were saved by an offense that—despite losing wideouts Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie and tight end Dallas Clark for significant time—was a juggernaut, ranking fourth in the league in yards and points. But the core of the offense is aging quickly. Manning, who set a career high in completions and passing yards and agreed to a five-year, $90 million extension in the off-season, is 35. Five-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday is 36, while Clark and wide receiver Reggie Wayne are 32.

The clock is ticking in Indianapolis. The Colts as we know them won't have many more chances to prove that they are more than the NFL's version of the Atlanta Braves, with just one Super Bowl win in the Manning era despite appearing in 11 postseasons. With Lucas Oil Stadium as the site of this year's NFL title game, they'll have the chance to be the first team to win the Lombardi Trophy on their home turf. But the Colts will need to do more than pray for a healthy quarterback. Says Freeney, "We know the defense needs to step up for this to be a championship team."

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 4

QB PEYTON MANNING

ATT 679

COMP 450

PCT 66.3

YARDS 4,700

YD/ATT 6.92

TD 33

INT 17

RATING 91.9

RB JOSEPH ADDAI

ATT 116

YARDS 495

REC 19

TTD 4

WR REGGIE WAYNE

REC 111

YARDS 1,355

AVG 12.2

TTD 6

WR AUSTIN COLLIE

REC 58

YARDS 649

AVG 11.2

TTD 8

WR PIERRE GARÇON

REC 67

YARDS 784

AVG 11.7

TTD 6

TE DALLAS CLARK

REC 37

YARDS 347

AVG 9.4

TTD 3

LT ANTHONY CASTONZO (R)

G 13

STARTS 13

LG BEN IJALANA (R)

G 14

STARTS 14

C JEFF SATURDAY

G 16

SACKS ½

HOLD 3

FALSE 1

RG MIKE POLLAK

G 16

SACKS 0

HOLD 1

FALSE 1

RT RYAN DIEM

G 16

SACKS 6

HOLD 1

FALSE 8

RB DONALD BROWN

ATT 129

YARDS 497

REC 20

TTD 2

TE JACOB TAMME

REC 67

YARDS 631

AVG 9.3

TTD 4

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 20

DE ROBERT MATHIS

TACKLES 60

SACKS 11

INT 0

DT DRAKE NEVIS (R)

TACKLES 56

SACKS 6

INT 1

DT TOMMIE HARRIS

TACKLES 13

SACKS 1½

INT 0

DE DWIGHT FREENEY

TACKLES 25

SACKS 10

INT 0

LB PHILIP WHEELER

TACKLES 48

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB GARY BRACKETT

TACKLES 74

SACKS ½

INT 0

LB PAT ANGERER

TACKLES 75

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB JACOB LACEY

TACKLES 61

SACKS 0

INT 1

SS MELVIN BULLITT

TACKLES 13

SACKS 0

INT 1

FS ANTOINE BETHEA

TACKLES 106

SACKS ½

INT 1

CB JERRAUD POWERS

TACKLES 53

SACKS 0

INT 2

LB ERNIE SIMS

TACKLES 55

SACKS 2

INT 0

SPECIALISTS

K ADAM VINATIERI

FG 26

FGA 28

XP 51

PTS 129

P PAT MCAFEE

PUNTS 65

GROSS 42.0

NET 35.4

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics:New acquisition

(R) Rookie:College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 10--6

September

11 at Houston

18 Cleveland

25 Pittsburgh

October

3 at Tampa Bay (Mon)

9 Kansas City

16 at Cincinnati

23 at New Orleans

30 at Tennessee

November

6 Atlanta

13 Jacksonville

20 BYE

27 Carolina

December

4 at New England

11 at Baltimore

18 Tennessee

22 Houston (Thu)

January

1 at Jacksonville

COACH: JIM CALDWELL

AGE: 56

THIRD SEASON WITH THE COLTS (24--8)

The conservative, stoic Tony Dungy protégé came under fire late last season for ill-advised timeouts (including one in the final 30 seconds of the AFC wild-card game that allowed the Jets to kick a game-winning field goal). Despite leading the Colts to two postseason appearances and a Super Bowl in his two years, Caldwell will find himself on the hot seat if his Colts struggle early.

SPOTLIGHT

DONALD BROWN, Running back

The Colts' recent first-round picks, from receiver Anthony Gonzalez in 2007 to defensive lineman Jerry Hughes last season, have fallen short of expectations, but the biggest bust of all has been Donald Brown. Great things were expected of UConn's alltime rushing leader when Indianapolis made him its top draft pick in 2009, with the hope that he'd eventually take over from Joseph Addai and reignite a faltering ground game. There have been brief glimpses of what Brown can do (he rushed for 129 yards in a critical win over the Jaguars last December), but the power back's injuries and struggles with run blocking and picking up blitzes have limited his workload. (Brown had just nine carries in last season's final two games.) During the off-season the Colts re-signed the 28-year-old Addai and made Syracuse's Delone Carter their fourth-round pick—signs of how far Brown's stock has fallen. He starts the year behind Addai on the depth chart, but the Colts would like nothing more than for their third-year back to have his breakout season. "After being around for two years now, he understands the lay of the land," coach Jim Caldwell says. "He has a real good grasp of our system and what we're doing." Says Brown, "I know that the more experience you get, the easier the game gets." Brown better know this, too: His opportunities in Indy are running out.

PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (HARRIS)NEW TURF, OLD QUESTION Harris excelled in the Tampa Two as a three-time Bears Pro Bowler, but knee injuries have taken away some of the speed and agility the scheme demands. PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO (CALDWELL) PHOTOSCOTT ROVAK/US PRESSWIRE (BROWN)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)