I made it a personal point this pre-season to look around other blogs and websites to get a taste of what fans for other teams go through during this time. I also lurk around these places so I can see how other teams cope with the oftentimes torturous rigors of pre-season, especially when injuries and other side-winders (like Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, Brett Favre, Tom Cable, etc.) throw monkey wrenches into a team's preparation for the season.
Last year, I felt I watched both the pre-season and the regular season with blinders on. I didn't care what Team X was going through, or that Player Y was out for the year with an ACL. My own team had their best player with a gimpy knee, a pot-smoking DT who liked to drag race against cop cars at 4 in the morning, and a star WR fighting off the jackals at ESPN for his non-involvement in a shooting in Philadelphia which saw a convicted liar and ex-felon get shot in the hand.
For me, 2008 was working past disaster, after disaster, after disaster. Yet, the team still won 12 games. I'm still amazed by that. Remember, there was a new stadium opening (sans gawdy and game-altering scoreboard), a slew of injuries, and a team trying to re-capture the magic that helped them win a Super Bowl.
This year, you could argue that the off-season news has been even louder, and filled with even more distractions. Tony Dungy is gone. Ron Meeks is gone. Marvin Harrison is gone. Dominic Rhodes is gone... again. Hunter Smith is gone. Bob Sanders is still hurt. So is Adam Vinatieri. Tony Ugoh is benched. And so on...
Yet, despite all this news, I personally do not feel that this off-season, and pre-season, has been near the disaster that last season was. Of course, anything can happen, and we hope (knock on wood) that nothing bad does. But it just seems this team is not distracted by any of the changes. That's a credit to Jim Caldwell, his staff, and the veteran players on this team.
So, unlike last year, where each week (even in pre-season) felt like it was just another game to "ride out" in the hope that soon something good will happen, this year I approach the games with a greater sense of hope. This team, even with all the departures, is a damn good team. But, even with all the changes and added (and in some cases improved) players that make me grin ear-to-ear, there are also some worries. Mind you, compared to other teams, they are minor worries, but to us they are major.
Big Happy: The defensive line
I'm pretty damn giddy about this group, especially when I read more articles about players like this. The defensive tackle position has looked very strong in camp and in pre-season. Bringing back Ed Johnson was a major coup that few people will talk about, but his presence will have a major impact on the AFC. Teaming him on the line with Antonio Johnson, who is much better than I ever gave him credit for, should drastically improve Indy's run defense.
And if you haven't watched the second string defensive ends, you haven't seen Marcus Howard absolutely torturing people like Tarvaris Jackson and A.J. Feely. We know Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are the best pass rushing duo in football, but backing thme up are some pretty scary-good rushers in Howard and a bulked up Curtis Johnson. Also, once Raheem Brock's hand heals, his insertion back into the rotation will help both the DE and DT positions.
Big Worry: The offensive line
A big question mark this off-season was the health of Ryan Lilja, and thankfully that question has been answered. He is indeed healthy, and has looked good in pre-season. Jeff Saturday is back, and second year guard Mike Pollak is improved. Behind them all are solid depth with guard Jamey Richard and guard-center Kyle DeVan.
It's the tackles I'm worried about.
Ryan Diem is a great guy, and has been one helluva RT for years in Indy. But, for the last three years, Diem has been injury prone. Last year was the first time in a while he played, and started, all sixteen regular season games. I don't hold out hope that he will repeat that in 2009. But as dicey as the RT position seems, it is nothing to what we have at left tackle. All-Pro talent Tony Ugoh has been benched in favor of all-world back-up Charlie Johnson. CJ has played, and started, at four of Indy's five offensive line positions. He's a high quality player who gives maximum effort on every single down.
Sadly, he does not have the talent to play LT. Tony Ugoh does.
Ugoh's problem is his effort and his toughness. He has all the physical tools, all the skill to dominant this league at LT. But, for some reason, he can't beat out a utility player like CJ. This poses major problems because even on mediocre pass rushers, Indy cannot leave CJ to single block the rusher. He simply cannot do it. This means keeping a TE in to double, or using more chip blocks from the backs. Thus, it limits the offense. This does not even take into account what they will need to do against the premiere rushers of this league. Mario Williams plays in this division, and the Colts will face the Patriots and the Ravens this season.
So, what are the things you are both excited and worried about?