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Mini-Camp starts today, and we will look at the offense, defense, and special teams for this team as they enter this little team gathering, which is really nothing more than an excuse to get everyone together (which they are already) and work (which they are doing already). The line between Off-season Training Activities (OTAs) and a formal "camp" has become very blurred in recent years.
Over at Indianapolis Colts Examiner, John Oehser talks about the defense as Indy gears up for camp. Here, we will talk offense first, because contrary to what many think and say, you win first in this league with offense. Defense helps you in the playoffs. Offense gets you to the playoffs.
Maybe you've heard of the reigning NFL MVP. His name is Peyton Manning. If your favorite team resides in the AFC South, New England, Chicago, or Baltimore, you are likely sick about hearing of #18. The Colts sport the best QB in football. Yes, better than Tom Brady, whose absence in 2008 did little to hurt the Patriots overall. They won 11 games without him. The Colts, meanwhile, had a one-legged Peyton Manning to start the 2008 season, and through 8 games the team was 4-4. When Peyton got better, they went 8-0 and made the playoffs.
Best NFL QB argument ended right there.
Backing up Manning is a seemingly rejuvenated Jim Sorgi. Well, "rejuvenated" is a bit inaccurate. You have to have something to rejuvenate in the first place to be rejuvenated. Sorgi in 2008 looked as good as he has ever looked, which isn't saying much. Though, I will say his garbage time play in Week 17 against the Titans made skeptics like me take notice. Last year, he outplayed veterans Quinn Gray and Jared Lorenzen to hold onto the back-up's job. He has no such competition this year.
A wildcard at back-up QB is rookie Curtis Painter, who was drafted in the 6th round this year out of Purdue. Unlike Sorgi, Painter has a strong arm and can make many NFL throws.
One to Watch: Curtis Painter
On the Hot Seat: Jim Sorgi
Probably the most controversial player for Stampede Blue readers is Joseph Addai. People either love him or call him a bust. Very few navigate the middle ground. Regardless of how many feel, for two straight seasons Addai has battled numerous nagging injuries. When healthy, he is a strong, physical runner with excellent quickness. When unhealthy, he hesitates.
To help Addai, the Colts drafted UConn product Donald Brown, who has impressed at OTAs with his very strong work ethic. Brown is very similar to Addai in terms of rushing ability. At camp, they will likely begin to integrate more 2-Back sets, and implement more plays that work for both backs.
The third active roster spot at RB is up for grabs. This spot is usually reserved for a third down specialist. Second year player Mike Hart wins the job outright if he is healthy. He's coming off major knee surgery which cut short his 2008 season. Lance Ball, who we interviewed a few weeks ago, offers more size than Hart. Chad Simpson needs an amazing off-season to keep his job on the active roster. Unless he can prove he is a great goal-line or third down runner, or he shows dramatic improvement as a kick returner, he is likely to get cut in late-August.
One to Watch: Donald Brown
On the Hot Seat: Chad Simpson
With Marvin Harrison gone, there is now an open spot in the three-wide package. Since the only significant addition to the returning corps was the drafting of 4th rounder Austin Collie, this means the Colts feel that "Marvin's replacement" is likely already on the roster. As Peyton stated last month, Reggie Wayne will stay flanked at left while Anthony Gonzalez will take Marvin's spot on the right. When the Colts go three-wide, they will have many options.
Pierre Garcon is now the front-runner to either play the slot or move to the right side so that Gonzo can play the slot. After Garcon, it is a toss up. Austin Collie, Samuel Giguere, and Roy Hall are all unknown commodities. Collie was extremely productive in college, leading the nation in receiving yards. He also has the build of a typical Colts receiver (6', 180-ish). The Colts are high on Giguere, who was an undrafted rookie last season and spent all of 2008 on the practice squad. Hall has been a project since the Colts drafted him in 2007. At 6'3, 240, he is a BIG target. He is also excellent on special teams as a gunner. He's battled injuries his entire pro career and needs to stay healthy to remain on this team in 2009.
One to Watch: Samuel Giguere
On the Hot Seat: Roy Hall
One could argue that the "third wide receiver" is TE Dallas Clark. Indeed, when the Colts go "three-wide" with Dallas Clark as the slot receiver, it gives teams that run a 3-4 absolute fits. I've long argued that Clark is the best TE in pro football, and I still stand by it. Few TEs display his big play ability. He runs like a WR, blocks solid, and is a threat to score anytime he gets the football in open field. You have to cover him with a corner or, at the very least, a Pro bowl caliber safety. That is not the case with players like Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, or Tony Gonzalez.
Gijon Robinson won the second tight end spot in camp last year, and played very well in several games. Second year players Tom Santi and Jacob Tamme had their 2008 seasons cut short due to injury. Both need to stand out this off-season if they want to unseat Robinson.
One to Watch: Gijon Robinson
On the Hot Seat: Jacob Tamme
This is a make-or-break year for Tony Ugoh. When he is healthy, he is a top tier left tackle. Maybe even top 5. The key is "when he is healthy," which is often not very. Ugoh was thrust into the starting roll his rookie year after longtime stalwart Tarik Glenn retired. Ugoh played brilliantly under the conditions. Then, he got hurt. He started last season hurt and missed several games. When he got healthy, it correlated with Peyton getting healthy. The result was a 9-0 finish to the regular season. Ugoh needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season. If not, he gets cut in 2010. A team cannot afford to have an injury-prone LT.
Utility player Charlie Johnson is the reserve LT. He can fill-in in a pinch, but he is not a starter. Depth at LT is a big weakness. The Colts cannot afford to lose Ugoh for an extended period of time.
The irony of 2008 was normal "iron men" like Jeff Saturday got hurt while noted "glass joes" like Ryan Diem played the entire season. Diem has been hurt, off and on, for many years. Yet, for some reason, he was the only o-lineman last season to start every game at his natural position: RT. Backing him up are Daniel Federkeil and Charlie Johnson. Federkeil, like Johnson, is more of a utility lineman, able to play multiple positions.
One to Watch: Tony Ugoh
On the Hot Seat: Tony Ugoh
Guards and Centers
I lump guards and centers together because, in many situations, players at one position have had to switch to a different interior linemen position. Even Jeff Saturday played guard in a playoff game back in 2003, dominating then-Broncos DT Trevor Pryce the entire game. Saturday was re-signed this past off-season, and I cannot tell you how HUGE re-signing him was. Other than Peyton, Bob, Dwight, and possibly Gary, Jeff Saturday is a lynch pin for this team to succeed.
Backing him up are Jamey Richard and Steve Justice. Richard established himself last year as a tough interior lineman who can play multiple position. Justice, so far, is a bit of a bust. He was drafted in the 5th round in 2008 to back-up and possibly replace Jeff Saturday, and he lost out to a 7th round selection out of Buffalo (Richard). Justice needs to prove something this off-season or he is toast.
Another potential bust is Mike Pollak, Indy first selection in the 2008 NFL Draft (2nd round). Pollak was a center in college and he struggled mightily to adjust to playing guard at the pro level. To put it bluntly, Pollak was awful in 2008; just awful. Injuries might have stunted his development, but those do not excuse he inability to execute. Rookie Jaimie Thomas offers tremendous size at guard (6'4, 330 pounds), and his selection in the draft this year is not necessarily a ringing endorsement for Mike Pollak.
The Colts also dabbled in free agency this off-season, picking up two players who can play guard: Kyle DeVan and Brandon Barnes. DeVan can play both guard and center while Barnes can play guard and one of the tackle spots.
The big wild card here is Ryan Lilja. Lilja, when healthy, is one of the best (but least known) guards in football. He missed the entire 2008 NFL season, and his absence was a big reason the Colts ranked 31st running the ball in '08. Lilja is now participating in OTAs, which is a very positive sign. If he can return healthy, the Colts o-line will be just fine. In fact, it will be better than fine. It will return to its normal, dominant form. In addition, if Lilja is healthy, Pollak will likely get relegated to a back-up role. Unless Pollak can prove he is a better player than Richard, Thomas, or a free agent like DeVan, he will prove a big bust for Bill Polian and the Colts. Pollak is definitely someone to keep an eye on in mini-camp, training camp, and pre-season. He is likely playing for his job, and he is only a second-year player.
One to Watch: Ryan Lilja
On the Hot Seat: Mike Pollak