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Friday, August 16, 2013
Camp Confidential: Indianapolis Colts

By Mike Wells

ANDERSON, Ind. -- The Indianapolis Colts did the unexpected last season. Those on the outside know it. The Colts know it too.

They put quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, under center from day one, and he led them to an 11-5 record that included seven game-winning drives. The Colts never lost consecutive games and, most importantly, made it back to the playoffs.

And they did it while dealing with the absence of coach Chuck Pagano, who was battling cancer.

Now there’s no going back for the Colts.

“The bar has definitely raised,” receiver Reggie Wayne said, “as we feel like we are contenders. We feel like we’ve got the right pieces in order. ... We set the stage at a nice, high level. I don’t think teams will treat us the way they did last year.”

Second-year general manager Ryan Grigson isn’t satisfied with what the team accomplished last season. That’s why he went out this offseason and spent $134 million on unrestricted free agent contracts.

It’s also why owner Jim Irsay didn’t hold back his feelings in calling his team out on Twitter over a “crap performance” in its preseason opener last weekend.

“You win 11 games after the circumstances we were under and then you add quite a few players you feel can help us in the mix, then you do the simple math, then yes, we should come back better than we were last year, and we expect to,” Grigson said.

THREE HOT ISSUES

Andrew Luck
Last season, Andrew Luck took 41 sacks, a number the Colts would like to cut in half in 2013.
1. Protecting the franchise: Luck was phenomenal last season. He was also sacked 41 times and hit so hard on some of them that you wondered if he would last a full season. Luck took every snap last season. Additions Gosder Cherilus at tackle and Donald Thomas at guard will team with holdovers Anthony Castonzo, Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn to try to keep Luck on his feet. The Colts want to cut Luck’s sacks in half this season.

2. Stopping the run: Opponents averaged 5.1 yards a run and gained 2,200 yards rushing (29th in the league) against the Colts last season. The Colts added more size, signing nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois from San Francisco and linebacker Erik Walden from Green Bay, to help a defense heading into Year 2 under Pagano’s 3-4 scheme. Josh Chapman, a fifth-round pick in 2012, is back after missing last season with a knee injury. The 341-pounder will help clog the middle of the line at nose tackle.

3. Special teams: The Colts were without some of their key special-teams players, but if the Aug. 11 preseason game was any indication, it could be another long season for that unit. Buffalo’s Marquise Goodwin had a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 53-yard kickoff return.  Giving an opponent a short field to work with won’t cut it, even if Luck and the offense are capable of putting up a lot of points.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Scoring points should not be a problem for the Colts. They have weapons at every skill position for Luck to choose from.

They potentially have a dynamic duo at running back in Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. Wayne will continue to be Wayne -- a steady, reliable, Pro Bowl receiver. He joins Darrius Heyward-Bey and second-year speedster T.Y. Hilton in the receiving corps. Second-year players Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have the potential to be the best pair of tight ends in the league.

The Colts should easily be able to improve on their 22 points a game, and Luck’s completion percentage should be better than the 54 percent he had last season.

“We are excited about all of our playmakers. ... We feel good about the repertoire of guys that we have, and we’re excited about those guys making plays on game day,” new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The offensive line has to prove it can protect Luck and open up holes for the running backs. Having a strong running game to go with the receiving options Luck has won’t mean much if the line can’t do its job.

OBSERVATION DECK