Each summer, SB Nation puts together a document compiling newsworthy information on each NFL franchise prior to training camp. For this year’s edition, I share my views on: notable free agents, over/under 10 wins, rookie I’m most excited about, best position battle heading into training camp, biggest storyline heading into training camp, under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp, notable injuries, and obscure player on the 90-man roster who will be a preseason star but later get cut.
In the comments, share anything I missed.
Notable free agent additions
Chris Ballard grabbed three veteran free agents with the potential to improve the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Perhaps the most important is veteran pass rusher Justin Houston, who will slide in as the most experienced and productive pass rusher the Colts have had since Robert Mathis retired following the 2016 season.
While second-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus did a nice job of mitigating opponents’ ground games, too much pressure was placed on a young secondary due to a lack of consistent pass rush. Houston’s presence should also help the development of young pass rushers Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis, along with benefiting 3-tech defensive tackle Denico Autry, who led the team in sacks in 2018.
The other free agents join the Colts on the offensive side of the ball. Young wide receiver Devin Funchess has traded up from Cam Newton to Andrew Luck and brings a physical presence the Colts haven’t had at the receiver position in some time. His size should help him in the red zone and force defenses to make choices against other receiving threats, particularly tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron who have had their share of success in the end zone.
Former Chiefs starting running back Spencer Ware also joined a young and promising backfield. He brings a different element to the backfield as a bruising runner who is comfortable catching the ball. His experience could help influence second-year rushers Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, and could take some of the load off of Marlon Mack during a long season.
Over/under: 10 wins
Over. The biggest test for the Colts this year is how the defense will respond in the face of a slightly more difficult schedule that includes a more talented group of quarterbacks. Indianapolis will face Phillip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. Frank Reich will likely need to win a couple of those games if the Colts are going to finish the season over 10 wins. Unfortunately, only the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan will make a trip to Indianapolis. Beating a legitimate NFL quarterback or two on the road will seal the deal on this over/under.
Rookie I’m most excited about
While it’s difficult, I’ll choose second round wide receiver Parris Campbell. I don’t choose Campbell over Rock Ya-Sin because I feel Campbell is or will be significantly better than Ya-Sin. I choose Campbell because I acknowledge that transitioning to cornerback in the NFL may be more difficult than being the fourth or fifth receiving option on an offense that is tailor made for Campbell’s experience running short crossing routes. With Doyle healthy, Ebron back, Hilton still producing at a high level, and Funchess joining the team, Campbell will have some opportunities to break some big plays, which could turn the tide in some important games. Ya-Sin will likely have fewer opportunities to do so as a rookie and even great corners get picked on frequently as rookies.
Best position battle heading into camp
Inside linebacker. In 2018, Anthony Walker Jr. took a big leap forward from his rookie season. At times, Walker looked like the perfect complement to Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard. The one problem is that Walker is consistently better against the run than he is against the pass and the Colts often find themselves in sub packages on defense. This could mean that, when the defense starts in a nickel formation, rookie Bobby Okereke may be on the field. Okereke’s draft comparison was none other than Darius Leonard and his speed could allow him to sneak into the starting lineup for his impact on the passing game.
Biggest storyline heading into camp
Andrew Luck is entering his first training camp healthy since 2016. He missed all of the 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery early in the year and slowly ramped up his workload in training camp a season ago. In his second season under Frank Reich, Luck will now get a full summer and training camp to establish a rapport with his receivers and should enter the season well ahead of how he entered 2018. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where this extra time doesn’t end up benefiting the Colts at some point during the season.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into camp
How will the Colts defense make up for losing run stuffing defensive tackle Al Woods? The assumption is that Margus Hunt and third-year defensive tackle Grover Stewart will be asked to carry the load but there is very little proven beef on the inside. Could that spell problems for the Colts run defense after a strong showing in 2018?
Notable injuries heading into training camp
Veteran safety Clayton Geathers is the presumed starter across from Malik Hooker at safety. His downhill, box-stuffing style is a nice counter to Hooker’s speed and range. However, the two have only played together sparingly and Geathers missed all of the Colts spring program. Can he kick the injury bug and stay on the field?
Obscure player on the 90-man roster that will be a preseason star (and likely later cut)
Tight end Ross Travis. Perhaps no franchise in the NFL is richer at tight end than the Indianapolis Colts. Starters Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron should be easily considered one of the top starting tandems in the NFL. Former VCU basketball player Mo Alie-Cox showed that he is capable of making highlight-reel catches and, more surprisingly, has established himself as a rather impressive blocker.
Ross Travis is also a former basketball player and has the ability to stretch the field as a pass catcher. Don’t be surprised if he receives a lot of targets in preseason and makes a strong impression. Can the Colts keep four tight ends, four running backs, five or more wide receivers, and enough offensive line depth to feel comfortable entering the season? Unless Doyle’s health is in doubt to start the year, Travis could see himself make the team only to be cut after waiver claims go through.