The Indianapolis Colts have their hands full this Sunday in their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. A new scheme on both sides of the ball, new head coach, an even younger roster than a year ago, and they no longer have 7 of their top-10 most productive tacklers on the roster from 2017.
Andrew Luck is back, and we should hold an elite quarterback to the standard that he can lead an inexperienced roster to a .500 record — give or take a game. Overall team health has been a real issue for the Colts over the past several seasons, but this season will be an extremely critical year for the team’s durability.
The Colts have at least 19 rookies, or second-year players on their roster that should be expected to play large roles throughout the season. Aside from youth, they’ve still got some obvious holes at primary positions and without durability, this season could hit the skids in a heartbeat.
Thus far, though, the Colts are largely healthy. The offensive line is a real point of interest because they’ve got more depth there in recent years. You can say the overall talent level is higher here, but if more injuries pop up it could get ugly pretty quickly. Denzelle Good is out for Week 1, but that’s it in terms of injury there.
Braden Smith has some positional flexibility and that will go a long way with helping out, especially at right tackle where the jury is still very much out on the right side of the offensive line.
Another spot where the Colts desperately need production from is the defensive line. Theoretically they’re deep, I suppose, and aside from rookie Tyquan Lewis who was placed on IR early this week, the rest of the group is pretty healthy.
Kemoko Turay suffered some lengthy injuries in college, and was out for a bit through training camp, but his energy and burst will be heavily relied upon to give the Colts a pass rush presence off the edge. Otherwise we’re depending on Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt and Tarell Basham to boost this endeavor.
The Colts don’t have room for injuries with this edge unit. Another youngster, Al-Quadin Muhammad, has been added to the group recently as well, but if this group doesn’t stay healthy, we’re likely looking to the practice squad for some help.
Additionally, the Colts only have 4 true defensive tackles on the roster right now. Of course there will be fairly regular movement between these two positions, but a true rotation amongst Al Woods, Denico Autry, Grover Stewart and Hassan Ridgeway needs health in a big way to keep them fresh and generate some success.
Can the Colts stop Joe Mixon, get to Andy Dalton or rein in A.J. Green and John Ross? The defense is mostly healthy, but they’ve got to stay that way throughout the game to have a chance.
Other positions have similar situations on both sides of the ball for the Colts, but for Week 1 Anthony Castonzo and Marlon Mack are ‘questionable’ and that matters.
They’ve both progressed nicely this week and other than Mack missing Wednesday’s practice, they were ‘limited’ for Thursday and Friday practices. If they both can’t go in the home opener, Le’Raven Clark likely starts at left tackle and Jordan Wilkins will act as the starter in place of Mack.
That takes a big cut into what the Colts can reasonably expected to accomplish Sunday against a defensive line of Carlos Dunlap, Andrew Billings, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson. And don’t mind the depth there with Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, Sam Hubbard and Ryan Glasgow..
Those “waves along the Colts front” Chris Ballard is hoping to build for the front seven on the Colts defense in the near future, will be staring right across the line of scrimmage at Andrew Luck Sunday. The Colts running game can’t afford to be trash if they hope for the offense to move the ball, and they’ll be similarly critical to keeping legitimate protection around their quarterback.
Castonzo and Mack both play large roles in getting those two aspects to just a median level if we’re being honest. Otherwise, the Bengals’ defensive front might just feast on the Colts franchise passer.
The Colts have a real challenge in Week 1, regardless of how the Bengals might be disrespected right now. They have real talent in all the right places, and the Colts need to have all hands on deck if they’re going to truly compete this week.