Well, unlike last pre-season, where we all collectively held our breath on the injury status of Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, and several other key players, the Colts managed to get through this pre-season without sustaining any serious injuries that might affect the outcome of games that mean something. For first year coach Jim Caldwell, that is a triumph worth acknowledging.
The number one job of any coach in pre-season is to get his squad through it as healthy as possible. The games mean nothing, and unless you are rebuilding and re-evaluating everyone on the roster, pre-season is simply a gauntlet that teams try to fight through without getting too beat up. Case in point, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, injured his leg last night in his team's fourth and final pre-season game. The injury maybe be "serious," and his status for Week One is in doubt.
With pre-season done, we're now getting thoughts and final evaluations from bloggers and fans alike. We've even got a few mock 53-man rosters. Keep'm coming.
This pre-season, during both training camp and pre-season, we've been fortunate enough to have a very dedicated and diverse group of Colts bloggers offering different (and, at times, contradictory) opinions on games, players, and coaches. It has made this pre-season one of the richest, content-wise, since I started blogging three years ago. From media pros like John Oehser to training camp Twitter demigods like Eric Hartz to unapologetic, rabid fans like Deshawn Zombie, we've had a wide range of news and opinions since the chaps wearing blue and white with the horseshoe helmets rolled into Rose Hulman over a month ago.
Now, we get their opinions (with a sprinkling of my own) on the state of this team heading into 2009.
Before diving in, please note that I personally don't put much stock in the fourth pre-season game. Most of the guys who play in the fourth game do not make the final roster. Only two starters on defense played (Ed Johnson and Philip Wheeler), and they did not play for very long. This was a game to evaluate young players like Jacob Lacey and veterans playing in new positions (like Freddy Keiaho playing MIKE). It's also yet another pre-season game where the Bengals blow out the Colts. I think that statement alone should help define the overall importance of pre-season to the bottom line in this league (winning and losing).
John Oehser gives us his impressions of the club:
As I wrote on Examiner, if you’re a Colts fan, don’t worry about this game [against the Bengals]. It’s preseason and although the Colts say the right things about wanting to win, they want to be healthy and get a read on young players. They did that, and there are more positives than negatives out of this preseason. A lot more.
Our co-writer, Colts Homer, offered his opinions on some of those young players:
For the corners, Jacob Lacey played well except on the first drive. He is practice squad bound, but he looks like a future Colt. He's great in man coverage.
Jamie Silva played great. He led the team in tackles and had a sack. He was a stud today and I think he locked up a roster spot.
Evaluating young players and gauging the overall talent of the team is something new coach Jim Caldwell has been focused on all pre-season. He seems to know who he wants to start and who he wants playing in various rotations on the defense. Overall, Caldwell has impressed people with how he's run the team, including the Indy Star's PhilB. PhilB hasn't locked up his opinion on Caldwell completely, but his comments about the new coach suggest he is the right man for the job:
Still forming an opinion of Caldwell, but I think he's a solid football guy. He's paid his dues, is getting his shot. We'll see. He's stepping into a pretty nice situation. Some franchises can't win forever. This guy just took over a team that's won 12 in a row six straight years. Then again, Super Bowl or bust isn't exactly easy. Anything less is a failure, with this team's talent.
I personally get a little sick of the "Super Bowl or bust" rhetoric that often gets thrown around. Indeed, the Colts have the talent, right now, to win a Super Bowl. But as we have seen for the last two years, talent right now means nothing. It's how much of your talent is healthy in January. If guys like Dwight Freeney, Joseph Addai, Ryan Lilja, Robert Mathis, Gary Brackett, Bob Sanders, and Ed Johnson are either severely hurt, on IR, or kicked off the team for smoking weed by January, then it is kind of hard to take the "Super Bowl or bust" rhetoric seriously.
In the NFL, it's all about staying healthy, and playing healthy, at the right time.
The number one goal for the Colts right now is to win the AFC South. Getting in the playoffs is hard enough, but Super bowl talk is worthless unless the team wins the division. Once in, anything can happen. The playoffs are a crap shoot. Teams can change on a dime when January rolls around, like the Cardinals last year (2008), the Giants the year before (2007), and our Colts the year before that (2006). So, talking Super Bowl right now is just silliness. Win the division first. Stay healthy. Beat the teams you are supposed to beat. The rest will take care of itself.
Finally, Deshawn Zombie offers us his opinion on one possible weakness for the Colts this year:
The offensive line will be a problem all year.
Charlie Johnson is the left tackle. I'm still not ok with that sentence. The line gave up 5 sacks of Manning in barely one full game of work. Tony Ugoh could have won the starting job back, but he was terrible. His play last night was rough to say the least, although there were problems all over the line, to be fair. This was the biggest offseason issue for the Colts this year. Lilja is back and apparently healthy, so that's a plus. Still, there is some question as to whether this is a Super Bowl quality O line.
Last night, the Colts gave up six sacks. I believe that is 14 sacks in four pre-season games. That's simply not going to cut it. Howard Mudd's got a lot of work to do.
The main thing we learned from this pre-season is players practice and play hard for Jim Caldwell. Whenever there is a coaching transition, that is what you are looking for when evaluating the new coach. Will Wolford made the observation last night while calling the game with Bob Lamey: The transition from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell has seemed seamless. People who know and follow this team are excited about what it can do. That was sorely lacking last season, as this team seemed to limp in and out of games on a regular basis, sapping hope from fans with each update of the injury list.
The cutdown to 53 is tomorrow. Here is my updated mock 53-man roster page. We'll discuss this in more detail later today. In the meantime, offer up your opinions, queries, concerns, and excitement for the 2009 Colts as the regular season opener gets closer.