AFC South: Ryan Diem

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major personnel losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got -- starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold on to players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?

Saturday, Diem, Pollak move on from Colts

March, 23, 2012
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We didn’t expect any of them to return to the Colts, but official departures are still of note.

Three former Indianapolis offensive linemen are moving on.

ESPN reports Jeff Saturday has a deal with Green Bay. Ryan Diem is retiring. Mike Pollak has signed with Carolina. It didn't appear the Colts had any interest in re-signing any of them. Saturday and Diem were instrumental pieces to the team's success during the Peyton Manning era.

The Colts are in an offensive line transition. They’re going bigger, and they are going newer.

Too many people presumed Saturday would automatically wind up with Manning in Denver.

So far, Denver's notable addition from the AFC South wasn’t one of Manning’s former Colts tight ends -- Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme -- but Houston free agent Joel Dreessen.

The Titans suffer two shots here, as they were courting both Saturday (with center a big need) and Dreessen (with tight end not nearly as big an issue.)
The Colts' recrafting of their offensive line group is now two deep. A day after trading for Winston Justice, the team has a deal with free agent Mike McGlynn, according to a tweet from McGlynn.

But while Justice looks to be a favorite to start at right tackle, McGlynn played sparingly for Cincinnati last season, mostly because of injury and Bobbie Williams.

Justice started the Bengals final three regular-season games and their playoff game at right guard, and was also listed as the backup to Kyle Cook at center.

Four of the Colts' top five interior linemen from the end of last season are not under contract: center Jeff Saturday, guard Mike Pollak, guard Jamey Richard and Ryan Diem, who shifted inside last year after a long tenure as the right tackle.

Ben Ijalana, who missed his rookie year with an early knee injury, could be in the guard mix going forward, particularly if Justice proves solid at tackle.

Will McGlynn be more than depth?

We’ll have to see who else Indianapolis winds up with and how they all play.

What I'd do if I ran the Colts

March, 1, 2012
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The money isn’t mine. I’m not certain about what you can afford and what the market will pay when free agency opens on March 13. I’m not positive about your plans and schemes.

But I’ve got a good sense of your team. We've looked at the free-agent list.

And here’s what I’d try to do with your major issues:

1) Tell Peyton Manning thanks for everything. Say we had every intention of you playing out your career with the Colts, but the chances of all these elements aligning -- his health questions, a new GM and coach, the top pick and Andrew Luck’s availability -- make it impossible. Maximize your graciousness.

2) Assessing what will be available in the draft, or a relatively inexpensive free agent or two you’d like to grab, then franchise either defensive end Robert Mathis or receiver Reggie Wayne accordingly. Both will have great chances to move on in free agency, and you can’t afford to move forward without them, either. You can make a case either way -- Mathis would be a great piece in a transformation to a 3-4; Wayne would reliably be in place to convert third downs for a young quarterback.

3) Convince defensive end Dwight Freeney to sign an extension. You have to drive down his $19 million-plus cap hit and his $14 million-plus base salary for 2012. But cutting him would be awfully painful, especially if Mathis is getting to free agency. If Freeney has to go because of cost, then Mathis has to be tagged and Wayne is likely lost.

4) Look for cost savings with these players: Tight end Dallas Clark ($7.32 million cap hit, $4.53 million base), middle linebacker Gary Brackett ($7.4 million cap hit, $5 million base), running back Joseph Addai ($4.3 million cap hit, $2.9 million base), and safety Melvin Bullitt ($3.7 million cap hit, $2.4 million base). Brackett and Bullitt are now injury prone and I don't know if you can count on them. But just cutting them won’t necessarily save money as accelerated bonus cost could produce a cost approaching their scheduled cap numbers. Same with Addai, who may not fit with a new run philosophy.

5) Let receiver Pierre Garcon walk. The guy is a blazer who will make a good amount of big plays, but he’s not guaranteed reliable in big moments. The sort of drops and gaffes he’s capable of can really mess with a team trying to build confidence and he'll be overpaid by the market.

6) Try to get Jeff Saturday to sign up for one more year. He’d be a great influence on Luck and a young team and could help get a group of young linemen ready to protect the new centerpiece and to block for a newly emphasized run game.

7) Re-sign reserve quarterback Dan Orlovsky, tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Anthony Gonzalez cheaply if you can. Orlovsky can spot start if need be and it’ll be difficult to find a quality backup who wants to come to be No. 2 to Luck. Tamme has quality hands. Gonzalez was highly rated not too long ago and a doghouse visit under the last regime will make him affordable. It’s worth trying to keep them around at reasonable cost and they are unlikely to draw significant offers elsewhere.

8) Let three other free agents walk: linebacker Philip Wheeler, guard Mike Pollack and tackle Ryan Diem.
Early thoughts on some key Colts scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13.

Thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive right and restricted free agents.

QB Kerry Collins – He may not have filed paperwork, but he’s retired.

QB Dan Orlovsky – Showed enough to be on a roster in the league as a third quarterback in a crowded situation or a backup somewhere with a sure-fire starter.

WR Pierre Garcon – He’s inconsistent, but this team needs a speed receiver for Andrew Luck and it’s better to keep the one they’ve been developing than going searching.

WR Anthony Gonzalez – Was completely in the doghouse at the end and could not get on the field. Probably needs to sign for a season, in Indy or elsewhere, and prove he can be healthy and contribute.

WR Reggie Wayne – Has said he’d stay and be honored to be part of a rebuild, but they’d have to be fair. Other teams will court him and somebody will pay him better than the Colts would if they pursued him, I suspect.

TE Jacob Tamme – Was quite a good receiving option for Peyton Manning in 2010, but how much of that was Manning? I think Tamme is a valuable piece they should want back and can certainly afford.

OT Ryan Diem – Did well to serve as a veteran example for a young line and was flexible, playing some guard. But his time is going to be up.

OG Mike Pollak – Has played a lot and not gotten a lot better. They got new tackles last year; it’s time for a new guard or two.

OC Jeff Saturday – If Manning is gone, it would make sense to turn the page with Saturday, too. Reportedly the Colts and at least one other team would like him in their front offices.

DE Robert Mathis – Will be a commodity, for sure. Never mind his age. He can help you rush the passer for the next three years. Colts should want to keep him, but will they pay what he costs?

LB Philip Wheeler – If the Colts are getting bigger on defense, they’ll probably move on here. He’s consistently failed to get in or stay in the lineup for extended stretches in a defense for which he’s better suited.

Other UFAs:

Colts offense scrambled by injuries

October, 30, 2011
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After crossing off inactives and drawing lines to move guys around and up the depth chart, my flip card for the Colts' offense looks silly.

Ryan Diem, Anthony Castonzo and Joe Reitz all didn’t travel.

So the line will look like this:

LT Jeff Linkenbach, LG Seth Olsen, C Jeff Saturday, RG Mike Tepper, RT Quinn Ojinnaka.

Three of those players -- Olsen, Tepper and Ojinnaka – were not on the Colts' opening day roster.

The group will start out blocking for running back Delone Carter, who is starting ahead of the injured Joseph Addai, who is dressed.

On defense, cornerback Jacob Lacey is a scratch and will be replaced by Kevin Thomas.

The Titans suffer one big lineup loss. Their primary blocking tight end, Craig Stevens, is out with a rib injury and Daniel Graham will start in his place.

The full lists…

Indianapolis:
Tennessee:

Breaking down Colts as they break down

October, 27, 2011
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Peyton ManningDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Colts were clearly ill-prepared for life without star quarterback Peyton Manning.
It’s ugly in Indianapolis.

At 0-7, the Colts are talking about sticking together, improving and giving themselves a chance to win.

But as they prepare for a trip to Nashville for a Sunday meeting with the Titans at LP Field, they are a severely broken team. Where they would be with Peyton Manning is an interesting hypothetical question, but we’re dealing with realities. And those realities are the sort that will test the franchise’s stitching -- seamwork that might not hold together when this is all over.

Who’s at fault? Everyone’s got a hand in it, but let’s look at the Colts from a couple of angles.

A big cover-up: It’s not a secret that Manning has helped cover up a lot of flaws and allowed the franchise to under-address certain areas.

The Colts during the Manning era have never been much concerned with size, always valuing speed and instincts more. They’ve never worried about stocking special teams with any veteran backups, in part because they spend their money on stars or adding a high-quality return man. They’ve settled for being below average running the ball. And they’ve won despite a general inability to stop the run.

Without their four-time MVP running the offense, all those things are magnified in ways they’ve never been before.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re built to have Manning at the controls, and he’s been there all the time from the very beginning in 1998 until opening day this season.

There are maybe two teams and markets in the league that would not trade for what the Colts have done since 1999. Twelve consecutive playoff seasons followed by one complete dud? Where do I sign up for that?

[+] EnlargeJacob Lacey
Michael Hickey/US PresswirePersonnel decisions by the Colts put cornerback Jacob Lacey, 27, in a prominent role in a secondary that has struggled this season.
Construct questions: That said, regardless of a serious neck surgery to the star quarterback, what exactly was the plan in the secondary? Is an evaluation that leaves Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker as cornerbacks Nos. 2 through 5 good enough? Absolutely not.

The Colts get credit for adding a couple of outside veterans this season -- linebacker Ernie Sims, and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton. But the drafting has dropped off.

Set aside the most recent class, as it’s too early to judge.

The Colts drafted 41 players from 2005 through 2010. I count one star, safety Antoine Bethea, and two guys who can become stars, linebacker Pat Angerer and receiver Austin Collie (if he’s working with Manning). Running back Joseph Addai is a good fit who does more than people think. And receiver Pierre Garcon and cornerback Jerraud Powers have been pretty solid starters.

Sure, the Colts drafted higher in the five years before. Still, those classes produced five guys who rank among the best players of their generation at their positions: tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Bob Sanders, and receiver Reggie Wayne. The next tier provided steady starters on the offensive line (Jake Scott, Ryan Diem) and at linebacker (David Thornton).

That list is more than a third of a starting team, a big-time core. As those guys age or disappear, I'm not seeing a core in waiting.

Colts president-turned-vice chairman Bill Polian said recently on his radio show that they needed to have done better recently, particularly at defensive tackle and cornerback.

And there is a domino effect to the problem. Find Tarik Glenn’s ultimate replacement at left tackle in 2007, and you don’t need to use your top pick in 2011 on Anthony Castonzo. Hit on Donald Brown in the first round in 2009, and Delone Carter might not be necessary in the fourth round in 2011.

The Polians: Bill Polian has been pulling back and yielding responsibility to his son, GM Chris Polian. (Chris politely declined to be interviewed for this story.)

We don’t yet have much tape on Chris Polian, so to speak. Bill Polian is a good talent evaluator who has had success in three NFL stops and has done well to build a team with which Manning has won. But Bill Polian also has overseen those recent draft drop-offs.

His strong-willed personality is part of what has made him good at his job, and his big-picture assessment of important league issues is as intelligent as anyone’s. He’s got clout and influence that extend beyond Indianapolis.

Stylistically, he’s a stubborn and demanding boss. There are indications from within that, without the steady stream of personnel hits he provided earlier in his tenure, some inside the building are tiring of the way things are run.

Bill Polian recently talked about how Curtis Painter's play vindicates the team for having faith in him, but failed to mention that faith was so strong that the team signed Kerry Collins to a $4 million contract shortly before the season started and handed him the starting job.

I suspect Bill Polian has the backing of owner Jim Irsay for as long as he wants it. That would ensure safety for Chris Polian, too.

Bill Polian made the Manning-over-Ryan Leaf call in 1998. Because of the way Leaf busted, people forget that was a coin flip at the time, that Leaf was regarded as a big-time prospect just as much as Manning was. Polian called it correctly, built a team that’s been to two Super Bowls and won one, got a new stadium built, and greatly enhanced the value of Irsay’s franchise.

Cryptic messages: Further complicating things is Irsay, who clearly gets a kick out of being the center of NFL attention in the Twitter-verse but has undermined some of his people with it.

He announced the team added Collins while coach Jim Caldwell was conducting his daily news conference. It did Caldwell no favors, as he appeared completely out of the loop.

Most recently, following the 62-7 loss in New Orleans on Sunday night, Irsay provided this gem:
“Titanic collapse, apologies 2 all ColtsNation...problems identifiable;solutions in progress but complex in nature/ better days will rise again”

A day later, he added:
"Just because you perceive problems on the horizon,and you possess solutions..doesn't mean they are avoidable and implementation is instant"

Solutions in progress, but complex in nature. That sounds to me like what would be written in big silver letters on the lobby wall of a consulting company on a TV show. Or a clever, but far-too-long name for a band.

It also sounds like change is going to come.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Coaching questions: While Bill Polian recently said that adding Jim Tressel to the staff as a replay consultant was Caldwell’s idea, it’s a weird-looking move that’s made some of us wonder whether a bigger role awaits the former Ohio State coach.

Caldwell does a nice job managing personalities, looking at things philosophically and staying on message. I believe he’s a good teacher, and his patient, quiet style is generally healthy for a team with a good share of veteran stars.

But he has blind spots, too, and is hardly a strategy master. There are bound to be significant changes at the conclusion of what’s sure to be a dreadful season, and he’ll be at the front of the line.

If he does the best job we can remember at holding a terrible, ineffective team together, is that enough? I’d guess not.

Injuries: This team gets hurt too much. There is a huge element of bad luck to it, of course. But is there something bigger at work as well?

Last season as quality players went down, Manning helped some role players such as tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White emerge. This season, guys such as linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt were lost for the season early, and there's been a revolving door on the offensive line because of injuries.

The Colts are constantly testing their depth and shuffling the back end of their roster. There is only so much shuffling a depth chart can handle.

I believe they need to attempt some change that might have a positive effect on their overall health -- whether it be adopting new training philosophies, altering how they evaluate prospects or changing personnel philosophies.

It's easy to ask them to figure out why they tend to suffer so many injuries, and it's hard to find an answer. But some sort of shift is due, even as we know it comes with no guarantee of better health.

When the current approach is failing, it's OK to try something else. It's not admitting some sort of failure; it's merely part of a necessary process of evaluating and revising operations.

Suck for Luck: Given a chance to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, I think the Colts would. Bill Polian can give Chris Polian the guy expected to be the NFL's next great quarterback, and Chris Polian's legacy would be built on a fantastic cornerstone.

But there is no losing on purpose to get in position for Luck. You think Wayne or Mathis is interested in such a master plan?

Said veteran center and team tone-setter Jeff Saturday: “I'll steal a Robert Mathis quote: 'I ain't sucking for anybody.'”
Through seven games the Colts have used four different starting offensive line combinations.

Sunday in Tennessee, we’ll see number five.

The team announced Joe Reitz, who has started every game at left guard, is out for an unspecified amount of time after arthroscopic knee surgery.

Indianapolis has signed two familiar players to restock the line: guard Jamey Richard and tackle Michael Toudouze. The team has also placed quarterback Kerry Collins and fullback Chris Gronkowski on IR.

That means the Colts’ offense belongs to Curtis Painter as long as he can stay healthy, with Dan Orlovsky as the backup. Of course there remains the possibility that Peyton Manning re-emerges late in the season.

Reitz is likely to be replaced by Seth Olsen, who filled in after Reitz was hurt during the blowout in New Orleans on Sunday night.

The health of two other starters is also in question. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has missed the last three games and right guard/tackle Ryan Diem has missed four of the last five.

Both are dealing with ankle injuries.

It's likely the end for Collins, who had retired from the NFL before the Colts lured him back just before the season, concerned about Painter's readiness with Manning out.

Collins suffered a concussion Sept. 25 against Pittsburgh and hadn't played since.
Indianapolis' offensive line and interior defensive line are so thinned out by injuries that Jeff Saturday joked with Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star about deviating from the team’s next-man-up mantra.

"We (are) going to have to start bringing in some next men," Saturday said.

Monday night in a loss at Tampa Bay, defensive tackle Eric Foster dislocated his right ankle. Tuesday he had season-ending surgery. Starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo left the stadium with a boot on his left foot and walking with the aid of crutches and his replacement, Ben Ijalana, had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter after damaging his left knee, Chappell says.

According to the report, Ijalana could be out for the season with ACL damage.

The team is expected to elevate one of the defensive tackles from its practice squad, Ricardo Matthews or Ollie Ogbu.

The Colts were already thin on the offensive line before Monday night’s game, with Ryan Diem out and Joe Reitz hurting. They signed offensive tackle Mike Tepper from the practice squad Monday afternoon. He wound up playing right tackle after Castonzo and Ijalana went down.

We’ll learn more about the offensive linemen today.

But things are certainly a mess on the injury front. Again.

UPDATE, 12:15 p.m.: The Colts put Ijalana and Foster on IR and waiveed linebacker Nate Triplett. They signed offensive tackles Michael Toudouze and Quinn Ojinnaka as well as Mathews.
TBDBrian Spurlock/US PresswireWhat are the biggest issues facing the Colts in the absence of star quarterback Peyton Manning?
Ten questions worth pondering about the Colts without Peyton Manning:

1. Who’s under the most pressure?

The obvious answer is Kerry Collins, but if the expectations are unreasonable for the 39-year-old quarterback, that’s not on him. He can still be effective, but consistency is an issue and he tends to start games slowly. That’s a problem for the Colts, who are built to jump to leads and let defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis pursue quarterbacks who are trying to throw to catch up. Those successful two-minute drills that Manning has run at the end of a half or a game won't happen as often with Collins.

2. What will we learn about Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen?

Jokes about Manning coaching the team tend to be over the top. But he certainly makes more pre-snap decisions on the field than any other quarterback in the league. Even if Collins winds up making some of those reads and determinations, Caldwell and Christensen must show they can plan effectively for him in a way they weren’t always responsible for with Manning at the controls.

3. Is the line ready to play better?

A lot of people not that familiar with how the Colts play look at the sack numbers (16 allowed in 2010) and judge Indianapolis to be one of the league’s best pass-protecting offensive lines. It’s not. The Colts spent their top two draft picks on offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. Castonzo is slated to start at left tackle, and left guard Joe Reitz has not played in an NFL regular-season game. Ryan Diem appears to be moving from right tackle to right guard as Jeff Linkenbach, undrafted last year, takes Diem’s long-time spot. Collectively, the group must offer Collins reliable protection and block more effectively for a running game that must do more.

4. How does Collins handle blitzes and pass pressure?

[+] EnlargeKerry Collins
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesColts quarterback Kerry Collins has issues with consistency and starting slow.
Teams typically paid for blitzing Manning, but defenses will certainly try to do more to get to Collins. He didn’t move well when he was younger, and it’s certainly not a big piece of his game now. He’s not afraid to throw it away and live for another day. And former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who coached Collins the past five years in Tennessee and game-planned against the Colts twice a year from 2002 through 2010, said Indianapolis will be equipped to counter extra blitz pressure with screens to Joseph Addai.

5. Who has a chance to shine?

Even if Manning were around, I expected the Colts to try to get the ball to rookie running back Delone Carter in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He’s different than fellow running backs Addai and Donald Brown and seems like a player who can find a tough yard even when things don’t get blocked as they should. That offensive line can get a lot of attention if it plays well. And Brody Eldridge, more of a blocking tight end, could see more time if the Colts feel like they must sacrifice three-wide sets for additional protection or run-game help.

6. Can the defense help more?

As we mentioned, it’s a team built to pass rush against an offense that must throw. The Colts have not been a good run-stopping team and the defense didn’t fare well at it in the preseason. Indianapolis is slated to face a bunch of top-level backs. We could see two veteran additions at end, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton, get chances to contribute on run downs and help keep Freeney and Mathis fresher to rush. Rookie tackle Drake Nevis can help too. Overall, the philosophy of limiting big plays and making teams move it a little at a time has worked well enough. It’s not like they can make a dramatic change in it now.

7. What about special teams?

It’s been a neglected area for much of the Manning era. The offense is good at driving the ball down the field and doesn’t often get a good return to set up field position. While Manning makes big dollars, so do the team’s other stars: Freeney, Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea. Dedicating a lot of pay to that core means the team doesn’t have a lot of veteran backups, and veteran backups make up the backbone of good special teams units. This also is an area where things can’t really be changed because they are dictated by personnel.

8. What if Collins goes down?

Curtis Painter, a sixth-round draft pick from Purdue in 2009, is the third quarterback. The team is very defensive about him, but it’s an organization that works very hard to defend draft picks. But the fact is, in his limited regular-season action and in the preseason, Painter has been ineffective. If the Colts lost their backup quarterback and had to turn to Painter, they’d be in giant trouble. I can’t see Indianapolis going after another veteran now. David Garrard, released by the Jaguars this week, should find a job better than what the Colts might have to offer. I don’t see Indy being interested in him anyway.

9. Will the offense slow down?

As experienced and as wily as Collins may be, it’s difficult to imagine him being able to play at Manning’s pace, snapping the ball to catch defenses with too many men on the field or flapping his arms while changing, or pretending to change, what’s about to unfold. The Colts, however, benefit from locking defenses into personnel groupings. If Indy doesn’t huddle or take the time to substitute, the opponent can’t either. Whether they can, or want to try to, maintain that as an advantage remains to be seen. If they huddle more, they allow defenses to adjust more, too.

10. If the season is a total bomb, would they want Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the draft?

The deal Manning just signed is for five years. But if Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian had a chance at a guy who’s regarded as the best college quarterback to come out since, perhaps, Manning, I don’t see how the Colts wouldn’t take him and let him learn under Manning. But a four-year wait for Luck to play couldn’t happen either, and the Colts would have to craft a long-term plan.

With Kerry Collins on the roster and poised to take over as the primary backup to Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter fared much better working with the Colts’ offense.

In a 24-21 loss to Green Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night, the Packers utilized one defensive element Manning typically helps Indianapolis avoid: the blitz.
Manning is masterful at making teams pay when they subtract from coverage to add to the rush. But Green Bay rolled out a steady stream of blitzes, many of which featured cornerback Charles Woodson, with no fear of such repercussions from Painter.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Painter
AP Photo/Michael ConroyWithout Peyton Manning, the Packers blitzed again and again on Curtis Painter.
Indy’s offensive line is still being sorted out, and the group didn’t do particularly well or get particularly good help in minimizing the pressure. Painter didn’t get hit so much as he had to hurry, and he was hardly at his best in such circumstances.

Desmond Bishop got flagged for roughing on one blitz, and Painter threw a ball away when Woodson looped between left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Joe Reitz untouched. Another time, the quarterback made a nice throw to Reggie Wayne, who had a favorable matchup as Woodson came untouched.

No. 2 running back Donald Brown actually did reasonably well in blitz pickups, I thought, managing to keep himself between rushers and the quarterback on a couple of occasions. Still that rusher frequently contributed to a closing pocket.

The right side of the starting line, guard Ryan Diem and tackle Jeffrey Linkenbach, struggled with Clay Matthews, whose speed was more than they could handle.

Not every team is equipped to blitz the way the Packers are. But if it’s Collins instead of Manning on Sept. 11 in Houston, odds are the Texans will blitz more often and with less fear. And the Colts and Collins will have to be prepared to handle it.

Some other thoughts on what was nearly a rare Colts preseason win:

  • While Painter was better, it took a blown coverage that left Wayne wide open for a 57-yard touchdown to get him going. His second touchdown pass, to Chris Brooks, was very nice. Earlier Painter suffered because of a drop by Wayne and another by Pierre Garcon.
  • Ernie Sims was active in a lot of first-half action, his first since he signed with the Colts. Tommie Harris played for the second time, and made some plays with a sack and a tipped pass.
  • Jermichael Finley's touchdown catch on Pat Angerer was great. Angerer was tight but not turned. There aren’t many linebackers who could make a play against that.
  • According to CBS, Robert Mathis injured his hamstring in the first quarter hamstring and did not return. His counterpart at end, Dwight Freeney, made things very difficult on Green Bay tackle Chad Clifton, bulling over him a few times before using the patented spin move.
  • Diem, who false started too much last season at right guard, got called for one. An injury forced him from the game for a time, but he returned to action. Mike Pollak stepped in briefly. Jeff Saturday was the lone offensive lineman who didn’t play into the third quarter, as Pollak replaced him. Then the second-team offensive line was, left to right, Michael Toudouze, Kyle DeVan, Jamey Richard, Mike Tepper and Ben Ijalana. Richard was flagged for holding but it was declined.
  • I expect good things out of rookie running back Delone Carter, mostly because I very much like the idea of Carter. This team needs a short-yardage goal-line back. He was hardly working against front line defenders, I understand. But he not only got a tough yard -- converting a third-and-1 when there was nothing there -- but he had a couple of nice longer runs. A lost fumble was overturned by challenge, and a wide run with a spin move suggested he can be more than just a between-the-tackles pounder. He did look lost in one pass-protection situation.
  • Defensive back Chip Vaughn was waved off the field by Jim Caldwell after back-to-back penalties. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty worth 15 yards and a taunting penalty worth 11 yards, the Colts gave up a touchdown and a two-point conversion, lost an onside kick and saw Green Bay move to a game-winning field goal. Vaughn will not have a good weekend. And the Colts just about refuse to win in the preseason.

Three things: Packers-Colts

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
4:59
PM ET
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Colts against the Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium, where kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. CBS will broadcast the game.

1. Is the quarterback play any better? Bill Polian said Kerry Collins can conceptually master an offense in 48 hours, yet the veteran who joined the team Wednesday will not play. What’s to gain for Curtis Painter playing into the third quarter with first-teamers? His hold on the No. 3 spot, I suppose. Perhaps most interesting will be Jim Caldwell’s post game review of the quarterback if he’s ineffective. Can they still paint it positively? The offensive line is expected to have Ryan Diem at right guard as the team still jiggles things looking for the right combination.

2. The defense needs to do some run-stopping. There is no switch-flipping to come and the group knows what Houston’s intent will be on opening day. Though the defense will be without safety Antoine Bethea (hamstring) and could be without Gary Brackett (elbow) tonight, a solid effort would reinforce confidence. We’ll see veteran additions Jamaal Anderson and Ernie Sims in action for the first time. It’s ultimately meaningless, yes. But there is something to be said for not being embarrassed on national TV. The Packers dismantled the Colts in Green Bay in Week 3 last preseason.

3. Rookie Delone Carter is an intriguing running back. He’s a short-yardage goal line type. The offense has struggled to move the ball, to say the least. One benefit of actually driving the ball a few times would be the chance to see Carter work in a couple of the situations he was drafted to address.
More Scouts Inc. lists are out, with rankings of running backs, fullbacks and offensive lines.

Here’s where the AFC South starters and players of note stand.

Running backs
2: Chris Johnson

4: Maurice Jones-Drew

6: Arian Foster

22: Joseph Addai

I think: Foster might be too low.



Fullbacks
7: Lawrence Vickers

8: Ahmard Hall

9: Greg Jones

I think: I might flip Jones and Vickers.



Tackles
14: Eric Winston

22: David Stewart

23: Michael Roos

28: Duane Brown

33: Eugene Monroe

49: Ryan Diem

52: Wade Smith (actually a guard)

68: Eben Britton

I think: I expressed myself on Roos yesterday. He's way to low.



Guards
22: Jake Scott

41: Jason Spitz

55: Eugene Amano (actually a center)

56: Leroy Harris

61: Mike Brisiel

62: Uche Nwaneri

70: Kyle DeVan

71: Mike Pollak

I think: It says a lot about the division's guards that Spitz is second among them.



Centers
7: Jeff Saturday

9: Chris Myers

24: Brad Meester

I think: Myers is underrated generally, and deserves this top 10 slot.
The Indianapolis Colts fell to 0-2 in the preseason, dominated by the Washington Redskins 16-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The final numbers were ugly, as the Redskins finished ahead 415-150 in total yardage, 215-55 in rushing yardage, 22-8 in first downs and 36:29-23:31 in time of possession.

Tim Hightower gashed the Colts on a 58-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and Roy Helu had a 51-yard run early in the second quarter. Indianapolis doesn’t much care about preseason results, but it should care about struggling against the run to that degree.

Strong safety Antoine Bethea left the game after that first big run with an apparent hamstring injury, and the Colts lack of depth at safety showed.

They were without several receivers too, as Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez all sat out.

The Colts shuffled the offensive line some in practice, but didn’t carry it all over to the game as Ryan Diem started at right tackle and Mike Pollak at right guard. The first team offensive line had two false starts -- back-to-back penalties against Pollak and left guard Joe Reitz. Pollak’s replacement, Kyle DeVan, got one in the first half too.

While there were spurts of good pass pressure, including three sacks of Washington starter John Beck, he threw for 140 yards and posted a 101 passer rating.

The Colts’ star of the game was Pat McAfee. The punter averaged 57.3 yards on four punts with a 46-yard net average.

Three things: Redskins-Colts

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
4:19
PM ET
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Indianapolis Colts against the Washington Redskins at Lucas Oil Stadium, at 7 p.m. ET.

Even at its best the Colts' offense is unlikely to be very good while driven by Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. So let’s focus on the defense. John Beck is starting at quarterback for the Redskins. Whoever is up front, the Colts should rattle the inexperienced signal-caller and get a read on their ability to stop the run, starting with Tim Hightower and Roy Helu. The Colts need to contain the running backs and show they can bring them down. That would be a good start.

Let’s see the offensive line assembly from the start. Indications are it will be, left to right, Anthony Castonzo, Joe Reitz, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem and Jeff Linkenbach. Castonzo could begin to take a vice grip on the job, and if Diem effectively slides inside it could help the cause as well. Some early signs of cohesion would be very good.

Don’t care too much. It’s hard to not be result-oriented, I know. But just force yourself. They don’t care if they lose or lose by a lot, so you need not to care.

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