The Colts are in a situation that has become all too familiar for fans each year. They have suffered a rash of season-ending injuries, starting in rookie mini-camp, with third-round cornerback Kevin Thomas. The Colts added four more defensive backs to that list: including veteran safety Jamie Silva, safety David Caldwell, safety Donye’ McCleskey, and cornerback Jordan Hemby — each were lost during training camp and preseason.
Tight end Tom Santi and kicker Brett Swenson also failed to make it to the regular season. Since the season’s start, linebacker Ramon Humber has been waived due to injury and starters Bob Sanders, Clint Session, Pierre Garçon, Charlie Johnson, and Anthony Gonzalez have all suffered injuries that have kept them out of games. Starting linebacker Clint Session’s replacement, rookie Kavell Conner, suffered a broken bone in his left foot in Denver that will keep him out for weeks as well. Even 2007 second-round pick Tony Ugoh suffered a toe injury that led to his release from the club.
The silver lining is that Pierre Garçon participated in light work during Monday’s practice, meaning the wide receiver could be close enough to a full recovery to return to the field this Sunday against the Jaguars. Colts 2010 first-round draft pick, defensive end Jerry Hughes, was active for the first time in his young career against the Broncos. No, he did not take the field on defense and put pressure on quarterback Kyle Orton, but he did play a limited special teams role. Any work in his young career should be encouraging for his future and his chance to make an impact at some point this year.
The other good news for the Colts is that the injuries have led to the development of players who may otherwise not have had a chance. The injuries to Pierre Garçon and Anthony Gonzalez led to undrafted rookie free agent Blair White’s activation from the practice squad, which resulted in his first NFL receptions and first career touchdown. Developing a rapport with Peyton Manning and developing another receiver in the Colts system gives the team flexibility moving forward when contracts end.
The injuries to Session and Conner could result in rookie second-round pick Pat Angerer getting some time on the field. Angerer showed promise in the preseason and any time he gets early this year could allow him to be a factor as the Colts make their playoff push. To this point, Angerer is still behind second-year veteran Cody Glenn but the likelihood that he will be used in relief on defense is much higher given the current state of the Colts linebacker depth.
There are two other additions to the team in 2010 who are beginning to make a mark as new weapons for the Colts. Rookie tight end Brody Eldridge has had an impact blocking, both for the running and passing game, and even helped get the Colts out of a tight spot pinned on their own one-yard line in Denver on Sunday by catching his first NFL pass. Third-year cornerback Justin Tryon, acquired in a trade from the Washington Redskins just days before the start of the regular season, recovered a muffed punt, which led to a Colts field goal.
Even last year’s second-round draft pick, defensive tackle Fili Moala played a big role in the Colts Week One match-up against the Houston Texans, due to groin and ankle injuries that hobbled 2009 starter Antonio Johnson. Moala has used his opportunity to lock down a starting job and has played the best football of his young career.
The Colts mantra, “next man up,” is mentioned many times each year. For fans though, nothing is more stressful or harder to believe than the idea that players behind those who have started and proven themselves previously will have as much success as their predecessors. Somehow though, the Colts manage to surprise the NFL with a seemingly endless pool of talent across many positions and continue to win football games under the least ideal of circumstances.
Colts president and longtime general manager Bill Polian has taken his share of shots from Colts fans over the years, partially due to impatience on the part of fans who expect every draft pick to have a major impact faster than they sometimes do. It is at times like these, that Polian shows his real value to the fans and the rest of the league. The Colts are a deep and highly talented football team capable of weathering this early and sustained storm of injuries to have a winning record and promising future.
As the season rolls on, many of the Colts injured players will return. The young players who are seeing the field early will give the Colts experienced depth as they make a push into the playoffs. It has not been pretty to this point, but recovery willing, Indianapolis may find itself in really good shape down the stretch.
It is also worth mentioning that back in May Coltzilla posted a story discussing a potentially difficult and uncertain future for the Colts following the conclusion of the 2010 season, due to a rash of impact players who are all reaching the end of their contracts. It should be interesting to note that the development of defensive tackle Fili Moala, linebacker Kavell Conner, linebacker Pat Angerer, wide receiver Blair White, wide receiver Austin Collie, offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach, and starting experience for guard Jamey Richard all make the outlook for the team’s future improve.
Polian, you sly dog you! One year from today it’s very possible Colts fans will be sitting on another loaded roster, extending the Colts unparalleled sustained success, even when just a few short months ago things looked bleak.