The 2013 organized team activities are in full swing for the Indianapolis Colts, and with them we start to see what this new roster could perhaps morph into for the upcoming regular season.
Last year this time, we wrote a ton about how the team was unrecognizable. The coaches were new. Most of the players were new. The quarterback was a 23-year-old kid not-named Peyton Manning. Fans were abandoning the franchise. Irsay was lashing out on Twitter.
This year, it's actually almost deja vu all over again!
While we might view general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano as friendly faces, both brought in thirteen free agents, drafted seven new players, and signed fifteen undrafted rookies. That's 35 new players that did not play a down of football for the Colts in 2012!
Add in the potential returns of nose tackles Josh Chapman and Brandon McKinney - both of whom were lost last season to knee injuries - and that number jumps to 37.
Gone is franchise stalwart Dwight Freeney, recently signed by the San Diego Chargers for reasons that baffle the mind. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano is the younger brother of Chuck, and Chuck's defense in 2012 wasn't the best fit for Freeney. Also, gone are Jerraud Powers, Donnie Avery, Moise Fokou, and Winston Justice.
In many ways, the 2013 Colts are a totally new team from the 2012 squad almost as much as the 2012 squad was from the 2011 crew.
Knowing this, here are the three stories us nutballs at Stampede Blue are following all throughout OTAs and into training camp:
The Relationship Between Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton
No, Pep Hamilton is not yapping again about using , but we still find it interesting that the Colts hired a West Coast Offense guru (who is open to using read-option) to replace Chuck Pagano's good friend, Bruce Arians. Pagano and Arians shared the same beliefs in terms of coaching philosophy, and Arians is on record as saying in the read-optionhe hates the West Coast Offense and read-option.
Also, Pagano has spent a lot of time this offseason explaining to people that the Colts aren't really running a "pure" West Coast scheme, almost as if he's apologizing for it. He's seemingly gone out of his way to note that the Colts will run the ball and "take their shots" down the field. Basically, he's saying that the Colts will retain some of Arians' scheme from last year.
However, Andrew Luck has already said that 75% of this new Colts offense is the Stanford offense he once ran for Hamilton. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo said this is the third offensive terminology and system he's had to learn in three years in the league.
This offense is indeed new. West Coast. "No Coast." Whatever. It is NOT Bruce Arians' offense. At least, from what the players are saying, it doesn't sound like it.
Obviously, this doesn't mean there's friction, finger-pointing, or haymakers being thrown between Pagano and Hamilton. What is interesting is that these guys have never worked together, and I get the distinct impression that it was not Pagano that hired Hamilton. If he did, why did he hire someone he has no previous NFL coordiantor experience to run an offense that isn't suited for the personnel the Colts drafted in 2012? If Pagano didn't hire Hamilton - and by that I mean he didn't personally reach out to the coach, bring him in, and convince management he's the guy - then who did? Grigson? Irsay?
The working relationship between these two coaches absolutely is fascinating. Hamilton is considered a rising star as a coach in both college and the NFL. Stanford's David Shaw is also someone many feel will one day make the leap to the NFL. Pagano only coached five games in 2012 (including the playoffs), and went 2-3 in those games. He is a defensive-minded coach who seems to have a very dated sense of what it takes to score points in the modern NFL. If the Colts struggle in 2013, and especially if the defense continues to underwhelm, whispers for Pagano's dismal will begin.
Bottom line: Pagano needs to show he can coach and win at this level. He hasn't done that yet, for obvious reasons that are completely understandable. However, this is the Not For Long league, and if Pagano struggles to win games in 2013, the former "Andrew Luck Director of Offense" is, perhaps, waiting in the wings to take his job.
This segues into our next storyline...
The Progression Of The Defense
The 2012 defense was statistically as bad as the horror show the Colts trucked out their in 2011 under the coordination of Larry Coyer. Coyer was fired before the 2011 season finished, tossed under the bus by the man who hired him, former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. Like Caldwell and Coyer, Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky are joined at the hip. Even though Manusky was not Pagano's first choice to run his defense last year (Kevin Butler of the Steelers reportedly was), the two men have a bond and share the same coaching philosophy.
Both want to run a hybrid 3-4 scheme, a scheme that failed miserably in 2012.
To be fair to Manusky, 2012 was probably his finest coaching job. He was tasked with deploying a scheme the Colts did not have the personnel to run. He also had to deal with a myriad of player injuries, including losing both his nose tackles for the season. That's a set-up for failure, and he handled the entire year extremely well.
The interesting irony of 2012 was that Indianapolis spent a lot of time in a 4-3 front with their corners in man-to-man. That was scheme Coyer always wanted to run, but was undercut by the buffoonery of the Polian front office. Coyer never had the corners to run that scheme. Manusky did in 2012, and the results statistically were roughly the same.
Right when the new league year began, general manager Ryan Grigson started spending pretty much all the $40 million in cap space the Colts had available. Roughly $20 million of that $40 mill was dedicated to the defense if you count first and fifth round picks Bjoern Werner and Montori Hughes, respectively. The secondary is sporting two new projected starters in corner Greg Toler and strong safety LaRon Landry. Pagano has referred to Landry specifically as a "game-wrecker," the same tag he gave to Freeney and Robert Mathis last year.
Presently, Landry is not participating in OTAs, a curious decision considering he is on his third team in three years.
With Josh Chapman and , the Colts could have as many as six new starters on defense. That's a near-complete overhaul. How this defense gels and works together will determine the fates of both Manusky and Pagano. The period in which this "gelling" begins is usually OTAs. expected to return
Interesting note: Only Antoine Bethea, Robert Mathis, and Kavell Conner, remain as starters from the 2011 defense. You could maybe toss in Pat Angerer, but he isn't a sure starter anymore. Conner and first-year surprise Jerrell Freeman outplayed Angerer in 2012. Angerer's injuries played a part as well.
The Offensive Front Wall
If there is one thing that Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton should agree on it's the importance of the offensive line. As a rookie, Andrew Luck was sacked 40+ times, and both coaches will be out of a job in a hurry if that repeats itself in 2013.
Colts owner Jim Irsay took a beating from fans when he released Peyton Manning in 2012, citing medical concerns with Manning;s neck. Manning signed with Denver, started every game, and put forth one of his best seasons ever. If Andrew Luck were to get hurt while Peyton Manning continued leading the Broncos to the post-season and, possibly, a Super Bowl, Irsay would look ridiculous.
Jim Irsay doesn't like to made to look ridiculous. Only he is allowed to make himself look ridiculous. Usually on Twitter.
Yes, the decision to release Manning was the correct one, but we do not live in a sports world populated by overly intelligent fans, media, and NFL personnel. Lots of stupid people litter the sports landscape, and a powerful man like Irsay cannot afford to look ridiculous in front of them. Many of these stupid people still think cutting Peyton was a wrong.
Thus, protecting Luck is priority No. 1 in 2013.
Peyton was sacked 22 times in 2012 with the Broncos. That is the magic number for Luck's sacks in 2013. The 2012 number for Indianapolis must be cut in half. If it isn't, I guarantee you heads will roll at the West 56th Street complex.
Irsay used roughly $12 million of his cap on new hogs up front this offseason, and Ryan Grigson used his 3rd and 4th round picks on Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes, respectively. He also WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY overpaid Gosder Cherilus to man the right tackle spot, but the move to get Cherilus says more about Indianapolis' prioritization of protecting Luck than anything else.
In Grigson's mind, it's worth it to overpay for a right tackle. The edict from the owner is clear: Keep Luck's jersey clean, no matter the cost.
It's possible that the Colts could have four new starters on their o-line in 2013. If so, it's during OTAs that these guys begin to get a sense of themselves as one, collective unit. Much of the 2013 season will depend on their play, and it's not like offensive lines gel overnight.