Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: Andrew Luck is going to draw huge interest. After the big 2011 rookie season for Cam Newton in Carolina and a solid showing by Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, expectations for highly regarded, first-year quarterbacks are likely to soar. And Luck wasn’t just the No. 1 pick in the draft, he was the guy who made the Colts move forward with a divorce from Peyton Manning and an organizational reset.
Luck is a smart, athletic quarterback who will be working under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the same coach who was in Indianapolis at the start of Manning’s career. The organization has done a lot of work trying to ensure Luck has the best possible chance at early success. Newcomers should fill at least three of the starting offensive line spots. Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne was re-signed and should be available to Luck on a lot of third downs while two new tight ends, second- and third-round picks Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, will give Luck prime options and assist in protection. Those relationships will have to develop quickly.
One thing that might happen: Special teams could make a big improvement. Although kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee are good at their jobs, the previous regime didn’t put much emphasis on special teams beyond those two legs. The top-heavy salary structure of the team didn’t allow for many veteran backups, so the core of the special teams was not as strong as those of much of the Colts’ competition.
To oversee his team’s special teams, Chuck Pagano hired Marwan Maaloof, who was a special-teams assistant in Baltimore, where both worked last season. He replaced Ray Rychleski, who didn’t fare well as Jim Caldwell’s hand-picked guy for the Colts. Bad field position was something Manning couldn't overcome. It would be nice if Luck doesn’t have to overcome it often in his first trip through the league. Constructing better special teams will be a big preseason project.
One thing we won't see: I’m not expecting top-flight coverage. The Colts' best cornerback, Jerraud Powers, will be supplemented by a cast of guys with minimal résumés. Kevin Thomas was the No. 2 guy in offseason work. Other holdovers as the team converts to more of a man scheme include Chris Rucker, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King. None of them was brought in by the previous regime as a Cover 2 guy, a player who would play a lot of man.
The team also has brought in several low-cost outsiders: Cassius Vaughn (via trade with Denver), DJ Johnson (in a trade from Philadelphia), Justin King (as a veteran free agent), Korey Lindsey (as a waiver claim), and Antonio Fenelus and Buddy Jackson (undrafted rookies).