The Indianapolis Colts were arguably the biggest surprise in the NFL last season. Following a 2011 season where they won just two games in the absence of Peyton Manning, the Colts drafted quarterback Andrew Luck from Stanford and let Manning walk away which, at the time, was a questionable decision.
The move ended up jump-starting the franchise quickly as Luck played very well in his rookie season. The Colts, inspired by their head coach Chuck Pagano’s battle with leukemia, won 11 games and earned a trip to the post season despite putting up numbers that were more reflective of a seven or eight win team.
The Colts finished with a point differential of minus-30 and a turnover differential of a minus-12. Where the Colts excelled was in close games (games decided by seven points or less), where they went 10-1. Andrew Luck showed remarkable poise in leading seven game-winning drives and four 4th quarter comebacks.
Heading into 2013, the two areas where Luck must improve the most are his efficiency (54% completion) and reducing his turnovers (18 INT’s). Overall, he enjoyed a fine rookie campaign as he won 11 games and threw for 4,300 yards and 23 TD passes. It’s safe to say that his future is bright.
An improvement in the running game would greatly help Luck’s development. The Colts averaged just a shade over 100 yards rushing per game at 3.8 yards per carry.
Second-year running back Vick Ballard is slated to be the starter in 2013. Ballard led the team with 814 yards rushing in 2012. The Colts added veteran Ahmad Bradshaw this offseason. Bradshaw battled injuries in each of his last two seasons with the New York Giants but was very productive when he was able to play. He and Donald Brown, who is in the last year of his contract, will battle Ballard for carries and, possibly, the starting spot.
At tight end, Dwayne Allen enjoyed a solid rookie season as he caught 45 passes for over 500 yards. Luck’s favorite target at Standford, TE Coby Fleener, is listed as the back up for Allen.
Six-time Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne is back to lead the receiving corp. Wayne, who is entering his 13th season-all with the Colts, had another remarkable year in 2012 (105 receptions, 1,355 yards, 5 TD’s). He will be joined in the starting role by either T.Y. Hilton or free agent pick up Darrius Heyward-Bey. Hilton, caught 50 passes for over 800 yards and seven scores in 2012. Heyward-Bey, a seventh overall pick of the Raiders in 2009, is starting over after four lackluster seasons in Oakland. Both Hilton and Heyward-Bey are speedsters and Hilton will be the prime punt returner as well.
The Colts offensive line underwent several changes in the offseason. General manager Ryan Grigson brought in right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who started every game each of the last two seasons for the Detroit Lions. The other new addition in the trenches is LG Donald Thomas, who signed after playing the last two seasons in New England. Seven year veteran Samson Satele returns to anchor the line at the center spot along with returning starters Mike McGlynn (Right Guard) and left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Third round pick Hugh Thornton could challenge McGlynn for a starting spot. Keeping Andrew Luck upright is a goal for improvement in 2013 as he was sacked 41 times last season.
Defensively, the 2012 Colts were average at best. They struggled to stop the run all season, yielding 137 yards-per-game, which was 29th in the league.
In 2012 Indianapolis drafted Alabama tackle Josh Chapman to be their run stopper at nose tackle, but he missed the entire season with a knee injury. He returns for 2013 and the team also added 11-year veteran Aubrayo Franklin to compete for the starting job. Franklin anchored the San Francisco 49ers line for four seasons (2007-2011) and played the last two seasons in New Orleans and San Diego.
Ricky Jean-Francois was brought in from the 49ers to start at defensive end opposite veteran Cory Redding.
Robert Mathis returns for his 11th season with the Colts. Mathis led the team with eight sacks from the right outside linebacker position in 2012. Free agent acquisition Erik Walden will start at LOLB after spending the last three seasons in Green Bay where he registered three sacks each season. Jerrell Freeman, a refugee from the CFL, led the Colts in tackles in his rookie season with 145. He will start at inside linebacker. The other ILB spot will be a battle between Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner and Kelvin Shepperd. Angerer broke his foot in the first preseason game last year and was limited most of the season. Shepperd is a free agent signing from Buffalo.
Greg Toler was signed from Arizona to start at cornerback opposite Vontae Davis. Darius Butler will also see a lot of action at cornerback and could challenge for a starting spot. He led the Colts with four interceptions in 2012. The Colts should be strong at the safety position with FS Antoine Bethea (100 tackles, 2 sacks) and newly acquired SS LaRon Landry (100 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 INT) who comes over from the Jets.
Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee return to handle the kicking and punting duties.
Many critics expect Indianapolis to take a step back this season after surprising everyone in 2012. It will be interesting to see if Luck can avoid the sophomore slump and if coach Pagano can build on the success of last season.