The Indianapolis Colts have always had the injury bug. Year after year, key players go down with long-term injuries and it sucks for the team and for the fans. Last year was no different as the Colts lost key members on offense and defense. Those players included Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Greg Toler and Ahmad Bradshaw. Vick Ballard and Donald Thomas would be included, but they suffered season ending injuries in the first week of camp, indicating the bug is still here. Either way, which of the currently healthy players should have the biggest impact this season?
Reggie Wayne is definitely the biggest name on this list. Wayne has been one of the key players on the Colts for the last 12 years and his absence was felt last season. Wayne is not only the top receiver on the Colts, but he’s also a leader and the security blanket for Andrew Luck. He has gotten Luck out of a lot of jams. Reggie Wayne is an important figure to the team on and off the field, making his presence invaluable. He probably won’t be as productive on the field but his presence alone will help the team tremendously. Wayne may be old, but he is still very productive and is determined to get another Super Bowl before he calls it a career. His career year a couple of years ago indicates he still has some gas left in the tank and he can still perform at a high level. The Colts struggled on offense in the weeks following his injury. They needed big comebacks against the Texans and Titans and were blown out of the park (and very weak on offense) in the Rams and Cardinals games. They wouldn’t have necessarily won, but if Wayne were healthy, things would have been different. The Colts have long-term pieces in place at wide receiver, but they still need guys like Wayne for the short-term; he’s invaluable to the offense, the team and even the city.
Dwayne Allen doesn’t have the name that Reggie Wayne has and isn’t a popular player (yet), but Allen is a complete tight end and was an important member of the offense during his rookie season. He blocks at a high level and had several hundred receiving yards during his rookie season. He injured his hip during the first game of the season last year and missed the entire year. Allen helps out the offense a lot as he is a 3 down tight end who is also a threat in the red-zone. He does it all and he’s a nice target for Andrew Luck making him a very important member for the offense.
Greg Toler was able to play in 9 games last season, but he missed the latter portion of the season and his loss was felt. On the field, Toler didn’t light the roof off the building, but when he was absent from the field; the secondary group didn’t look as sharp. Teams (especially St Louis and Arizona) were able to take advantage of the secondary and put up big numbers. Toler’s impact was felt more when he was off the field. That just goes to show his value to the team and how it’s not easy to replace him.
Ahmad Bradshaw didn’t play much in 2013, but when he did, he impressed. His biggest performance came against the 49ers where he nearly ran for 100 yards and pounded the ball over the 49ers defense with consistency. He proved that he still has it and can be an asset for the team. A neck injury ended his season, but he’s back this season and with Vick Ballard out for the season, he will be the backup to Trent Richardson. He will need to be ready at anytime and he will need to perform well in his limited snaps. Having a good ground attack will open up a lot of things on offense, and Bradshaw is expected to be a pretty important member on offense (as the #2 running back).
Vick Ballard and Donald Thomas were expected to be key members on offense but both suffered season ending injuries in the first week of training camp. These players are talented and have proven to be good players when on offense (Ballard ran for over 800 yards as a rookie and Thomas was a consistent offensive lineman when healthy). These guys would be up there in terms of importance had they’d been healthy. Ballard was expected to share some carries with Trent Richardson (#2 running back) and Thomas was expected to start at left guard. The running game and the offensive line were the two weak points on offense last season and both those positions lost two important players. They will be tough to replace, but they have the pieces to do it.
Although the answer is not set in stone, it seems like Reggie Wayne would be the best returning player despite his age. Wayne is an important player in the passing game and Andrew Luck has the most comfort with Wayne. Wayne is a leader on the field as well and can be relied on in key moments. As talented as the other candidates are, you just cannot say that about them. Wayne is very special and will be until he retires. Dwayne Allen is very valuable, but not in the same way as Wayne. If there were a 2nd place award, it would go to him. The other two are also important but not as much as the first two. Again, these aren’t set in stone and Greg Toler, for example, could have a monster season and have a big impact, but as it stands right now, getting back Reggie Wayne will be the most beneficial for the team. If the Colts can manage to stay healthy on both sides of the ball, they could go deep in the playoffs.