Sunday, August 11, 2013

Preseason: 10 questions about the Colts

While my blog is primarily dedicated to writing, I'm an obsessive Indianapolis Colts fan. I blogged after every game last season, something I plan to do again this year.

Today marks the first preseason game for the Colts. Preseason football is kind of like a summer blockbuster that has an awesome trailer but ultimately lets you down because of bland characters, a stupid plot, shoddy specific effects, and general apathy. Sure, you're excited when it starts, but about five minutes in you realize what you're getting into.! Colts!

So as Indy gets set to take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Buffalo Bills, here are 10 questions about the team:

Will the Horseshoe's spending spree pay off? The Colts were flush with cash this offseason, something that hasn't been the case in the past. They upgraded in almost all areas: secondary, linebackers, offensive line, running back. Will those upgrades make a difference?

Will Andrew Luck get killed in the pocket? Last year, #12 was under constant assault from all angles. Some of it was rookie stubbornness to try to make a play. Some of it was his tendency to hold the ball too long instead of running or throwing it away. A lot of it, though, was that last season's patchwork offensive line wasn't up to the task. The unit should be stronger and Luck more decisive.

Can Mathis thrive without Freeney? I know the answer to this one (it's 'yes'). I also know that asking this question about Robert Mathis will serve only to ignite his competitive fire. Mathis always plays with a chip on his shoulder, and the chippier he is, the nastier he plays.

Will the offense have enough Pep? Terrible pun aside, the Colts transitioned from Bruce Arians "Throw Deep, Gun It, Have Fun, Get Killed" offense to Pep Hamilton's "No Coast" system. They're expected to run more in a scheme that's intended to get the ball out of Luck's hand quickly. They'll still take their shots, but those long-developing plays of Arians' system won't be the norm.

A fullback? Really? The Colts are expected to make use of a fullback in the new system. The position has become sort of a vestigial feature in today's NFL offense, but the Colts want to run with power. After watching the team utilize mostly a one-back system for more than a decade--and bring in offensive or defensive linemen when calling for the "jumbo" package--this will be a different look.

Will be Chapman be the immovable object in the middle? The Colts gambled on Josh Chapman in the 2012 draft, selecting him in the fifth round. The guy has first-round talent, but he played his senior season with a bum knee that required surgery. Concerns about that injury were enough for many teams to pass--and in a win-first league, most teams didn't want to snag him in the first four rounds because they wanted guys who could step in immediately instead of investing in a guy who couldn't play for a whole year. If he's healthy--and it's looking good so far--Chapman can be that space-eating force in the middle the Colts haven't had in a long time.

Will Whalen make an impact? I liked what I saw from Griff Whalen last year, but he hurt his foot and had to be placed on injured reserve. From all indications, he's looked great in training camp and could be a fantastic, reliable slot target in the vein of Brandon Stokley or Wes Welker.

Will the Colts have a better team but a worse record? No doubt about it, last year's 11-5 record was a Cinderella story--a team rallies behind a sick coach, catches a few breaks, and seizes the opportunity. They came out of nowhere. This year, they'll have a tougher schedule and a target on their back. Fans expect them to be better because of the free agent bonanza. This has been a common sentiment: while the Colts will no doubt put a better team on the field this year, they may not win 10 games.

Will their Luck improve? One day, I won't stoop to stupid "luck" puns. One day. Still, despite the offensive and defensive changes, the Colts will live and die with the man responsible for directing the offense. Great expectations have followed Luck as he's stepped into the Hall of Fame cleats of Peyton Manning. Luck was fearless last year, and I expect that will be the same this year. The offense should give him a chance to make plays and keep a healthy completion percentage.

Is there anyone in the receiving corps other than Reggie Wayne? If the Colts stay healthy and get consistent play from their wideouts, they could have one heck of an explosive offense. Still, Reggie Wayne is the only proven commodity there. T.Y. Hilton can be lightning in a bottle, but he could struggle in his second season. Griff Whalen has impressed, but can he stay healthy and have an impact? Darrius Heyward-Bey has great speed but a history of injuries and dropped passes. LaVon Brazill will miss the first four games of the year because of a drug suspension. We'll just have to see what we get from the unit as a whole.