Everyone here on this blog should know that from 2002 all the way until 2010, the Indianapolis Colts was the team to beat and widely considered the "elite" team going into every season. During the Polian/Manning era of said timeframe, the Colts were always in the playoffs trying to lock Super Bowl contention. Despite only having two Super Bowl appearances and one ring, the Indianapolis Colts were always one of the powerhouses in the NFL. As Colts fans, we are used to our team being dominant after witnessing a decade of dominance unparalleled by any other NFL team in history.
Starting with the 2012 offseason, Jim Irsay cleaned house starting with the Front Office, coaches, and even key veteran players. As the team enters the state of "rebuilding" (I prefer the term refurbishing) mode with fresh new faces all around the organization; people all around the NFL are wondering how will the Colts fare off for the next decade and a half.
I’m here to point out some key elements that can possibly ensure everyone that the Indianapolis Colts will return to that powerhouse form present during the peak of the Polian/Manning era.
First let’s take a look at one of the most important positions in the FO.
Ryan Grigson: When Grigson was first hired as the new General Manager of the Colts, he quickly analyzed the key needs of the team, Offensive Line, Wide Receivers, and Cornerback. Starting with Free Agency he brought in a few guys to help shore up an undersized and feeble O-Line. The players he brought in aren’t elite caliber at their respective positions but can be considered an upgrade. Bill Polian thought that using undersize but "athletic" Guards (Mike Pollak, Jamey Richard) and Tackles (Jeff Linkenbach) would make a good O-Line, Grigson immediately realized that was wrong. Grigson went out of his way to find bigger and stronger offensive lineman who might just excel at both pass protection and run blocking.
Soon our WR corps was looking pretty thin, we only had Austin Collie as our legit WR due to Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne being Unrestricted Free Agents, after re-signing Wayne; Grigson dabbled into the Free Agency market and signed Donnie Avery. During the 2012 NFL draft, Grigson used 2 of his 10 picks on WRs T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill. So far, barring injury of course, Andrew Luck has a solid group of WRs who can play outside or slot if needed.
Grigson came into the G.M. job when the Colts were having CB problems, he knows that as of right now, we don’t have a legit #2 CB to start alongside Jerraud Powers and the depth behind them are atrocious. He has been going after CBs since the start of FA and have been bringing in guys who went undrafted. This might not be a good thing, but when you have a premier NFL Defensive Backs guru as the Head Coach, sometimes UDFA guys can come out with 3rd to 4th Round talent if they’re coached properly.
With the firing of Bill and Chris Polian and the hiring of Ryan Grigson, I consider this a FO upgrade. If Bill Polian were still the G.M. today, we would still be dealing with team needs. His way of getting things done were signing UDFA who suck instead of going to FA and finding a legit starting caliber player at a position of need. He let Peyton Manning carry the team on his back for too long by letting him mask the needs of the team and insufficiency of team talent.
Now let’s move on into our new coaches and assistants.
Chuck Pagano, our new head coach. Pagano has a remarkable resume’ compared to what previous head coach Jim Caldwell had. Pagano started as the Secondary coach of the Cleveland Browns back in 2001, it was his secondary that had a NFL-high 33 INTs with 10 of them being recorded by a rookie 4th Round CB. Pagano later moved back into the NFL after a brief stint in college football to the Baltimore Ravens starting in 2008. As the Secondary coach of the Ravens, his unit finished TOP 5 in pass defense each season under his guidance doing his tenure. Pagano is known for coaching up defenses to blitz and play aggressive starting from the D-Line to the secondary. Pagano can establish a scheme/philosophy on defense that will help the Colts propel into a formidable team.
Following the hiring of Pagano, Marwan Maalouf was brought along from the Baltimore Ravens as the new Special Teams coordinator, Maalouf’s unit in Baltimore was ranked 8th in the NFL in 2010, which was a ten spot improvement from the previous season. That year, Maalouf helped rookie kickoff returner David Reed lead the NFL in kickoff return average (29.2 ypr.) and coached a unit which finished third in the league in opponent average starting position (27.2-yard line). Kicker Billy Cundiff also earned his first Pro Bowl after tying a NFL mark with 40 touch-backs.
Before his stint with the Ravens, Maalouf was the assistant Special Teams coordinator for the Cleveland Browns from 2004-2006. During his final season with the team, he coached Josh Cribbs who ranked third in the NFL with 1,545 total return yards. The Browns’ punt return average of 10.3 yards also ranked seventh in the NFL. Maalouf’s coaching pinned the Browns with a No. 5 overall rating in 2006 and a No. 6 overall mark in 2005.
Starting with the 2012 draft, the Colts have brought in a plethora of players with kick/punt return skills, so far we have T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Cassius Vaughn, and Jabin Sambrano all trying to make a name for themselves within the Colts organization. Under former Colts’ president and General Manager, the Special Teams have been pretty much non-existent. The philosophy under Polian was " just secure the ball first" instead of trying to make improvements, that’s proves that Polian overly relied on Peyton Manning. When you have an all-pro Hall of Fame worthy QB, it might not seem like Special Teams is important. Keep in mind that the Chicago Bears made it to Super Bowl XLI due to strong Defense (ranked #1 in 2006-2007) along with a strong showing in Special Teams with Devin Hester. I can insure you that it was NOT the Rex Grossman-led Bears offense. A good defense and better special teams is something the Colts haven't had in years, our D was mediocre at best outside of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on the D-Line, and Antoine Bethea in the secondary.
When you look at the all the moves across the board, we have a seemingly upgraded G.M, who came in and tried his best to fix the team needs. The new head coach is widely known for his aggressive, smash-mouth defense and seems to be a take charge type of guy. We have an upgrade possibly at the Offensive and Defensive Coordinator spots, we can also be looking at a more coherent and revamped Special Teams unit in the future.
I consider all these moves a much needed upgrade compared to what we all had beginning with the retirement of Tony Dungy.