With training camp starting next week, I am getting chills thinking about watching this team take the field again. I have buried all of my remaining emotions regarding the Super Bowl, what went wrong, and am done bashing guys like Hank Baskett, and am done shaking my head at Wayne's non-route as well as dropped endzone pass in the final moments. I have done the healthy thing and repressed it all deep inside somewhere in my duodenum. It frees me to offer up my predictions and thoughts on the season.
Donald Brown. The super obvious choice, and I say that because he NEEDS to have a breakout year. By bulking up the o-line and drafting a bruiser like Brody Eldridge, we are obviously going to put more emphasis on the run. We know what Addai can do. We also know what Brown is capable of. He had moments last year where he looked like a future pro bowler and others that made you smack your head and wonder why we didn't pick Shonn Greene instead. This season he gets to prove his worth. He has everything he needs to be a breakout star alongside Addai. He is going to do it. He is a hard worker. As hardworking as they come. He know what is expected of him. I believe he delivers.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER
Anthony Gonzalez. Why pick a guy who has already established himself as a playmaker? Because he has basically been forgotten about. Remember when we all assumed Addai was going to be bumped by Donald Brown, and then had an incredible season? Gonzo will no doubt start out as the teams #3 WR at best, but probably #4. Early in the season, possibly even during training camp, he will make people remember what he can do. I am not predicting a Pro Bowl season or anything, but I feel like the opinions of Gonzo are now very pessimistic and many expect him to be nothing more than a possession WR. I think we will see some very clutch moments from Gonzo this year. He has all the motivation in the world.
PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO DISAPPOINT
Pierre Garcon. This is tough, as I don't see anyone backtracking, but if I have to, HAVE to pick a name, I am going to pick Pierre Garcon. Crazy? Maybe. But this is a young player who is coming off a great year, experienced a terrible moment in the Super Bowl, and now goes into camp as the #2 WR. He knows what is expected of him. Last year he was proving himself, and now he has to prove that last year was no fluke. He has Gonzo breathing down his neck at a chance of redemption. As a young man, it makes you wonder how he can handle the pressure. Then you remember who is throwing him passes and know that he has a knack for keeping WRs heads on straight. So I find it unlikely he regresses (and last year his confidence seemed through the roof), but if you had to pick someone, I can see him being a candidate.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
Tony Ugoh/Fili Moala. It's a tie. One for each side of the ball. First, Ugoh. We all know the story. The guy we gave up our first round pick in '08 for played great his rookie year, regressed in an injury ridden year two, and was benched year 3. This is his last shot at redemption. It seemed last season he looked very good in training camp, but apparently not to the liking of Howard Mudd. When he did play, he played well, but obviously not well enough to win the spot back from CJ, who played his butt off. Ugoh needs to get more mental discipline and really show he wants to be here. As for Moala, he played last year, but don't feel bad if you didn't noticed. A player drafted to strengthen our DL, he rode the pine most of the year. The guys ahead of him did more than an admirable job, but more was expected of him. More is certainly expected of him this year. As an early second round pick, you better be ready to make an impact in year 2. From all accounts, he is up to the challenge. Now let's see it.
Honorable mentions go to Kelvin Hayden, Bob Sanders, Charlie Johnson, and Mike Pollak
TRAINING CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH CLOSELY
Bob Sanders v Melvin Bullitt. The injury plagued superstar vs the hardnosed playmaker that took over after he went down. Bullitt more than proved himself to be camp favorite for starter, but that is not how it will go down. Bob Sanders is still Bob Sanders and the team is just a different defense when he is present. One obvious problem. He can't stay healthy. The guy's good for about three weeks a year, and then he'll sneeze too hard and tear an ACL. It's tough to blame a guy for getting hurt, but where is the line? How many bone breaks have to happen to him for Bullitt to get the confidence he deserves? Who knows. If Sanders can stay healthy and play at the same high level we know he can play at, there are few better. Bullitt may not be as talented, but he has proven himself more valuable as he has always been healthy, and then there was that 4th and 2 thing last year he contributed to. This battle should have everyone's interest.
Honorable mentions go to Brown v Addai, Wheeler v Hagler v Angerer, and the entire OL outside of Saturday
ROOKIE WHO WILL BE AN IMPACT PLAYER
Jacques McClendon. A massive run blocking machine with a Harvard IQ who gets to block for his alma mater's most legendary figure. I imagine he is up for the challenge. I do not think he will start out of training camp and may not start week 1, but down the road I feel like this kid pushes himself into the starting guard position. No one has that position locked down right now. Ugoh is a converted tackle who could still shift back over, Pollak has been a disappointment, Lilja's gone, and Kyle Devan, while effective last year, has to earn the job back.
STARTING RETURN SPECIALIST
Sam Giguere. This was a big weakness last season, obviously, and the staff had to be shaking their heads when they saw how well former temporary Colt return men Justin Forsett and Courtney Roby did. Chad Simpson was not good. That is why he is gone. There are three candidates. Ray Fisher, Brandon James, and Sam. Fisher and James are the popular choices as they dominated the college ranks, but this is a new ball game. The staff seems high on Sam, and he seems eager to prove himself. I think both Fisher and James will get their shots, and one or both will field some kicks certainly in preseason, possibly in the actual season as well. But I think Sam is the man right now, but he just better hope he can deliver, because we know the other two have shown they can at the college level.
Honorable mention does NOT go to Chad Simpson.
WAS PEYTON'S LAST GREAT YEAR LAST SEASON?
No. More emphasis on improving the run game takes pressure off him and he has the best WR Corps in football. That is all.
PREDICTED OFFENSIVE LINE ROTATION
LT- Johnson LG- Ugoh C- Saturday RG- McClendon RT- Diem
We will not get the lucky draw we got last playoffs. We probably will not have the chance at an undefeated season again (but if any team does it, it will likely be us). We may have some bumps on the road. But with this team healthy, and with certain additions like Hughes and the return men, there is no better team in football. It is not exactly common for a team to lose the Super Bowl and then return the next year, and although it has been done by teams like the Bills (tip of the hat to DevilsRejects for the reminder), it has been some time for any team to return. None of those teams were the Colts. None of them had Peyton Manning. Will we get back? I think we know how determined 18 is and I think we know how criticism drives him. If there is a team who could prevent us from getting that trophy, I haven't seen them. The Jets can buy all the players they want. This isn't baseball. Free agent signings don't win Super Bowls (see Redskins, Washington for reference). Teams who play consistently well as a UNIT do. Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Dolphins, Patriots, none of these teams scare me, either. None have the team we do. None have the QB we do. It's funny. Although we were the best team in football last year save for one game, and are the popular pick for top team heading into this season, I feel like we are not the ones who have a target on the back. I know we do, but it just doesn't feel like this team considers themselves "the hunted." Rather, they have the mindset of a vicious hunter, and they in fact believe the target is on the back of every other team. This team will be focused. There is unfinished business to attend to. Good luck, rest of the NFL.