Now that we have taken a look at what we have lost, let’s take a look at the 53-man roster that I feel the team would likely end up with if they had to make decisions today regarding which players will develop most and prove capable of forming the most talented roster the team can carry into the new season.
Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter
The Colts place a lot of emphasis on system experience when they make decisions regarding the quarterback position. Manning has proven to be one of the most dependable quarterbacks in the NFL and costs the team a large portion of its salary cap each season. This season will be no different as the team works out a contact that will pay Manning to finish his career as the highest paid player in the NFL. Who backs up Manning will need to be a player who is smart enough to soak things up, capable of providing meaningful insights during games, and who best understands the Colts system. It is likely that part of the reason the Colts organization did not wish to part ways with Jim Sorgi immediately, after drafting Curtis Painter in the 2009 Draft, is that Painter was not ready to take the reins of the Colts offense while Sorgi was completely familiar with the system and comfortable, albeit physically limited.
The competition will favor Painter this summer because his competition has not had the opportunity to experience the NFL in a regular season game and does not have near the training in the Colts system as Painter has had. It will take a special showing by Tim Hiller or Drew Willy for a depth-chart shift, or probably to even convince the front office that keeping three quarterbacks this season is worthwhile. Hiller could take Drew Willy’s spot on the practice squad.
Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Mike Hart
Only the running back position rivals wide receiver in terms of the amount of talent available from the players filling out the depth chart and the expectation that those players could make great strides in 2010 to be more effective. Joseph Addai is coming off of arguably the best performance he has had since his rookie season, running harder, faster, and showing previously unseen toughness rivaling any primary back in the league. Addai’s hard work allowed Donald Brown some time to get through his rookie mental mistakes, get used to wrist slaps from Manning if he fails to do his job right, and familiarize himself with operating in the Colts offense. This season he should take a big step in showing coaches and fans what they got when they drafted him in the first round a year ago, and hopefully look like the kind of running back that can take over for Joseph Addai if he does not return in 2011.
Mike Hart has had a rough journey into the NFL. First, he was disrespected by every NFL franchise in the 2008 Draft when they passed on the all-time career rushing leader at Michigan University until the sixth round, when the Colts essentially said “thank you very much.” Then, after showing everyone who may have doubted him that he can be a terror with the ball in his hands in the pre-season in 2008, and even after showing toughness and effectiveness with the few touches he did get in the regular season, he went down to a season-ending knee injury that robbed him of further development.
That knee injury saw him start the 2009 season on the sidelines, losing his spot to Chad Simpson, until he regained his physical strength and took his spot back midway through 2009. While he did not light the world on fire, he was effective when he was asked to carry the ball, which was often in short-yard situations or late in winning contests. He showed moves, made defenders miss, dragged defenders when they did get their arms on him, and looked like a formidable back-up running back in the NFL.
All of these things make it relatively unlikely that Devin Moore or Javarris James have a great deal of hope in breaking the depth chart as a running back. Moore had better focus most of his energy on competing with Brandon James and Ray Fisher for return duties. Javarris James will need to show something truly special in short-yardage to beat out Hart or he is likely playing for a practice squad spot. This is particularly the case because Brody Eldridge will likely get a strong look as a potential full back and short-yardage blocker in the backfield that could make a player like Javarris James expendable. I do see James landing on the practice squad.
Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie, Pierre Garçon, Blair White
The first four wide receivers are relatively easy to pin down. Where those players will end up playing, their spot on the depth chart, that is harder to figure. It has been reported that Gonzo, Collie, and Garçon have been rotating inside and out, getting different looks in the organized team activities and will probably get a similar look during the team’s mini-camp. This tends to suggest a few things, all good for the Colts, all bad for opponents, and all very frustrating for those trying to predict who plays in what role, in what order, at the start of the coming season.
First, if Garçon is getting a look inside, and Collie is getting a look outside, along with Gonzo who has always rotated, the Colts primary receivers could offer an endless number of looks to opponents. This flexibility can cause rampant match-up problems, provide Manning with possibilities he has never had before, and could spell disaster for opponents who try to lock down any one of the Colts receiving threats in the coming season. Second, the team is preparing on some level to move forward without Wayne.
In case it is not clear yet, Wayne is starting to get up in years, his best years may already be behind him, and he is pining for a new contract specifically because he knows very well that the three receivers already with him on the roster would make a formidable starting group. The earlier he can lock down some money, the better chance he has of doing so. Why not give the core of your receiving group some time on the field in a set that could represent the future? In a funny way, Wayne’s absence is allowing the Colts to do just that.
The race for the final spot comes down to versatility. Obviously we have yet to see how versatile Dudley Guice is nor seen Sam Giguere play a role other than as a returner. I decided that Blair White would get the spot for a few reasons. First, I think White may have the kind of work ethic and raw talent of a player like Austin Collie, who I see a lot of potential in. Second, White is known for “doing it all,” playing a role on special teams as a gunner and on coverage units. If he can do that, he could compete with Giguere for that final spot. Third, Giguere could bring some kind of return ability to the team but, oddly enough, the team will be loaded with other players capable of returning the football.
Fisher will be retained with that role in mind, Brandon James could fill that role as well, and other players competing for roster spots have some experience in the return game as well. Ultimately, it may come down to White’s coverage abilities and experience versus Giguere’s return abilities and experience. If I had to make a distinction right now, I choose White. How Dudley Guice plays out will be interesting to see but he is much harder to get a read on since he is entering his second NFL camp and we do not have specific details on what kept him from sticking a season ago.
Dudley Guice could take over for John Matthews on the practice squad.
Dallas Clark, Brody Eldridge, Jacob Tamme, Tom Santi
The tight end position is in an interesting situation. First, there appears to be loads of talent amongst the players who could form the core of this unit, but a lot of that potential has yet to fully show itself for a number of reasons. First, Tom Santi showed against Baltimore in 2009 that he can be a legitimate receiving threat, has good hands, length, and the speed to split seams for sizable gains. Since he joined the team, though, he has failed to stay healthy. He will need to stay healthy throughout the summer this year if he hopes to keep a spot on the roster.
Second, Jacob Tamme has started to do the most with the opportunities he is given by developing into one of the best special teams coverage players on the roster. He is listed as a back-up long-snapper and it will be interesting to see if he has focused a great deal on this part of his game to possibly remove the need to retain Justin Snow. He will have to prove that before I will suggest that he take over that role completely. Where Tamme has been limited is in proving himself as a receiver in the Colts offense because he fits precisely the role that Dallas Clark plays and is not suited to be the H-Back or blocker that the other tight end is often asked to do. He will need to develop as a blocker if he hopes to get time on the field opposite Clark or hope that the Colts give him more chances to rotate with Clark to step up into the offense.
Finally, all signs indicate that Brody Eldridge is everything we wanted Gijon Robinson to be. He is a proven blocker, even playing along the offensive line when asked to do so in college, and has experience as a fullback as well. At 6-foot 5-inches tall he is two inches taller than any of the Colts other tight ends and could be developed by Manning, Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen, and Tight End Coach Ricky Thomas as a legitimate receiving option as well. While it is unlikely that he will ever be asked to catch the ball primarily, every player who is eligible down field on the Colts roster will be asked to have that ability and Eldridge will be no different.
This leave Gijon Robinson on the outside looking in and could put Colin Cloherty back on the practice squad.
Charlie Johnson, Tony Ugoh, Jeff Saturday, Kyle DeVan, Ryan Diem, Adam Terry, Mike Pollak, Jacques McClendon, Jaime Thomas, Andy Alleman
Figuring out how the competitions along the offensive line will play out could be the most difficult job of all the positions for the Colts as they undergo mini-camp. To make matters worse, Paul Kuharsky recently reported that Tony Ugoh will be sitting out of mini-camp due to injury. During the open practice earlier today Charlie Johnson, Mike Pollak, Jeff Saturday, Kyle DeVan, and Ryan Diem played along the starting offensive line. The significance of this, or the many players who sat out, is easy to overstate this early in the season. At this point, the team will not take any chances with players and be over-cautious to ensure they are as healthy as possible heading into the ever more important training camp period in August.
The biggest name that probably jumps out at anyone looking at this lineup is that Jamey Richard is not included. The issue I have with Richard is that he has failed to take advantage of opportunities to slide into the starting line-up or compete for time at guard while Kyle DeVan leaped past him. The biggest versatility I can think that Richard has is the ability to play center, but let’s face it, DeVan and Pollak are both centers and keeping more than 3 players on the team with center eligibility seems overkill if you have a player that is bigger, and lends himself to becoming more stout along the interior of the offensive line in Andy Alleman.
I think it is also relatively likely that one of the guard prospects could be replaced by a player who can play on the outside, like Jeff Linkenbach, Andrew Tyshovnytsky, or Gerald Cadogan. In the roster I listed above there is only Adam Terry and Ugoh who would be able to flex out to tackle so it seems possible that Alleman or Jaime Thomas could be replaced by one of the young tackles.
Frankly, in further discussion of the linemen is very premature at this point. This position will work itself out more than any of the others through intense competition during the summer months. Health will also play a key role, as the jury is out on Terry’s development from his knee injury.