Much of the attention in the AFC during the offseason has, rightfully, been focused on the Broncos and Patriots. The two conference finalists each made major free-agent additions: DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward in Denver, and Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in New England.
One team that seems to have been overlooked, especially when it comes to the weapons being assembled for quarterback Andrew Luck, is the Colts.
On paper—and that’s all we have to go on, knowing much can change—Indianapolis has put together a formidable array of weapons.
At receiver, the Colts have the potential to line up with Reggie Wayne and free agent Hakeem Nicks on either side of the field, with the explosive and emerging T.Y. Hilton on the inside. At tight end, the Colts have the multi-talented Dwayne Allen returning from injury, and Coby Fleener entering his third season after a promising sophomore campaign (52 catches). Indianapolis has a few options at running back, including former third overall pick Trent Richardson, entering his first full season in the Colts’ system, Vick Ballard and veteran Ahmad Bradshaw.
That’s a lot of weaponry, if it all lands on the field. The smile that came over coach Chuck Pagano’s face while discussing his lineup at the league meetings spoke volumes.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Pagano said. “I say problem—there’s only one football. When you have great competitors, they all want the rock at the same time. It’s a great situation that we have getting those guys back, getting Dwayne back, Ahmad, Vick, Reggie and then adding Hakeem and those types of things. It’s a great situation.
“You have to kind of pick your poison and say okay, who do we want to stop? You lose a bunch of guys to injuries and you go into a game with only one or two guys who are game wreckers. It’s the same thing for us we say, ‘We have to take care of this guy and that guy. They have to beat us left handed.’ ”
Two of Luck’s potential targets, Wayne and Allen, are returning from serious injuries. Wayne had ACL surgery in October, and the start of training camp would be at around the nine-month mark of his rehab. Allen, who quickly rose as a rookie to be a valuable and versatile cog in the offense, said recently he was 100 percent recovered from hip surgery. General manager Ryan Grigson has said he expects both players to be ready for training camp.
Hilton caught 82 passes for 1,083 yards in just his second season. He further cemented his star-in-waiting status with 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns in a wild-card victory over the Chiefs, and then 103 yards in the loss to the Patriots, without Wayne to draw attention.
“We all know he’s an explosive guy and a vertical guy, and he can make the big plays,” Pagano said. “Did he have to do some of the other stuff because of the absence of Reggie? We had to be creative, couldn’t sit him in one spot. We knew they were going to roll the coverage to him. They were going to double him. Disrupt him at the line of scrimmage, have a guy over the top. We had to do a bunch of different things to try to get him loose.”
The big X-factor is Nicks. He posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and ’11 and is only 26, but because of injuries and down production the past two seasons with the Giants, he to accept a one-year, $3.5 million offer.
“Maybe this is something that had to take place for Hakeem,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin told reporters at the league meetings. “Maybe he will deal with exactly where he is and once again return to the quality of player that he is.”
The Colts are obviously hoping Nicks will play with a chip on his shoulder with a show-me deal and can regain the form Coughlin was alluding to.
“What is there not to like about the guy?” Pagano said. “He’s a big guy. Very, very athletic. Experienced guy. Played at a high level. Won championships. He brings that with him. Big, big hands. Can make huge plays. Physical guy. Everybody is going to get up in your face and play bump and run and make it hard for you to get off the line of scrimmage. He gives you a big, physical presence. He’ll do a great job against press coverage and teams we’ll have to face. All of them are built to stop the big wideouts. He brings a lot to the table.”
The Colts are counting on a lot to go right—Wayne’s and Allen’s return from injury, and Nicks’ and Richardson’s career revivals. The offensive line struggled last year, and the defense added Arthur Jones and D’Qwell Jackson to a leaky unit that still needs help at cornerback and safety.
No one’s saying this plan is going to work. But for a team that has taken small steps with Pagano and Luck (playoffs in ’12, playoff victory in ’13), the Colts certainly bear monitoring in an AFC in which most of the attention is being focused elsewhere.
1. Wasn’t enamored with the Bears’ signing of end Lamarr Houston if they were expecting him to be a dominating pass rusher, because he’s stronger around the run. But after Chicago added ends Willie Young (Lions) and now Jared Allen (Vikings), the Houston move looks a lot better because it allows the Bears to play to Houston’s strengths. Allen can play every down, and Houston can move from end to tackle in sub packages to make way for Young. That’s a very good rotation that holds a lot of potential.
2. Ravens coach John Harbaugh had the best reaction to the offseason moves made by the Patriots and Broncos. “I was disappointed with the moves that the Broncos and Patriots made in the offseason. What more can I say?” he said. “I thought they did a great job and that disturbed me. We’ll find out. The proof is in the pudding. But obviously they’ve added some pieces. You’ve got to applaud what they’ve done. But we’ll play games in the fall and see how it plays out.”
3. NFL coaches who voted against the Patriots’ proposal to open up all plays to replay review (without adding challenges) shouldn’t be allowed to complain about any calls against their team. They had a chance to take more control, and they decided not to because, basically, it give them too many things to think about and could leave them open to more second-guessing. Here’s a suggestion: Hire a former official to monitor the game from the coaches’ box and handle challenges. It doesn’t seem like rocket science.
4. Don’t see the harm in the Raiders acquiring former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, especially after his contract restructure left him with no guaranteed money beyond 2014—as long as Oakland targets its passer of the future. But general manager Reggie McKenzie is being a little naïve if he believes, as he told San Francisco Chronicle beat man Vic Tafur, that Schaub can quickly get his confidence back. “A veteran can chalk it up as bad year, and shake it off. He’s ready to bounce back,” McKenzie said. Schaub’s biggest problem the last two seasons was precisely that he couldn’t quickly overcome mistakes. As soon as he made an error—whether it was in the two losses to the Patriots in ’12, or any of the losses last season—the mistakes compounded and spiraled out of control.
5. Saints coach Sean Payton gave some interesting insight into how to approach looking for a quarterback of the future when you have a 35-year-old franchise player in Drew Brees. “I don’t know you go into a draft and say, ‘All right put on your gloves. Here we go. This is it.’ But you are paying attention to that specific position market each year. It’s a little bit like that high-end delicatessen item that doesn’t come in every day, and so you’re always waiting to make sure that something’s not on the shelf. We’re fortunate to have a player like Drew. . . . But you’re not afraid each year to secure someone who fits what you want. That’s not just anyone—it’s someone you have a vision for. I don’t think there’s a specific year.”