For the last few months, we all have made lists of questions we hoped would get answered by the time Kickoff Weekend rolls around. We looked for answers to these questions in the draft, mini-camps, free agency, and now training camp. After attending camp and getting "insider" info from people in the know within the team and fans still attending camp, I've got a pretty good idea of how this roster is shaping up. Mind you, I'm providing these insights with big, blue-tinted glasses. I could be dead wrong about everything, but in years past I've been pretty much on the money when it comes to evaluating talent. Just ask Bears fans. Also keep in mind that much of my opinion is formulated from information I trust, and I very much trust my own two eyes.
So, all that crap said, here's a few answers to some of your burning questions (this is a monster post, which I needed to place on the flip):
- Marvin Harrison is 100% healthy. Anyone saying they have questions about his health either doesn't know what they are talking about or hasn't seen him at camp. I saw no difference between this year's Marvin and the Marvin of 2006 or 2007. After watching him run routes, catch passes, and look happy and healthy, I expect Marvin to have a typical Marvin season. Last year was a fluke brought on by an injury that the Colts medical staff dealt with poorly. This year, based on statements from people like Reggie Wayne, Dominic Rhodes, and Jeff Saturday, we should look for Marvin to play at an even higher level (if that's possible). He's clearly pissed that general media idiots and morons are writing him off. Look for 90 catches for 1200 yards and 8-10 TDs.
- Injury concerns for Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney were also answered. Bob could play now, but the Colts are not playing him because they are afraid he will hurt someone else, not himself. I saw Freeney at camp, and I believe he is 100% healthy as well. They are taking him very, very slow because they are scared. But, in one-on-one drills, Freeney was spinning, clubbing, and weaving his way to the QB in typical Freeney fashion. The key for Dwight is dealing with the foot pain and swelling he will always experience after games. Several players have come back from Lis Frac surgery to have dominant seasons. Freeney has consulted with several of these players, and all have told him the same thing: Take is slow. Even if you are 100% healthy, take it slow. The foot will be stiff and have pain all throughout the season. How he deals with that pain will determine how well he plays. Key to dealing with the pain and remaining productive: Take it slow. He's doing this and he looks healthy. So, I fully expect the Dwight we know and love come Kickoff Weekend.
- Let's say the worst happens and Dwight is not ready for the season opener. The Colts pass rush is still fine. After watching him in camp and seeing his performance in the Hall of Fame game, Georgia rookie DE Marcus Howard is a stud. He is faster than Freeney, and if not for the dreds I'd have thought Freeney sneaked into the HoF game wearing a #92 jersey. Even Jaguars fans took notice of Howard (check the comments). He's got a wicked spin move and possesses tremendous burst up field. Unless your team has a stud OT, he should not be single blocked. Used as a situational pass rusher, this kid will shine. He's already got the talent, and coach Teerlick is molding him into a fierce pass rusher. I also saw and heard many good thing regarding rookie free agent DE Curtis Johnson. Like Howard and Mathis, he is undersized but DAMN he's fast. I think the Colts learned their lesson after last season and found some guys who can rush the passer that they can stockpile.
- Staying on the pass rushing front, I'm sold on Eric Foster. Insiders tell me the loss of DT Quinn Pitcock will not hurt the team, and the reason why is Eric Foster. Coaches and fans have raved about him in camp, and in the HoF game he was double teamed and chop-blocked because he kept beating the Redskins OG one-on-one. Even dumb ass John Madden took notice of him during the game. He gets good pressure from the DT spot, and has a solid spin move that frustrated the Redskins. And when John Teerlick likes you, you're a keeper. Foster is this year's Ed Johnson.
- Moving Raheem Brock to DE on run downs and DT on pass downs will keep him fresh for the season. Brock, right now, is the most important player the Colts have on defense. His versatility is vital for their rotation to succeed consistently.
- Roy Hall has indeed improved, and right now he will be the primary back-up for Marvin or Reggie. The Roy Hall I have seen this year is a different person from the one I saw last year. He is more confident, running better routes and recognizing plays better. Most importantly, he's catching the ball and catching it well. Passes are landing in his hands, and he is not using his body to catch. It's important to remember that Roy Hall (at 6'3, 240 pounds) is faster than Marvin Harrison. That kind of speed and size is a deadly weapon. give that kind of weapon to Peyton Manning, and we might see plays designed FOR Roy Hall. The coaches have indeed noticed his improvement, and people feel very happy about him this season.
- So, lots of positive stuff so far. Now, a bit of the negative: Jim Sorgi really needs to impress the coaches in this next pre-season game in order to keep his job. If not, Quinn Gray will be Indy's back-up QB for 2008. I personally have no problem with this. Sorgi showed me nothing while I attended camp last week. He holds the ball way too long and seems scared to throw to his WRs. Quinn Gray, on the other hand, did more with less around him in the HoF game. His mobility and arm strength make him ideal for this offense. He's also taken to the play book very well, better than he did in Houston. It's still a long shot, but Gray has a real chance to unseat Sorgi. If he does, I will feel a lot better about the back-up QB position. Gray can get the ball down field to the WRs. Sorgi can't. In this offense, if you can't get the ball down field to the WRs, you are useless. Utterly useless.
- Kenton Keith is a goner. Write it down. If he finds a way to make the active 53 man roster, then he's bribing someone. I did not see anything from him at camp to warrant a roster spot. No one speaks well of him. In the HoF game, QB Quinn Gray had more yards running. Mike Hart has passed him on the depth chart. The coaches are more impressed with what Hart has to offer than K2. Fans noticed it too. Also, Kenton still can't catch and still runs sloppy routes. A RB on this team that can't catch is like a QB who can't get the ball down field to his WRs; utterly useless. Pro Football Weekly also is confirming that Hart is now in the driver's seat for the #3 RB spot.
- I now understand why Bill Polian did not draft a WR in the early rounds. The Colts are as deep at WR as they've ever been. They have the best trio of WRs in the league with Marvin, Reggie, and Anthony Gonzalez. Manning may well have 40 TDs this season. Add to this a vastly improved Roy Hall and the Colts are 4 deep. Add again a very much improved Devin Aromashodu and it gets even deeper. Aromashodu looks so much more confident and comfortable it is like night and day compared to last year. He was thrown into the fire as a starter last year after getting signed off the street. He's been very consistent and precise at camp, and if he were needed to step in and start, his production would improve dramatically. So, that's 5 deep, but I haven't talked about 6th round pick Pierre Garcon, who has surprised many. The Colts thought he was a project players like Roy Hall, but Garcon has shown up to camp ready and impressed. One insider said he was bigger than they expected in terms of muscle mass. Since Indy will likely not carry a Luke Lawton this year, they might go 6 WRs.
- Speaking of Garcon, he is pushing TJ Rushing for the #1 job returning punts and kicks. Garcon looked shaky in camp, but impressed in the HoF game.
- Right now, there is a real battle emerging between Tim Jennings and Dante Hughes for the nickel corner spot. This battle is fierce, intense, and making these two players better. It reminds me a lot of the battle back in 2006 between Marlin Jackson and then-starter Jason David. That battle turned both those guys into stud corners (until New Orleans' incompetent defensive coaches got their hands on David and turned him into a joke). Jennings has made a big leap. I know he was some folks' whipping boy last year, but this year he looks stronger, faster, and more confident. Between him and Hughes, Jennings is more vocal. You can see this in practice. Hughes has improved as well, but last year as a rookie he was better than Jennings. Had he not gotten hurt, he'd have been the nickel corner all year. So, I think this is a case of Jennings catching up to Hughes. Regardless of who wins, the Colts are going to have one helluva secondary. The Colts last year allowed an average of 173 passing yards a game, and QBs averaged a 73 rating against them. I do not expect a drop off from that kind of excellent pass defense.
- As deep as they are in the secondary, that is not the case at LBer. After Brackett, Keiaho, and Session, there isn't much else; and right now, only Keiaho is healthy. Tyjuan Hagler will be out until October, according to what I've heard. Pectoral muscle tears don't just heal up lickity-split. Philip Wheeler was impressing coaches in camp, but he may (and I stress may) have had the exact same knee surgery that Peyton Manning and Tom Santi had recently. Again, this is a big rumor I'm hearing, and I might be dead wrong. This is why we're hearing Rob Morris' name getting tossed around. Morris was essentially done with football after last season's knee injury, but according to folks in the know, he is healthy and fine now. The Colts will indeed sign him, but not now. They are waiting until after the pre-season game with Carolina. They want to give guys like Kyle Stotwell and Victor Worsely one more chance, because if the sign Morris then one of those guys will get cut.
- We all saw how vastly improved the offensive line is in the HoF game. Last season, the starters were very good, but injuries exposed a lack of depth on the o-line. The Colts lost their regular season meeting with the Patriots because of this, and because of a lack of depth at WR. Now, o-line and WR are two of the deepest areas on the team. Of the three rookie offensive linemen drafted, Jamey Richard is the one raising eyebrows. The kid has a serious mean streak. He looks to destroy people, not just block them. This is not to say that Mike Pollak and Steve Justice look bad, but Richard seems to be the one adapting most quickly to the offense. Coach Howard Mudd absolutely loves this group. I still think Pollak will eventually beat out Charlie Johnson as the starting OG. Dan Federkeil has looked good backing up at the LG and LT positions.
- Because of the improved o-line and the return of Dom Rhodes, the Colts are focused more this year on running the ball in the red zone. Play fakes and bootlegs off play fakes are getting added into the red zone offense. For fantasy owners, this means we will likely see more of Dom Rhodes and Mike Hart on the goal line than Joseph Addai.
- Indy is going back to a split back offense. Last year, running Addai 25 times a game in the first half of the season wore him down for the second half. Addai isn't a primary, 25-30 carry a game runner. Such a runner does not exist anymore in the NFL, and teams that try and push that end up with broken backs at year's end (LaDanian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, etc.). Look for Addai to average 20 touches a game with Dom getting 10-15.
So, there you have it. A lot of info, I know. Remember, much of this could change between now and September. Players get hurt, cut, or things sometimes just happen to alter the scheme of things. One thing is certain: This is a more talented roster than last year's team. It is deep, faster, and has more play-making ability. I even think it is more talented than the 2006 team. After watching this team first hand, I am so pumped for 2008 it isn't even funny. Offensively, they have a chance to do some very special things. Defensively, they should pick up where they left off, only this time with a pass rush.
The one question still lingering is have the special teams improved. I'm holding off on that until I see more games. Adam Vinatieri looks bigger, stronger, and healthy for the first time in a while, but he was never really an issue. It's the coverage units. After watching the HoF game, I feel cautiously optimistic. But, I need to see more. The Colts had the worst special teams coverage units last year. Yet, they still won 13 games. They still need to improve this area if they want to beat teams like New England and San Diego.
Please offer your observations and comments below. If you want to re-read any of my first hand training camp articles, click here.