The impact of injuries is real. Ask the Ravens who are likely flounder in their division without Joe Flacco. Or you could ask the Chargers who seem to be perpetually topping the list of injuries. Even the Patriots, who lost Julian Edelman to a torn ACL can suffer big losses. Serious injuries transform the landscape of the league.
Colts fans have, with good reason, been pulling our hair out so far this offseason because of injuries. The team hasn’t looked good. Guys have been banged up, our offensive line has been a revolving door due to injuries. Our quarterback play has been virtually non-existent. Half our wide receiver group has been laid up for at least some of training camp and the preseason.
But there is good reason to be optimistic if you are a Colts fan. No, really. A few reasons actually. Let’s have a look at them.
The Colts Have Largely Avoided Major Injuries
While Andrew Luck is on the preseason PUP list, Clayton Geathers is on the Regular Season PUP, and Ryan Kelly is going to miss several weeks, the majority of the Colts injuries have been minor ones. No, we don’t want to see pulled hamstrings or sprained ankles at all if we can avoid it, but they happen.
It bothers all of us to see guys missing time early and often during the preseason, but we all have to calm down. The season is long, and guys play hurt all through it. The coaching staff is taking steps to minimize playing injured. That means that they will rest guys who are nicked up early, even if they would normally play once the games matter.
You can just about bet that guys like Johnathan Hankins, who has missed some practice time, will be playing through some of those things that have sidelined him in the preseason. Vontae Davis has played through injuries his whole time with the Colts. It is what players do.
While there are some legitimate concerns with the Colts play, it has to be noted that they have been very cautious about injuries, while also recognizing that this will not be likely to continue once the real games begin. All in all, we have to be encouraged that the team has not been crippled by catastrophic injuries to key players.
The Schedule Is Favorable
Through the first seven weeks of the regular season, the Colts face exactly two teams who had a winning record last season. Four of the teams the Colts face in that time- the Rams, Browns, 49ers, and Jaguars- combined for a total of 10 wins last season.
So, it is safe to say that during that initial part of the season where the Colts will be without Luck, Kelly, and Geathers for at least some amount of time, they are not facing the cream of the crop.
If the worst were to happen and Luck had to miss the first 6 games of the season, it would still be completely believable that the Colts could get through that time and come out of it at 3-3. At that point, short of some sort of catastrophic issue, Andrew Luck would be back. Ryan Kelly would be back or very close to it. Perhaps we might even get Clayton Geathers back.
The schedule through the end of the season remains very favorable and there are certainly 5-6 winnable games, at least, that can be found. That is all assuming Luck misses more time than we expect. If he is back sooner, the likelihood of a better start to the season increases significantly.
This Team Is Young
Our whole defense has been essentially remade by Chris Ballard. Using a blend of young talent in the form of draft picks, undrafted free agents, and younger free agent veterans, Ballard has dropped the average age on the team dramatically. Early on this is a liability. Young guys play sloppier. They make mistakes. They have a lot to learn, and they show their inexperience, especially early in the season.
But that is a double-edged sword. For young players, knowledge, and experience is often their biggest detriment. They are able to learn and develop as the season progresses.
What might be more important still, young players are able to heal faster. They play more effectively through minor injuries. Their young bodies bounce back easier and better than those older veterans.
While our defense will struggle early on, they are likely to suffer from attrition at a lower level than in past years. Also, they should get better and better as the season goes along and they learn and progress in what for most is a new defensive system.
Likewise, the whole offense is young. Donte Moncrief is preparing to enter his 4th season in the league but is still only 24 years old. His rookie season was in 2014. That was the only year he has played with a healthy Andrew Luck.
Hilton is the only other receiver to have experienced that. Given how great Luck played last season, and both the numbers and the eye test say it was really great, it will be nothing compared to what he is capable of with a healthy shoulder.
The injury bug can hit us too, but it is easy to forget that most teams are a major injury away from coming back to the pack or dropping off entirely. Right now the Colts can take heart that, unless something is much worse than what we are being told, we are not facing that particular situation.
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying this is a team that is likely to light the world on fire. They have struggled, and probably will all season to some degree or another. But if they have a few young players for whom something clicks during the course of the season, the possibilities are there for a good run.
There are a lot of things going in their favor, and it is far too early to pack it in and start researching the 2018 draft class. Hang in there Colts fans, real football is not far away, and our team probably has a better chance in it than you think.