With the Colts players reporting to training camp tomorrow, fans are excited about finally being able to watch the team take the field for the 2014 season, one with high hopes. As is always the case in camp, there are a few areas and players that we key in on as guys we'll be watching closely, and that's true this year as well. Here are a few of the biggest storylines for the Colts entering camp
There has been arguably no Colts player who has been more talked about this offseason than running back Trent Richardson. His play last year was bad enough that of course people would be talking, but that's only getting started on Richardson. GM Ryan Grigson staked his reputation on that trade, so it's going to receive a lot of attention for that - especially since the Colts were without a first round in this year's draft because of the trade for Richardson. And, lastly, he's entering camp as the Colts starting running back and the team still has high hopes for him. So yeah, there's a lot of attention focusing on Richardson.
The Colts hopes for Richardson aren't completely without reason, however. Firstly, last year it seemed like quite a few of the poor runs that Richardson had (and there were many) were more a failure on the part of the offensive line than on Richardson himself. The offensive line does look to be a bit improved this year, but there are still question marks. Either way, however, the Colts have hope that the struggles last year were only partly because of the running back they invested in. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, Richardson has now gone through an offseason with the Colts and he's entering a training camp with the Colts. Because he was traded early in the season last year, Richardson didn't have any time to work with the team in offseason work, camp, or preseason - the times when teams really work on implementing their offensive scheme. In the season, it's much more about game-planning for opponents, so Richardson was coming in having to try to learn the offense while also focus on the opponent and play each week. That's a lot for anyone to deal with, and Richardson even said this offseason that he learned more in the first week of voluntary workouts this year than he did all of last year. Whether or not that's hyperbole really doesn't matter - what does matter is that Richardson has now had an offseason with the team and he's entering camp with the team. Because of that, there should be significant improvement from him. All eyes will be on Richardson in camp, and for good reason. He's one of the biggest storylines entering camp.
I mentioned that a lot of Richardson's struggles last year could be attributed to the offensive line, so the Colts took some measures to get rid of a few linemen - notably, releasing center Samson Satele and letting guard Mike McGlynn walk in free agency. The problem is that they didn't do a whole lot to try to improve it. The line should be improved just by the nature of the fact that Donald Thomas is coming back and that Hugh Thornton is entering his second year. And, just like last year, the bookends of Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus played every game and played well, and they're back this year. The real questions are on the interior, as Donald Thomas is recovering from injury and as Hugh Thornton was bad last year. The hope is that Thomas comes back quickly and that Thornton is improved - the real question along the offensive line, however, is at center. There, the Colts are going to be starting a guy with zero career starts and only a handful of career plays. There were some red flags raised about Khaled Holmes last year due to the fact that he couldn't get in the lineup even with the terrible play from Satele and injuries to Satele as well, but Holmes barely saw the field. There's really nothing wrong with the Colts planning to start their fourth round draft pick from last year. There's nothing wrong with that at all - the problem is that they don't have a backup plan. They did in Phil Costa, but, well, you know how that worked out, what with him retiring and all. Now, there's not a backup plan. The only other centers on the roster are Jonotthan Harrison and FN Lutz. While I think those two undrafted guys have potential, they have an uphill battle to even make the roster, much less step in and start if things go poorly. The bottom line is that the Colts have put all their eggs in this one basket, so to speak, and so they're counting heavily on Holmes. Too heavily for comfort, really. This isn't to say that I don't think Holmes will be good - I expect him to do a solid job this year. But he's unproven. And he's the only option the Colts have to man the interior of the unit that's supposed to protect the franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck. It's easy to see why he's a top storyline entering camp.
If there's one starting position on the team that's really up for grabs in camp, it's clearly the starting safety spot opposite LaRon Landry. Right now, it looks clear that the two big candidates are Delano Howell and Mike Adams, with several other guys trying to impress enough to earn the spot as well. But really, it's between Howell and Adams right now, and it's impossible to tell who will earn the job other than making a guess. Adams has the experience, with 73 career starts in 10 seasons, but Howell has the potential, with him being just 24 years old and playing well last year when he got a chance. I think Howell will probably start camp as the "first team" safety, but just because he's been around longer than Adams, who was signed just a few months ago. Regardless of what the depth chart says, however, they're pretty even and they'll be battling it out in camp and preseason for the starting spot. We talk a lot about camp battles, and for the Colts, all the battles in camp pales in significance to this one. Fans will be watching the battle for the starting safety spot, largely between Delano Howell and Mike Adams, very closely in camp and preseason.
Several key players were injured last year for the Colts and are returning this year, so naturally they'll be players that fans want to watch. There's star receiver Reggie Wayne, who tore his ACL mid-season last year and has been working furiously to come back. He'll be ready once camp starts, and it'll be great to see number 87 out there on the field again - with fans also paying attention to how the 35-year old is doing coming off of the ACL tear. Running back Vick Ballard also is coming off a torn ACL suffered early on, and the hope is that he'll be back soon as well. Fans will also be watching how he comes back. And, of course, Donald Thomas is coming off of a torn quad and the hope for him is still that he'll be ready for week one, but there's a chance he'll be placed on the PUP list too. We'll have to see with him, but that's an important thing to keep an eye on. And how can we forget Dwayne Allen, who is a crucial part to the offense? He missed most of last season as well, but he's back now and fans will love seeing Allen back out there working with the offense, and they'll look to see how Pep Hamilton is going to use him this year. Lastly, we'll be watching to see if those guys who have a history of injuries (like LaRon Landry or Greg Toler) stay healthy in camp. Injuries are always something to watch, and with the number of key players the Colts have returning from injury, seeing them get back on the field is definitely a storyline in itself.