The 2017 Indianapolis Colts are a bad football team. At 3-9, I am not really going out on a limb saying this. However, those who have been watching have seen the potential for this team to improve going forward. While the defense has performed poorly late in games, it has a much higher ceiling than the defenses of the past few years. That side of the ball is loaded with talent, most of whom are young and likely to get better with experience and a better coaching staff.
On the offensive side, there is much to be done. Chris Ballard launched a full-scale overhaul of the defense last season and he will likely do something similar to the offense over the coming offseason. While it is still probable that the Colts’ first-round pick will go to the defensive side of the ball in the form of a blue-chip pass rusher, the offense is on the table for nearly every other pick and a lot of free agent acquisitions. The return of Andrew Luck as well as a competent play caller will dramatically change the way this offense looks, but even so, it is in desperate need of improvement and an infusion of talent.
The real question is, who are the leaders on this team? Chris Ballard is hard at work putting together the best possible roster from the pieces he can get. However, teams without strong leadership rarely go far in the NFL. They crumble under pressure. When a team gets infected with me-first mentalities and lacks real leadership, getting bounced out of the playoffs early is about the best they can expect.
So let’s take a look at who exactly might be the leaders on this team on both sides of the ball going forward.
The easy answer is Andrew Luck. But if you dig in a little deeper the answer that rings truer is that there isn’t one. Andrew Luck is a tremendous player. There is no doubt that his example is one that other team members can follow. However, Luck is not a commanding personality. He is as competitive as they come, but he regards himself as one of the guys. It is what we love about him. That ability to somehow misunderstand how valuable he is. Frank Gore is the same kind of guy. They simply work harder than anyone else and inspire them to do more to keep up.
What this offense might be missing completely is a more vocal leader. More than his playing ability, when Reggie Wayne left the Colts, they missed his vocal leadership on the team. Andrew Luck is not likely to simply become that guy. It is not who he is, and that kind of thing cannot be manufactured. The good thing is that all those me-first guys will be largely gone after the offseason, and those who remain will quiet down when Luck is back on the field.
The defensive side of the ball is tougher. I think what has been good about this defense is that there is some real chemistry amongst players on it. They are young and will have the chance to grow and improve together. That bodes well for their future. Given that youth, it is harder to cite leadership. You have guys like Rashaan Melvin. Melvin, like Luck and Gore, just goes out and plays hard every game. You won’t hear him beating his chest or see him wearing a shirt with his picture. He will just show up and play.
Then there are guys like John Simon. He brings it in the game and is honest and realistic about expectations and performance outside of them. Simon is in his first year with the Colts. Maybe he steps more into that role in the coming year. It is tough to say. But none of these guys quite holds that distinction of who is most likely to lead this defense next year. That goes to Clayton Geathers.
Geathers is the kind of player that it is really hard not to like. He is hard-nosed, smart, and fearless. His skill on the field makes his leadership that much easier for others to swallow. Sidelined most of this season with a serious neck injury, Geathers has been working his way back in and making an impact late in this lost season. Despite missing time, his teammates still named him their choice for the Ed Block Courage Award. That truly highlighted how he is viewed in the locker room.
According to Stephen Holder and Zak Keefer on the Chopping Wood podcast, Malik Hooker already pointed to Geathers’ leadership in helping him work through and process how to deal with a tough season-ending injury. Having a guy like that who is just 25 and understands and carries the weight of being a team leader is going to be invaluable going forward with such a young roster.