Of course this is the time of the year when we finish up positional previews, take initial looks at camp battles, but we also look for broad categories to put either players, or the team as a whole into. We’re not the only ones, and just the other day the group on Good Morning Football were doing a segment on each team’s Achilles heel for the upcoming season.
Naturally, it comes time to roast the Indianapolis Colts for being a team attempting to rebound from an awful 4-12 season with a ton of injuries, a lack of play-makers and an absent franchise quarterback. Former All-Pro receiver Steve Smith joined Peter Schrager, Colleen Wolf (sitting in for Kay Adams) and Kyle Brandt to offer up their largest critiques of the Colts upcoming season.
Let’s just take them in order and go from there. (Here’s the video to watch for yourself)
Schrager began by stating that the Colts’ massive youth movement was a critical issue, lacking the veteran leadership to help the young roster along. Schrager goes on to point out that the Colts had 10 players under the age of 23 start a significant amount of games last season.
Schrager mentions the recent losses of Vontae Davis, Robert Mathis, D’Qwell Jackson and Frank Gore, noting their being staples in the locker room. Schrager then states “It’s Andrew Luck and a bunch of kids.” and that if he were a Colts’ fan that that would scare him.
Well, look. The Colts have been one of the oldest rosters in the league under Chuck Pagano. As for Davis, Mathis, Jackson and Gore, it was time for them to go as well. Quite honestly, I don’t know that anyone should be scared by the Colts’ youth. If anything it should garner excitement — that the team is no longer looking to the washed up, former play-makers from other teams who wisely let them walk a year early rather than a year late.
Very few free agent acquisitions made any sort of impact while Ryan Grigson and Pagano were in town. Gore, Davis initially, Jerrell Freeman, Darius Butler, Ahmad Bradshaw when healthy, I’ll give you Mike Adams and maybe Erik Walden and that’s about it.
I suppose you could say that the Colts youth will be a contributor to some losses and bad play this season, that’s a pretty broad statement, but it’s the best thing the Colts have going for them just the same. I have a hard time putting the Colts’ youth in a larger hole than any other team’s simply based on needing them to play.
Next, Steve Smith makes his point about the Colts offensive line. Initially this surprised me because the Colts just spent some very real draft capitol on the O-line and picked up two of the most athletic guards in the entire draft. But, again and similar to Schrager’s point, Smith points to the money the Colts aren’t spending on the line as opposed to simply saying something negative about how they’re building the unit.
Smith says “You’ve got a hundred million dollar quarterback and you’re not protecting him. You’ve got a twenty million dollar line.” I remember some big-money signings not going so well along the offensive line in the past.
The Colts signed Donald Thomas to a 4-year, $14M contract. They also signed Gosder Cherilus to a 5-year, $34M deal that year. Handing out money hand-over-fist didn’t help that situation one bit. Now, to be fair, the Colts had a couple big-money free agents available on the market this year, but what they did instead of making it rain was bring in a veteran lineman and go after arguably the best player in the draft, Quenton Nelson.
The Colts’ line does feature a legit top-15/20 left tackle in Anthony Castonzo, Nelson as mentioned above, a 2016 first-rounder in Ryan Kelly at center, one of Jack Mewhort, rookie Braden Smith or Matt Slauson at right guard and another veteran Austin Howard likely at right tackle.
Three of the Colts’ lineman are on their rookie contracts, two of them are first-rounders, Mewhort, who has some real potential, came back on the cheapy cheap and the right tackle spot is up for competition and is going to be addressed in the 2019 NFL Draft if I was a betting man. So, what’s the problem? Rookie deals are inherently cheap for teams now, who wouldn’t take a healthy, cheap Mewhort over something unknown out on the market and Castonzo is so much better than he gets credit for.
Sorry Steve, I’m good with not blowing money on overpriced vets if this is the current construction the line is under. The Colts current line, is considerably better than anything they trotted out there last season.
Wolf takes her turn, and despite the hope for this next group, her point is very valid. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised this wasn’t a concern from more of them on set. The running backs.
Wolf states how with Gore gone, Marlon Mack does have a lot of kinks to work out to become an every down back — not in so many words. She then makes the point that Luck doesn’t possess the weapons to make a lot happen in the short term.
“Hilton... and then what? You have Jack Doyle — and Marlon Mack?” she suggests uncertainly.
Look, she’s not wrong. At least there’s nothing tangible for anyone to grab a hold of with the unit in the backfield. Two rookies and a second-year scat back who struggles in pass protection and getting real yardage between the tackles. Yes, that’s exactly what the Colts have right now.
While we can look at college film to argue that Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines have a ton of potential, a natural fit in Frank Reich’s system, but there’s no proof of it being a sure thing. This one would have been one of mine as well.
Next, Brandt keeps it simple and argues that Luck’s shoulder is the biggest issue facing the Colts this year. Well, it would be if he couldn’t throw, there’s no doubt. And to agree in some facet here, without Luck on the field the Colts would almost certainly become a disaster again in 2018.
However, Luck is coming back — no more qualifying this fact — and Jacoby Brissett has an entire season of experience and is now has an impressive coaching staff in their relation to quarterbacks. I wasn’t in love with what Brissett did last year, but I have no doubt that he’d be considerably better this year if he were to take the field as a starter. Regardless, I get the argument.
Now, if i’m going to take a stab at this, I do agree about the Colts’ backfield being a major question mark. A better line will yield better production from the backs, however, there is just so many unknowns surrounding the group as a whole. I could argue similarly about the WR corps. Conversely, with Hilton still around and Luck breaking in a new unit, the group will be fine.
There will be bumps in the road, without question, but Eric Ebron and the running backs will give that group a much-needed boost along with Chester Rogers and Ryan Grant offering a bit of stability as the rookies get their footing. If I were to simply look at this position wise, I’d say the linebackers are the real issue, but I believe it’s bigger than that.
Enough waffling. The Colts’ Achilles heel in 2018 will be the new coaching staff. I do like the changes, and am a fan of getting more into a zone-based defense as well as a more aggressive offense. But — and this is a big but — every single player on the team will have some sort of time needed to get acclimated to the new systems they play in.
Even if they’ve played in a 4-man front in their past, regardless if their college system was similar, and in spite of if they came from a similar scheme last year (free agents), they haven’t been coached this scheme by these coaches. It will take some time, and it could even be quite ugly at some points this season.
Ultimately, though, this should be more expected than for the team to hit the ground running as if they’ve never played in any other setup. This, the entirety of the offseason changes, will be the largest issue for the team to overcome. The good news, is that it will likely be much more of a short-term issue than something that hampers the team for an extended time period.
Maybe it takes 4 games, or even more than half of the season, but there will be a learning curve once the team is between the lines and the games count.