Colts have cause to be optimistic for future

INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s easy to sit back and say the Indianapolis Colts would have been a better team if Reggie Wayne’s season hadn’t ended in Week 7 with a torn ACL.

If the Colts hadn’t lost four other offensive players to season-ending injuries and placed a total of 17 players on injured reserve.

If Trent Richardson had run the ball better.

It the defense hadn’t given up so many big plays.

Those are all true, there’s no denying it. But the Colts overcame those problems to take the next step in their progression by advancing to the AFC divisional round of the playoffs. In the regular season, they beat three of the four teams -- Denver, Seattle and San Francisco -- that are playing in the AFC and NFC championship games this weekend.

General manager Ryan Grigson has work to do this offseason because the Colts have issues that need to be resolved, but there’s reason to have optimism for them in the 2014 season.

New England quarterback Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning, the Colts’ biggest competitors for the top spot in the AFC, will be a step closer to retirement, as Brady will be 37 years old and Manning 38 at the start of next season.

Not many people outside of the Colts' organization believed the transition from the Manning era would move along this quickly.

Year 2 just ended.

“The sky is the limit,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ve got a great group here. We’ve got the foundation that we laid. I credit our players for buying in. They’ve never wavered. To have two 11-win seasons back-to-back, win the division, sweep the division in your second year, win a playoff game in your second year, coming into the situation that we came into, coming off of a 2-14 season, losing all the players that we lost.”

Grigson has to step back for a little bit before jumping the gun and saying what needs to be fixed on the roster. The offensive line was inconsistent. The running game wasn’t dominant. The defense was just as inconsistent as the offensive line. Quarterback Andrew Luck covered up some of those flaws with his talent.

“It's hard to say right now definitively what needs to be fixed, even though we have the full body of work at our disposal from all the film we've watched, because there's still emotion involved. So, I think you need to step away. We need to have discussions,” Grigson said. “Everybody wants to have it now in the microwave society and open the microwave door before the time's even up. But we've got to have some patience and build this thing the right way."

You never know how players will be coming off injuries, but the Colts feel good about their group of injured players. Wayne, tight end Dwayne Allen, guard Donald Thomas and running back Vick Ballard will be great readditions to the roster if they can regain their form. They were all starters before their injuries.

The Colts should have more than $30 million in salary-cap space to try to improve the roster.

“You win in this league with great quarterbacks, and we have a great one,” Grigson said. “We have to keep surrounding him with the right people that are like-minded, that are aspiring to greatness like he does every single day when he walks in this building and when his head hits the pillow at night. Those are the type of guys we need. ... We’re going to keep infusing this team with players and building in areas that we feel like we can improve on.

“So we’re all very optimistic because, just in the progression we’ve been going, that obviously would be the expectation is we want to be heading in that direction, to win a championship and to keep winning them. That’s what our owner's charged me with building, so that’s where my mind’s at.”