AFC South: Coby Fleener

Examining the Indianapolis Colts' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
This is the safest position on the roster for the Colts. They plan to always keep a veteran backup if Luck ever goes down with an injury.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

The Colts will have a solid running combination if -- and we’re saying if until proven wrong -- Richardson can bounce back from a poor first season in Indianapolis and Bradshaw and Ballard can stay injury-free. Havili, a fullback, gets the edge over Mario Harvey, who switched from linebacker to fullback during offseason workouts.

RECEIVERS (5)

The final receiver spot will come down to Rogers and Griff Whalen. If the Colts want to play it safe, Whalen is the guy because he’s familiar with Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but Rogers has the size and speed the team likes. There’s also the possibility of the Colts keeping six receivers.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Allen, who missed all but one game in 2013, and Fleener have the potential to be one of the top tight end duos in the league. Doyle and Saunders are both familiar with the system after backing up Fleener in Allen’s absence last season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There are plenty of questions surrounding the offensive line outside of tackles Castonzo and Cherilus. The one thing general manager Ryan Grigson wanted with this group is depth. The Colts have plenty of it.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)

Like the offensive line, the Colts want depth on the defensive line so they can constantly rotate in players, so come the fourth quarter they still have fresh legs to get after the opponent. Jones was the key offseason acquisition for the Colts. Chapman showed flashes last season; now he needs to do it every snap that he’s on the field.

LINEBACKERS (10)

All eyes will be on outside linebacker as the Colts look to find a replacement for Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games of the season. Werner gets the first crack at starting in Mathis’ spot. McNary is a player for whom Grigson has high expectations. It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on how he uses McNary.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)

It’s anybody’s guess how the secondary will perform. It’s anybody’s guess who will start alongside Landry at safety. It looked like it would be Howell for most of the offseason, but the Colts signed the veteran Adams in June. Can Toler finally remain healthy? Can Davis live up to his contract? So many questions with no answers at the moment.

SPECIALIST

This only changes if an injury occurs.

Projecting Colts starters

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A lot can happen for the Indianapolis Colts between now and Week 1 against the Denver Broncos. Injured players become completely healthy. Healthy players get injured. Projected starters get beat out by a teammate.

But that hasn't stopped fans from asking about what the Colts' depth chart will look like this season. It's July and players, coaches and front office officials are taking one last vacation before reporting for the start of training camp in Anderson, Indiana, on July 23. So for the next two days I'll take a shot at who I think the starters will be.

We'll start with the offense today. We'll do the defense on Tuesday.

Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck

Comment: This is self-explanatory. Go ahead and keep Luck's name there as long as he's healthy.

Running back: Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Stanley Havili

Comment: As I mentioned last week when I did position battles, Richardson will be given the first shot at starting because of his talent and the last thing the Colts want to show is that their trade for him last September was a failure.

Receiver: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks

Comments: The pressure isn't on Wayne to be the Reggie Wayne of a few years ago because he has help with Hilton and Nicks at the position, but Wayne is out to prove that he can still produce at the age 35 and after tearing his ACL.

Tight end: Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen

Comment: Allen is a better all-around tight end than Fleener, but he missed all but one game last season because of a hip injury.

Offensive line: (LT) Anthony Castonzo, (LG) Jack Mewhort, (C) Khaled Holmes, (RG) Hugh Thornton, (RT) Gosder Cherilus

Comment: The only position really up in the air at the moment is left guard. Mewhort currently has the edge because Donald Thomas didn't take part in offseason workouts and he moved ahead of Lance Louis during organized team activities (OTAs).
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts rookie tight end Erik Swoope didn't know what to expect when he put pads and a helmet on for the first time ever last month during the team's rookie minicamp.

Football as a whole is a different sport for Swoope.

He didn't play it in any youth leagues growing up in Southern California. He didn't play it in high school. And he definitely didn't play it at the University of Miami, where he averaged 5 points per game as a senior on the school's basketball team.

[+] EnlargeErik Swoope
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesErik Swoope played basketball for the University of Miami, but not a down of football.
Swoope made it through rookie camp, offseason workouts and the Colts' mandatory minicamp constantly learning something new every day.

"Learning football terminologies has been the biggest challenge," Swoope said. "It's a different language. Trying to get myself, I'm not going to say forget about basketball, but take the terminology and set it to the side so I can really hone into the different languages used in football."

As improbable as it might seem with his lack of experience, there was the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Swoope catching passes from quarterback Andrew Luck during offseason workouts.

"Andrew makes it so easy," Swoope said. "You just have to make sure you do your stuff correct because he'll put the ball in the right place."

The road to making the Colts has just started for Swoope. He's considered a project player who will likely spend the season on the practice squad if the Colts decide to keep him. The Colts already have established tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen on the roster. It's all about progress with Swoope, who hopes to join San Diego's Antonio Gates and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham in making the transition from college basketball to NFL tight end.

"It's been a pleasant surprise just to see how he's been able to acclimate himself to the game of football," Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "His natural-born talents show every day in practice. He does an amazing job of going up and catching the football, making difficult catches. He has a catching radius that's off the charts. It'll be interesting to see how he comes along during training camp when we put the pads on and actually start practicing football."

Swoope will spend the rest of the offseason working out in Miami with former Hurricane players preparing for his first training camp.

"I just know that will come with reps and practice and just trusting my own abilities," he said. "I feel like I'm making steady progress every day. I just need to continue to do that once we get to training camp."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The thought of playing football had always crossed Erik Swoope's mind. He wanted to be out there tackling and catching passes with the rest of his friends while growing up in Southern California.

But there was a problem with Swoope’s desire to play. He only wanted to play if he could do it with his friends. That wasn’t possible because Swoope stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 200 pounds at the age of 12. And while he was already dunking a basketball by then, his friends were 50 and 60 pounds lighter than him, eliminating any chance of being teammates with them since Swoope didn’t meet the weight requirement.

[+] EnlargeErik Swoope
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesErik Swoope, a former four-year basketball player at the University of Miami, is trying his hand at football for the first time -- and with the Indianapolis Colts.
"I was taller and bigger than all my friends and it wouldn’t have been possible for me to play with them," Swooped said during the first day of the Indianapolis Colts' rookie minicamp.

Swoope continued to think about playing football during his four-year basketball career at the University of Miami, but the opportunity to do both was too much to ask because of the overlap of the seasons, and he went to the school to play basketball.

The chance to play football finally came about when the Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent earlier this week despite Swoope not knowing what it feels like to get hit on the football field. Playing football for Swoope is like a kid learning how to ride a bike for the first time.

"The main thing to me between football and basketball is that I just love being an athlete," Swoope said. "In the weight room, trying to get as strong as you can, as fast as you can, as quick as you can. And in basketball, it’s kind of a game of tempo. That’s what I’m learning also in football, but it’s more of an opportunity to be an athlete and for me, I’m enjoying it."

This isn’t the first time the Colts have signed a player who did not play college football. Marcus Pollard played basketball at Bradley University before the Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1995.

Patience is key for Swoope because of his lack of football experience. He’s confident because he feels he’s capable of picking up the game. He’s also curious how quick he can learn it.

One of the good things going for Swoope is that there haven't been any expectations put on him. The Colts are set at tight end with Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and serviceable backups Weslye Saunders and Jack Doyle. Swoope is able to learn slowly.

The first thing Swoope did right was get together with former University of Miami football players Jimmy Graham and Jonathan Vilma a few weeks ago. Graham, who played basketball for the Hurricanes and spent his fifth year as a tight end on the football team, worked with Swoope on route running. Vilma would tell him what he was looking for from the linebacker position.

Elsewhere in the NFL, Green Bay’s Julius Peppers played basketball at the University of North Carolina and played defensive end on the Tar Heel football team.

So why tight end for Swoope?

Tight end translates well from the basketball court to the football field, he said.

"I played power forward and I played on the wing, so I got use to playing a variety of parts on offense and defense," Swoope said. "That's one of the key carryovers, the size, the weight, the athleticism. It’s a quicker carry over because you’re use to studying a variety of things all at once."

Swoope doesn’t know what to expect when it comes to getting hit for the first time. All he knows is that he needs to run with his 6-foot-5 frame low.

"My brother played football and he told me I’m going to get hit and I’m going to quickly learn to get down and get the pads down," Swoope said. "I’m looking forward to this experience."
INDIANAPOLIS - Will Reggie Wayne not participating in minicamp impact the Indianapolis Colts' chemistry?

Bush
Wayne
That was one of the questions that came up after the receiver said he probably won't take part in the team's minicamp.

No.

Wayne tore his ACL in Week 7 last season. Holding him out until the start of training camp at the end of July is the right thing for the Colts to do.

Wayne is a veteran, he doesn't need to work on his timing with Luck. He's simply excited to be out there with his teammates again even if he'll be limited on what he does.

The fact that 35-year-old Wayne is ahead of schedule is another indication that there's little doubt he'll be able to fully recover from the injury.

Of course there will be questions about how comfortable Wayne will be running sharp routes and making hard plants on his surgically repaired knee.

Don't get me wrong, Wayne wants to be out there during minicamp. He told me he's always been "kind of hard headed," but waiting until training camp is the best thing for him to do.

"It's only natural to think about it, but that's why I'm going to slowly work my way back out there," Wayne said by phone earlier this week.

Wayne has high expectations for the offense now that they've added Hakeem Nicks to join him, T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The two-tight end formation was supposed to be a significant part of the Indianapolis Colts' offensive package last season.

Allen
Dwayne Allen, the all-around tight end, on one side. Coby Fleener, the pass-catching tight end, on the other side. Both were going to be used in the passing game and also help block for what was supposed to be a power-running game.

But the ability to use Allen and Fleener together ended less than a full game into the 2013 season because Allen suffered a season-ending hip injury.

That left Fleener and a number of different players trying to fill Allen's void.

Jack Doyle. Dominque Jones. Justice Cunningham. Weslye Saunders.

The Colts hope they won't have to do the same thing next season with the tight ends. Allen recently told Colts.com, the team's official website, that he feels like he's “almost to 110 percent” healthy.

“We love using tight ends like everybody else,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “But (Fleener) took a big step in Year 2 and played really good football for us and will continue to do that. Getting Dwayne back, we're going to have great options there. You get that inline blocker in Dwayne but don't forget that Dwayne is a heck of a pass receiver, too. So we can create a bunch of mismatches with those guys and get them out in space and get the matchups that you want. It's going to be a great situation.”

Having Allen back gives offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton the flexibility with different formations. Allen played on the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage and he played in the backfield during his rookie season.

"Pep and those guys do a great job of putting those guys in position to make plays and be successful and try to create the matchups that you want," Pagano said. "You have two guys there that have position flexibility and can do a lot of things for you. We're going to ask (Fleener) to do some of the heavy lifting. Having both those guys in the lineup and having them healthy gives us a lot of flexibility there.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Stanley Havili was the only true fullback on the Indianapolis Colts' roster last season.

Havili
He was used in short-yardage blocking situations, rarely carrying the ball (seven carries for 7 yards). He did catch the ball out of the backfield (18 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns). Colts coach Chuck Pagano also used some tight ends in the backfield as fullbacks when Havili was injured.

"There are certain situations where you're short yardage, you're goal line, the 4-minute offense when you're trying to take the air out of the game and you've got a lead, you want to get in a two-back formation, having a guy like Stanley is very valuable,” Pagano said. “Not only is he a good blocker and a threat out of the backfield to catch the ball, but he plays on (special) teams.”

The fullback is somewhat of a dying breed in the NFL, but the Colts plan to continue to use it, which means there remains a spot on the roster for Havili.

“There's not many being developed and used at the college level anymore,” Pagano said of fullbacks. “So it's always nice to have one of those guys so you don't have to take a Dwayne Allen or Coby (Fleener) or somebody else and stick them in the backfield -- a guy who's not built for it. We all know how fullbacks are built like fire hydrants. They're short-necked, thick guys who love running into things. So they're hard to find.”
Andrew LuckElsa/Getty ImagesWith an improved running game, the Colts won't have to rely on Andrew Luck to save each game.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was one of those moments that could easily send chills up your spine or cause you to break out in goose bumps as the words came out of Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano's mouth early Tuesday morning, as the sun was still making its way up in Central Florida.

The Colts have a quarterback -- a pretty a darn good one, I must say -- who has consistently proven in just two short seasons that he has everything it takes to lead a team that has dealt with on- and off-the-field adversity.

Arm? Check.

Mobility? A hidden talent of his.

Mental toughness? There's no question he has that.

The results prove it. Twenty-two regular-season victories. An AFC South division title. A playoff victory.

Enter Pagano.

"From a mindset standpoint, it all starts with running the ball and stopping the run," the coach said in between sips of his coffee. "We do have a great quarterback, with a great arm and he has weapons to throw to. Certainly we understand that and we know that."

Pagano also added that they'll continue to emphasize running the ball, "until they run me out of there."

The Colts will run the ball, especially with three running backs -- Trent Richardson, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw -- who have all been starters at some point in their careers. But don't be mistaken about what Pagano said, Luck will still drop back in the pocket and fling the ball downfield more than he hands it off. That's their best chance to win.

There are legitimate question marks about the Colts' top three running backs next season.

Ballard is coming off a torn ACL. Bradshaw needs to prove he can stay healthy. Richardson, well, simply put, he's still a work in progress after being traded to Indianapolis early last season.

The Colts tried to run the ball in 2013. But the thought of them having anything close to a ground game came to a halt in Week 3 when Bradshaw's season ended because of a neck injury. Richardson and Donald Brown simply didn't get the job done -- partially because of offensive line problems and partially because of a lack of production from the two running backs.

That left Luck using his arm to bail the Colts out of deficits. They threw the ball 582 times compared to 409 rush attempts last season.

The NFL is a copycat league. What the Colts and 27 other teams saw was the final four teams playing -- New England, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco -- all mixing in the run to go with their talented quarterbacks.

The Colts experienced it firsthand, as the Patriots ran for 234 yards against them in their AFC divisional playoff matchup -- a 43-22 loss.

A successful run game is what Indianapolis wants. Not Luck strapping on his cape to lead the Colts back from constant double-digit holes.

Also, Luck could have his best arsenal of weapons to throw to in his young career with the addition of receiver Hakeem Nicks to go with fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Coby Fleener and the hopeful healthy return of receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen. Throw in a consistent running game -- cross your fingers the offensive line can block better -- and it's the type of offense that will allow the Colts to be successful.

"We're not going to try to do things to make us lose," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "...All that matters at the end of the day is that you make the playoffs and if you can win in the playoffs. We don't want to make it all on Andrew. We want to give him help with our stable of running backs and [with] our offensive line creating those lanes to open up the play-action pass, so it takes the pressure off of him."
The Carolina Panthers made an offer to Hakeem Nicks thinking they had a legitimate shot to sign the former New York Giants receiver.

That was until the Indianapolis Colts stepped in and not only offered Nicks a one-year contract worth up to $5.5 million, but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and be a part of a team that could be one of the best in the AFC next season.

ESPN.com Panthers reporter David Newton and Colts reporter Mike Wells talk about Nicks' decision to sign with Indianapolis

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks chose the Indianapolis Colts over the Carolina Panthers.
Wells: David, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proved last season that he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But Luck has proven in just two years -- with 22 victories -- that he has the complete package: arm, foot speed and mental toughness. So it seems Nicks made the right decision to sign with the Colts. What are your thoughts?

Newton: Totally agree. When Nicks picked Indy over Carolina I mentioned one of the reasons may have been Luck was the more proven quarterback. It didn't sit well with Carolina fans. My argument was simple. Two trips to the playoffs to one. But the bigger reason is Nicks will be surrounded by proven receivers in Indy. Maybe that would have happened at Carolina, but at the time of the decision the Panthers didn't have a receiver on its roster with an NFL catch. When Brandon LaFell signed with New England on Saturday that guaranteed Newton won't have any of his top four wide receivers from last season. At Carolina, Nicks risked the possibility of being double-teamed because there wasn't anybody proven to take coverage away. He would have been the clear-cut No. 1, and I'm not sure he's a No. 1. Luck also has a more established offensive line. So when I said Luck was more proven there were other factors around that.

Having said that, if you were starting a team from scratch would you pick Luck or Newton?

Wells: I like how Newton played last season, but I've still got to give Luck the edge over him and players such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Luck's résumé speaks for itself. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record during a rookie season when his coach, Chuck Pagano, missed 12 games while battling cancer. He repeated that record last season while losing five offensive starters by Week 7. Luck has led the Colts on 11 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his young NFL career. Should I continue? It also helps that Luck's Colts have already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers. Maybe you and I can corner Rob Chudzinski somewhere after the season and ask him his thoughts because he obviously coached Newton in Carolina and he's about to coach Luck with the Colts next season.

It seems like the Panthers don't seem to know which direction they're headed with players like receiver Steve Smith being released. Am I wrong to think that could sway a free agent's decision?

Newton: It would have to cast doubt. It certainly casts doubt in my mind. It'll all come down to how convincing general manager Dave Gettleman is on selling his plan. And yes, there's a plan. Jerricho Cotchery is coming in for a visit on Monday and James Jones says he'd like to play for Carolina. If the Panthers can get a couple of solid veterans -- even if they aren't bona fide No. 1s, and select a dynamic receiver with either their first- or second-round pick, the receiving corps potentially could be better than last season. Even Smith admitted he's not a No. 1 anymore. So for all the grief I've given Gettleman for making a mistake in dumping Smith, in the long run it could work out. I mean, the beef on LaFell last season was he wasn't a bona fide No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season, but he had only two catches the year before. Domenik Hixon had only one catch that impacted a game. So big picture, they didn't really lose a lot.

So how do you expect Nicks to fit in at Indianapolis? Can he help put Indy over the top?

Wells: Colts fans are a little leery because there was high hope last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, signed a one-year contract the same way Nicks did. Heyward-Bey, to put it as nice as possible, was brutal last season. So brutal that he ended up being demoted to special teams where he actually did a great job downing punts inside the 20-yard line. I think Nicks will fit in nicely because he doesn't have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. He simply has to just fit in alongside of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are also receiving options for Luck. The fact that Nicks had almost 900 yards receiving last season and that was considered a down year for him is a good thing for the Colts. Luck will find him as long as he can get open.

Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to. What are the Panthers going to do since Smith is gone and Nicks decided playing with the Colts was a better option?

Newton: As I mentioned above, Cotchery is coming in for a visit and I still believe they'll get Jones. The plan is to find a few bargains and blend them in with a draft pick. Smith would have made a nice No. 2 receiver in this package in my opinion. But from everything I gather Newton won't be heartbroken to see his top receiver gone. Smith has gotten in Newton's face more than a few times the past few years. As much as that may have been needed, there is a belief on the team that Smith might have been a distraction to Newton as the central leader of the offense. It will be interesting to hear how Newton spins it when we finally hear from him.

Now that the Colts have Nicks, what's the rest of their free-agency plans?

Wells: General manager Ryan Grigson has put an emphasis on defense so far. They still need to find a safety to replace Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco last week. The interior part of the offensive line could use some help, too. They signed former Dallas center Phil Costa last week. The Colts haven't completely shut the door on Cleveland center Alex Mack even though it is a longshot that they'll be to get him because the Browns used the transition tag on him. Adding another guard wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
INDIANAPOLIS – The past is the past.

That’s how new Indianapolis Colts receiver Hakeem Nicks views things. He has no interest in talking about his last season with the New York Giants, one where he didn’t catch a touchdown pass for the first time in his five-year NFL career.

Nicks is excited about the opportunity to catch passes from quarterback Andrew Luck (who wouldn’t be excited?), being reunited with Chuck Pagano, who was the defensive coordinator at the University of North Carolina when Nicks was a sophomore, and teaming with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton to give the Colts a “three-headed monster” at receiver.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
AP Photo/Evan PinkusAfter failing to grab a TD pass in 2013, Hakeem Nicks says he's ready for a fresh start in Indianapolis.
“This is the best situation for me, a great organization and a chance to come in and show them what I can do and what I can bring to the table,” Nicks said as he made his way to Indianapolis International Airport. “I’m familiar with a lot of the coaches, especially the wide receiver coach [Charlie Williams], he coached me in college. There are definitely some relationships here. I’m excited about working.”

Nicks considers himself another piece for the Colts as they attempt to close the gap between them and Denver and New England in the AFC. Nicks will team with Hilton and Wayne at receiver to go with tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

“I heard a lot of good things about [the Colts] -- obviously what they’ve got going and the direction that they’re moving in,” Nicks said. “I feel like it was the best fit for me just to come in and complete the piece of the puzzle to try to compete for a Super Bowl this year.”

ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano wrote Friday night that Nicks lacked incentive when he had 896 yards receiving and no touchdowns last season with the Giants. Nicks, according to Graziano, frustrated the coaches because he couldn’t make plays in the passing game.

Nicks, who signed a one-year deal, had no interest in talking about whether he needed to have a bounce-back season to silence the doubters. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011.

“I don’t think there’s anything for me to prove,” he said. “I think I just want to go out there and play football and win championships. My play speaks for itself. I've always believed in working in silence and letting your game speak loud, so that’s what I do. They’ll see and then all start making speculations again.”

One thing that still has to get resolved with Nicks is what number he’ll wear. He wore No. 88 with the Giants, but that number is retired with the Colts; Marvin Harrison wore it during what will end up as a Hall of Fame career.

“I don’t think we've quite figured that one out yet,” Nicks said. “Everybody knows I love those eights on my chest, but we’ll have to see how that pans out.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Grigson didn't have time to spare five minutes on the phone to do an interview. He was too busy talking and wearing his thumbs out texting agents as he prepared for the start of free agency.

The questions, just three of them I might add, were sent via email to the Indianapolis Colts general manager.

"In the middle of free agency, I felt like I had a homework assignment due," Grigson jokingly wrote after answering the questions.

[+] EnlargeRyan Grigson
AP Photo/Johnny VyRyan Grigson and the Colts have set the expectations high, and nothing short of the Super Bowl will suffice for the general manager.
If you know Grigson, you know he's always working, never settling for what happened in the past. He's that nonstop workaholic who is always believing another move should be made to improve the team.

That mindset was a necessity for Grigson when he took over for the fired Bill Polian in 2012. The Colts were coming off a 2-14 season after which they not only dismissed Polian, but also said their final goodbyes to quarterback Peyton Manning after 14 years, 11 playoff games and two Super Bowl appearances.

So the rebuilding process couldn't take long for Grigson, the first-time general manager. Not with holdovers like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea used to winning.

Grigson is headed into Year 3 of not rebuilding the Colts, but building off the success the franchise has had in the past two years.

They're 22-10 and made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, while dealing with the loss of coach Chuck Pagano for 12 games while battling leukemia in 2012 and the loss of five offensive starters last season.

"The element of surprise kind of goes away when you have such high expectations," Grigson said. "This is a winning organization and the bar is set high. I think that kind of environment is a healthy one for everyone involved. I'd hate to be somewhere that your expectation was anything less than being Super Bowl champs every year."

Grigson and Pagano walked into the perfect situation.

Andrew Luck, the best quarterback taken No. 1 overall since, well, Manning in 1998, led an impressive Colts 2012 draft class that also included receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

Grigson's obsessive, always-needing-to-be-working mindset is in high gear because the Colts are in position to take another step in the AFC next season. Manning and New England's Tom Brady are a year older and moving another step toward the Hall of the Fame.

Now it's up to Grigson to add the proper pieces around Luck. This is the perfect time for the general manager to redeem himself after his 2013 offseason moves didn't live up to expectations.

"No matter the circumstances, the last two years we expected to be in the Super Bowl and believed in that goal until the last tick came off the clock," Grigson said. "Year 3 will be no different; we just have to find a way to see it all the way through."

Indianapolis went into free agency on Tuesday with the fifth-most salary cap space.

Just like in Green Bay, players want to play in Indianapolis despite the small-market mentality some have about the city.

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who the Colts signed to a four-year deal on March 6, was attracted to the franchise's history of success. That's understandable after he spent his first eight years in Cleveland, where that organization appears to be just spinning in circles.

Pagano is more than a coach to the players. He's the person who will ask a player about his off-the-field life nearly as much as he talks about offensive and defensive schemes.

"Having a sitdown dinner with him, I knew right away he was a good guy," Jackson said. "We barely talked football. Any time you can do that, you know you're dealing with a good guy. He's been through a lot in his life, obviously. The guy is high on life and I want to be around people like that."

Luck's arm, legs, smarts and mental toughness are the main reasons why the transition from the Manning era hasn't been too turbulent. It's also why Indianapolis is an organization that will remain a destination for free agents as long as the kid from Stanford is taking the snaps from center.

Former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has already publicly talked about wanting to catch passes from Luck.

"First of all, winning makes you an attractive team," punter Pat McAfee said. "But I think the chance to hitch your wagon to an up-and-coming, hopefully Hall of Fame quarterback, which [Luck] should be, I think that's a big deal for a lot of the older guys that are looking for a ring, or maybe for the younger guys that are trying to jump-start their career. I think Indianapolis is becoming a very, very promising-looking destination for a lot people who want to win and hitch their wagon to a player who's going to be great for a very long time."

Free-agency primer: Colts

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: CB Vontae Davis, S Antoine Bethea, K Adam Vinatieri, RB Donald Brown

Where they stand: The Colts have the fourth-most salary-cap space ($41 million) in the league. They solved one of their issues when they signed inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Thursday to start alongside Jerrell Freeman, Erik Walden and Robert Mathis. Davis is the most important player to re-sign with having to acquire a new starting center next in line after Samson Satele was released on March 6. The Colts re-signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year deal Friday. The 41-year-old Vinatieri believes he can kick for several more seasons. Expect the Colts to look to add depth at receiver to give quarterback Andrew Luck another target to go with receivers T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

What to expect: The Colts should be able to work out a deal with Davis, who was inconsistent last season but has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Don't expect the Colts to go with a rookie or second-year player as their starting center. The position is too valuable for them to go that direction with their franchise player, Luck, taking the snaps. New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith are both free agents. Denver receiver Eric Decker is an ideal receiver to go with Hilton and Wayne. The Colts and Decker have mutual interest, but he may be out of their price range if he wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver. Hakeem Nicks and James Jones are also free agents the Colts could pursue. Acquiring a veteran guard is a better option than drafting one, because Indianapolis has the talent to take another step in the AFC next season. Decker's teammate in Denver, guard Zane Beadles, is a free agent.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jonathan Martin's connection to the Indianapolis Colts will continue to draw attention as long as signs continue to point to Martin and the Miami Dolphins parting ways.

Martin
Martin was teammates with Andrew Luck, Griff Whalen, Delano Howell and Coby Fleener at Stanford. Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was also on staff at Stanford.

Fleener spoke out about Martin after the Ted Wells' report was released earlier this month. Then Luck told Pro Football Talk in an interview earlier this week that he would be in favor of the Colts adding Martin, who was bullied by Richie Incognito and two other teammates with the Dolphins.

“I'd say I love Jon, we had a great time at Stanford together, still stay in touch with him regularly and I think he's a great man,” Luck said.

Miami is expected to trade or release Martin at some point during the offseason.

There's zero doubt that the Colts would welcome Martin inside the locker room. That's how they are and why they've been able to overcome different obstacles each of the past two seasons.

But trading for Martin is not an option. He is a tackle. Indianapolis is set at tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. The Colts need help at guard and center.

The Colts could try to sign Martin to be a backup tackle if the Dolphins release him.

Still, chatter about Martin and the Colts will remain until he finds his next team.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It was about this time two years ago that Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen's draft stock dropped. While South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney turned heads by running a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash on Monday, Allen ran it in 4.9 seconds two years ago, causing him to slide to the third round of the 2012 draft.

Allen shook off the slight in the draft to start all 16 games and finish with 521 yards receiving his rookie season.

Allen's second season didn't even last a full game because of a hip injury that required surgery.

His absence was noticeable because the Colts had hoped that he and Coby Fleener would be one of the top tight end duos last season. Allen is a complete tight end because of his ability to block and catch. Fleener had a solid season but the Colts needed Allen's presence in the offense.

Barring any kind of setback, Allen will be medically cleared by the middle of March.

"That's something internally, we're kind of excited about, the return of some of these really, really talented football players that we missed all year," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "Dwayne Allen, specifically, the guy's a beast. Anyone who game plans against him or watches the tape, or Joe Fan that just sees him how he plays in the red zone, how he plays in traffic, how he blocks at the point of attack, the tempo he plays at and the ferocity he plays at, he's a guy you want on your team. He's doing very well and we look forward to him having a great year."
INDIANAPOLIS -- At some point, offensive lineman Jonathan Martin and the Miami Dolphins will part ways from what's turned into a disastrous relationship.

Martin
And when that happens, whatever team acquires Martin next will be getting a hard-working player, according to one of his former teammates at Stanford.

"He's physical at the line of scrimmage, smart guy, understands the offense well," Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener said. "I think he would be a great teammate for anybody to have."

Ted Wells' report last week determined that Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito and two of his teammates bullied Martin.

Fleener stayed in touch with Martin via text message.

"I didn't really look at it as who was going to be wrong and who was going to be right, I just wanted the best for Jonathan regardless of who was wrong or right," Fleener said. "I didn't talk to him about the specifics or anything like that because I felt like it wasn't my place. If he wanted to talk about it that was fine. I really just wanted to make sure he was doing alright."

Martin has ties with a number of Colts.

He and Fleener, receiver Griff Whalen, quarterback Andrew Luck, safety Delano Howell and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were all together at Stanford.

The Colts are in need of help on the interior part of the offensive line. But Martin plays tackle and the Colts are set there with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus.

"I don't really campaign for anybody," Fleener said. "I think that's up to our GM [Ryan Grigson] and coaching staff. They've done an awesome job putting together the team. If Coach [Chuck Pagano] or Mr. Grigson asked me, I would have nothing but support for Jonathan."

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