NFL Nation: Drake Nevis

Here is the sixth of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Defensive tackle

Who’s on the roster: Brandon Deaderick, Abry Jones, Kyle Love, Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Jordan Miller and Drake Nevis.

Analysis: The Jaguars are in good shape with Miller and Marks, who signed a four-year extension in December after having the best season of his career. Miller’s play was impacted by his chronic shoulder injury but offseason surgery should fix that issue and he should be the same player he was in Tampa Bay before he signed with the Jaguars in 2013. It’s after those two that the Jaguars have problems. Jones and Miller are young and Nevis has not developed after being drafted in the third round in 2011 by Indianapolis. Love was with the team in training camp, was cut, and then brought back late in the season because of injuries.

NFL free agents of interest: Tony McDaniel, Earl Mitchell, Lamarr Houston and Arthur Jones.

Need meter: 8. Marks gives the Jaguars an athletic tackle who can also rush the passer while Miller is a prototypical run-stuffer. The Jaguars need to upgrade behind Marks and Miller and they will look for help in the draft as well. A four-man tackle rotation would help limit the amount of snaps Marks plays. He was on the field for 805 snaps in 2013, which is too many.

Need a semi to stop Rod Marinelli

November, 15, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- So far it has been a trying season for the Dallas Cowboys' defense. They have allowed more 400-yard passers than any defense in history. They have allowed more first downs in a game than any in NFL history. They have allowed more yards in a game than any defense in Cowboys history.

Confidence might be an issue for some, but not defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports"I think if you have a belief and it's tested and you crack with that, then it's not a belief. You better get a big old semi to run over me and it better be three times because it ain't changing," Rod Marinelli said on how he coaches.
“I believe in what I do so hard and so well. I’ll tell you when I was in Detroit that was a great experience for me because it’s what I believed in and it didn’t work and I never lost confidence,” said Marinelli, whose Lions were 0-16 in 2008. “I never lost faith. I went to Chicago and I kept working. I think if you have a belief and it’s tested and you crack with that, then it’s not a belief. You better get a big old semi to run over me and it better be three times because it ain’t changing.”

The Cowboys have run through a ton of defensive linemen. Corvey Irvin is the latest this week. Marinelli takes them off the assembly line, coaches them and has them ready in a matter of days.

“I’m the source of energy for them, OK?” Marinelli said. “And I’m the source of all the energy in that room and I’ve got to set the tempo and the tone and the standards in that room. I don’t care where you came from you now have to rise to my level. And they’re trying.”

George Selvie has responded with six sacks. Nick Hayden has been mostly decent. Drake Nevis has filled in nicely. Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown have been able to provide some pressure. Jason Hatcher should return Nov. 24 against the New York Giants after missing the loss to the New Orleans Saints with a stinger. DeMarcus Ware should be healthier after missing three of the past four games with a quadriceps strain.

“You look at yourself first,” Marinelli said. “Coaching better and the details. I don’t care who’s out there, if you’re asking him to do something you’re coaching him and he’s not doing it, you always look at yourself. I guess I always look at the positive. I am, that’s just me. I believe we keep this kind of group coming together right now we’ll have a chance to keep improving. All we have to do is just make steps, keep making steps each week and then if we do that we’ll get better and better. We get Hatch, who’s got a chance, DeMarcus, you’ve got two impact guys and you can fill around those guys pretty good.”

Midseason Report: Dallas Cowboys

November, 6, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- After nine games, the Dallas Cowboys have issues.

The defense can't stop a topflight quarterback. The offense can't -- or won't -- run the ball. Injuries have affected the offensive line, defensive line and secondary.

Yet with seven games to play, the Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 5-4 record. Can they join the conference elite?

Before that question can be answered, here's a look at how the Cowboys have graded out so far:

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 6

October, 14, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-16 win over the Washington Redskins:

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/LM OteroTony Romo and the Dallas offense stepped up their production in the third quarter.
Man, what coverage: If you’re looking for a change in how the Cowboys played defensively, it was in the secondary. Cornerback Brandon Carr followed Pierre Garcon all over the field. Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick were matched up in man coverage more. The result was three pass breakups apiece for Carr and Claiborne and two for Scandrick.

“I think that takes us back to what we’re all here for,” Scandrick said. “Whether it’s man or zone, it’s our job to play the scheme, but Brandon Carr was brought over from Kansas City, gave him a bunch of money to play man-to-man. Mo, traded up for him to play man-to-man. Signed me long-term to play man-to-man, so …”

Answering the call: In a Sept. 22 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the Cowboys ran just seven plays in the third quarter and lost 30-21. On Sunday they ran only eight plays in the third quarter but managed to score a touchdown thanks to Dwayne Harris’ kickoff return. After that, however, the offense had two three-and-out drives. After Kai Forbath missed a 49-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys answered with a nine-play drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal from Dan Bailey for an eight-point lead. For six of those nine plays, the Cowboys went with their “empty” personnel, spreading the field. Tony Romo completed four of six passes for 42 yards with no running back on the field with Cole Beasley catching three of the passes.

Need line help: The trade deadline is two weeks away, and the Cowboys will be open for business but face salary-cap restrictions when thinking about making a deal. While DeMarcus Ware felt confident his strained quadriceps would be OK, there is little proven help along the defensive line, leading to a question about adding a defensive lineman through a trade or free agency. The Cowboys have about $2 million in cap room, making the acquisition of a name player difficult. At one point the defensive line Sunday was Caesar Rayford, Drake Nevis, David Carter and Kyle Wilber, who did have his first career sack. They pressured Robert Griffin III at times, but can this “no-name” group, as Jerry Jones called it, get it done every game?

Quiet return: After missing two games with a hamstring injury, Miles Austin was held without a catch against the Redskins. He was targeted four times and nearly had a touchdown, but Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall managed to deflect the Romo pass at the last second. It was the second straight game Austin was held without a catch by the Redskins. It also happened in last year’s season finale, but he missed a lot of action in that game with an ankle injury. For the offense to be at peak efficiency, Austin will need to make some plays. The good news is that he did not aggravate his hamstring injury, so he should improve as he grows more confident in his legs.
The San Diego Chargers added four defensive players Sunday.

The team claimed defensive lineman Drake Nevis from the Indianapolis Colts and linebacker Terrell Manning from the Green Bay Packers. Earlier in the day, the team traded a 2015 conditional seventh-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, and signed linebacker and special-teams standout Reggie Walker. He was with Arizona.

Nevis is a good player who should help the defensive line depth. He was in Indianapolis with first-year San Diego general manager Tom Telesco. I think he can be a good player. All four of the players should help with depth and help San Diego’s special teams. it was poor in the preseason.

The Chargers added three players to the practice squad: tackle Nick Becton, linebacker Thomas Keiser and cornerback Marcus Cromartie. They were all cut by the team Saturday. The Chargers have five more openings on the practice squad.
Most significant moves: This is a thin roster, so there weren’t a ton of standout cuts here. But there were two veteran names of note to get the axe in the first year of the Tom Telesco-Mike McCoy era in San Diego. Tackle Max Starks and receiver Robert Meachem were cut. Neither were very good this summer. Starks was signed to be the left tackle. But he was beaten out by King Dunlap and then by young Mike Harris to be the swing tackle. Meachem, signed in 2012 by the previous regime to be the No. 1 receiver, was a disaster. The team is thin at receiver and Meachem is guaranteed to make $5 million this season. Still, the Chargers decided to move away from him. Other cuts of note were center David Molk and pass-rusher Thomas Keiser. Both were expected to have roles going into camp.

Going young: This is a team that is rebuilding and the 53-man roster shows it. All six draft picks (cornerback Steve Williams is on the injured reserve) made the team and three undrafted free agents -- safety Jahleel Addae, nose tackle Kwame Geathers and defensive end Brandon Moore -- made the 53-man roster. U-T San Diego reports it’s the first time since 2007 that every draft pick made the team and the first time in 10 years that three undrafted free agents made the roster. Telesco is looking for youth to make an impact. The opportunity is there for these youngsters.

What’s next: This roster is far from set. The Chargers are going to be a work in progress. I expect Telesco will tinker with the bottom of this roster for the next several weeks, maybe even all season. As an executive in Indianapolis, Telesco was known for his eye for talent and for being able to pick up pieces off the street. Thus, this is his time to shine. He has plenty of work to do in San Diego. The Chargers could use depth on the offensive line, at receiver, on the defensive line, at outside linebacker and in the secondary. The team’s special teams was weak in the preseason. That’s a telltale sign of poor depth. So, more players are needed. Among the players San Diego could potentially look at are receivers Lavelle Hawkins, Chris Harper, Russell Shepard, Tavarres King, linemen Ben Ijalana, Fernando Velasco, Jake Scott and Danny Watkins and defensive tackle Drake Nevis.

Players cut: CB Cornelius Brown, OT Nick Becton, DE Frank Beltre, S Sean Cattouse, TE Ben Cotton, CB Marcus Cromartie, LB Phillip Dillard, CB Greg Gatson, CB Logan Harrell, DE Jerrell Harris, RB Michael Hill, CB Josh Johnson, LB Thomas Keiser, WR Robert Meachem, CB William Middleton, LB Dan Molls, WR David Molk, OT Randy Richards, TE David Rolf, G Steve Schilling, OT Max Starks, WR Luke Tasker.

Indianapolis Colts cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: Defensive lineman Fili Moala didn’t play in the preseason because was he was still rehabbing a knee injury from late 2012, but that didn’t stop him from making the roster. Keeping Moala put an end to fellow defensive lineman Drake Nevis’ time with the Colts. Fullback Dominique Jones was cut, leaving the Colts with only one fullback on the roster, Stanley Havili.

A feel-good story: Linebacker Caesar Rayford kept hearing from NFL teams over the years that they liked what they saw out of him on video while he played in the Arena Football League. Rayford, however, never got an invite to a training camp from any of those teams. That changed this year when the Colts, led by general manager Ryan Grigson’s willingness to search anywhere for talent, invited Rayford to camp. Rayford didn’t disappoint, either. He had a team-high five sacks during the preseason. Rayford now has a spot on the 53-man roster. The 27-year-old rookie’s best bet to get on the field will likely be on special teams. He’ll take it after getting looked over for so many years while he played in the Canadian and Arena Football League.

What’s next: Grigson and his staff aren’t going to sit tight. They’ll continue to monitor which players -- especially offensive linemen and possibly fullback -- around the league were released, and don’t be surprised if the roster the Colts take into their season opener against Oakland on Sept. 8 is completely different than the current one. The Colts will likely add quarterback Chandler Harnish and linebacker Daniel Adongo to the practice squad if both players clear waivers. Adongo didn’t play in the preseason, but the Colts are intrigued by the former rugby player. Harnish was on the practice squad last season.

Colts cuts: LB: Daniel Adongo, Josh McNary, Monte Simmons, Shawn Loiseau. DB: Larry Asante, Marshay Green, Sheldon Price, Daxton Swanson. OL: Thomas Austin, Ben Ijalana, Bradley Sowell, Lee Ziemba, Emmett Cleary. DL: Lawrence Guy, Drake Nevis, Martin Tevaseu. QB: Chandler Harnish. FB: Robert Hughes. TE: Dominique Jones. WR: Jeremy Kelley, Jabin Sambrano, Lanear Sampson

Observation deck: Colts-Giants

August, 19, 2013
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The transition to being more of a run-oriented team is still a work in progress for the Indianapolis Colts.

That’s understandable when the quarterback is Andrew Luck, who set three rookie passing records last season.

Indianapolis gained 22 yards on eight rushes while Luck was in the game during their 20-12 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.

That stat is misleading. Luck gained 14 yards scrambling on one play. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that means the Colts gained a total of eight yards on their seven other rushes.

Ouch.

The Colts have attempted 19 passes and 11 runs in two preseason games with Luck on the field.

Establishing the run will make things easier for Luck. The Colts want to avoid having him throw the ball 50 times a game, and it’ll open things up for opportunities downfield, especially once Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) joins Vick Ballard in the backfield.

Luck played like he's ready for the regular season against the Giants. He also had some good fortune.

Luck was under pressure when he threw a pass that should have been intercepted by Giants cornerback Aaron Ross. Ross hit the ball up in the air and Reggie Wayne, for whom the pass was intended, also tapped the ball in the air before coming down with it in the end zone.

Luck finished 9-of-13, including completing nine of his last 10 attempts, for 107 yards, two touchdowns and no sacks. Luck’s second touchdown to T.Y. Hilton was perfectly thrown right out of the reach of the Giants defender. Hilton showed off his footwork by keeping both feet in bounds.

Luck completed passes to four different players, including his top three receivers Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Hilton (four catches, 42 yards).

The Colts finished the game with more rush attempts -- 33 for 88 yards -- than pass attempts -- 28.

Other observations:
  • Two of general manager Ryan Grigson’s free-agent signings had impressive performances. Linebacker Erik Walden (six tackles) easily beat Giants tackle David Diehl for a sack on Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the second quarter. The Colts are looking for another player besides Robert Mathis to put pressure on the quarterback. Cornerback Greg Toler came underneath and intercepted a Manning pass intended for Hakeem Nicks. Toler’s aggressiveness isn’t surprising. That’s how the Colts secondary has played throughout camp.
  • After spending the first quarter not getting any pressure on the quarterback, the Colts finally got it going after Walden’s sack. They finished with six sacks. Linebacker Caesar Rayford and defensive end Drake Nevis each had two sacks. Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters after the game that Rayford, a former Arena Football League player, will make things difficult once it’s time to trim the roster down.
  • Tight end Coby Fleener's preseason hasn’t gone well. He left the game with a sprained knee. The sprained knee added to another unimpressive performance. He dropped what should have been a long catch and run from Luck in the first quarter. Then, he wasn’t looking for the ball coming across the middle on a pass from backup Matt Hasselbeck in the second quarter. Sunday’s performance added to to his fumble, dropped touchdown and concussion during the Aug. 11 game against Buffalo. The Colts have high hopes for Fleener and fellow second-year tight end Dwayne Allen this season. Allen is out with a foot injury and Fleener can’t hold onto the ball to go with his now sprained knee. That’s not good.
  • Rookie linebacker Bjoern Werner had an impact in his preseason debut. He made a tackle for a 4-yard loss and barely missed out on a sack. Werner is making the transition from playing on the defensive line at Florida State to being a rushing linebacker.
  • Veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri used his 40-year-old leg to nail a 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first quarter. The 52-yarder was Vinatieri’s longest since he made a 53-yard kick against Tennessee last season.
One of the guys Chance Warmack will be asked to slow is Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt.

Warmack spoke of him when the Titans introduced their first-round pick today.

When I asked the guard out of Alabama who ranked as his toughest matchup during his college career, he pointed to another member of the AFC South.

“Probably Drake Nevis,” he said of the former LSU defensive tackle who’s now with the Colts. “I think somebody told me he is in the same divisions as we are? Yeah, I was kind of excited about that. I can get my rematch on him.

"He opened my eyes to what you see in a great 3-technique, he helped me improve and be a better player over the course of my time at Alabama. He’s an excellent 3-tech, and excellent D-lineman.”

As for Watt, Warmack laughed when he was asked about the reigning defensive player of the year.

“Everybody talks about J.J. Watt,” he said.

“He’ll worry about that Week 2,” coach Mike Munchak interjected.

“We talked about J.J. Watt when I was a junior in college,” Warmack said. “He’s an excellent football player. I can’t wait to see him.”

Freeman needs to help stop Rice

January, 3, 2013
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The Colts run defense didn’t post run defense numbers you’d suspect to correlate with an 11-win team.

They gave up 104.4 rushing yards a game (29th in the NFL) and 5.1 yards a carry (31st). They lost a bunch of people on the defensive line.

Free-agent addition Brandon McKinney didn’t make it to the regular season before he landed on IR. Josh Chapman, who the team knew might not play this season when he was drafted in the fifth round out of Alabama, didn’t make it back from his knee rehabilitation. Drake Nevis missed the final seven games and is on IR. Antonio Johnson missed the final two games.

Behind that three-man front, the linebackers have had to do more than can reasonably be expected.

[+] EnlargeIndianapolis' Jerrell Freeman
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Colts have credited Jerrell Freeman, who led the CFL in tackles last season, with 203 tackles in 2012.
The front will face perhaps its biggest challenge of the year in Baltimore running back Ray Rice on Sunday.

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky spoke to Indianapolis media Thursday about Rice, saying that Maurice Jones-Drew is the most similar back the Colts have faced this year.

“Good running back, great sight lines, a hard runner to bring down,” he said. “We need multiple people to corral him and put him down. He’s got great vision. He sees the hole and does a great job of cutting back and making plays in the open field and making guys miss. We’ve got to corral him and get him down.”

Getting run on has not killed the Colts, in part because they’ve found the most crucial stops.

“We just survive, we pull together when we need to in crunch time,” inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman told me. “We’ve had a lot of new guys and it’s been about the next man up. The 3-4 is all about being on the same page.”

The Colts credited Freeman with 203 tackles this season. When they signed him out of the CFL, he figured he’d have to make the team as a special teamer.

“If I had to tread water, I would have done that too,” he said.

Freeman had seven visits scheduled with NFL teams last January. He met with the Jets, the Buccaneers and the Steelers before he got to the Colts.

He cancelled the rest of the trips and signed the deal the Colts offered because he felt they were such a good fit.

General manager Ryan Grigson was hired on Jan. 11. He signed running back Darren Evans to a future contract on the 17th and Freeman two days later.

The inside shined in camp, but even the biggest optimist couldn’t have expected that Freeman would plug in and stick for 16 starts after Pat Angerer cracked his foot. Angerer missed five games and Bruce Arians said while he was interim coach that the 2010 second-round pick wouldn’t be back to pain-free, full-strength play until next season.

Freeman didn’t know what to expect, but he never doubted he could play in the NFL.

When he failed to make the Titans as an undrafted free agent out of Mary-Hardin Baylor in 2008, Tennessee had a starting lineup at linebacker of Keith Bullock, David Thornton and Stephen Tulloch as well as some young draft picks behind them.

Freeman wound up with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL in 2009.

His first remembrance of football in Canada?

“Cold,” he said.

“It was fun,” he continued. “It was a great experience. It’s a totally different game. I had to cover receivers. They don’t run the ball as much. I got to hone my skills.”

While he worked more in coverage in the CFL because of the nature of the game, he said he thinks he is a pretty balanced NFL linebacker, able to step up to tackle a running back or drop and cover.

Now, he’s a symbol for the Colts as they head to the playoffs. The right guy given the right opportunity can be a difference-maker. Having found one to play weak inside linebacker, they’ve got one less spot to worry about as they continue to build the roster.
Jerraud Powers’ season is over for the third consecutive season because of an injury.

Ponder
Powers
The Indianapolis Colts cornerback went on injured reserve after 10 games in 2010 with an arm injury, after 12 games in 2011 because of an elbow issue and now after nine games because of a toe injury.

It’s a very unfortunate development for a solid player at a position where the Colts are not deep.

Indianapolis beat Jacksonville last Thursday without both starting corners -- Powers and Vontae Davis. Darius Butler had a big game with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. But the Colts are going to face tougher opposition than the Jaguars moving forward.

Butler and Davis, once he’s recovered from his knee injury, are the likely starters going forward, with Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy as the guys in line for nickel and dime roles.

I find Powers to be one of the most thoughtful guys in the division, so I will selfishly miss being able to look for him in the Colts locker room when I cover them.

His rookie contract is also expiring, and the injury history is going to work against him when the Colts, and maybe an outside bidder, make their offers.

It may be a string of bad luck, but if you’ve got a string of bad luck like this one, you’re officially injury-prone.

In other Colts developments, the team activated nose tackle Josh Chapman from the non-football injury list. He’s practices for three weeks and is all the way back from the torn ACL he suffered in his final year at Alabama.

Adding him to the 53-man roster is offset by losing Drake Nevis for the year. He too went on IR with a hand injury.
video

At each stage of the process, Andrew Luck seems to provide some magic.

That was certainly the case Sunday as he played in his first NFL preseason game. The Colts rookie quarterback’s first preseason throw, a little dump-off over the middle to running back Donald Brown, turned into a 63-yard touchdown pass as Brown turned and ran, finding the seas parting.

An arm up, pumping in celebration, Luck chased the play excitedly, a big smile showing off a blue mouthpiece. He looked to the bench on one side, he looked toward one of the blockers who sprung the play on the other.

“Historic beginning!!!!!!!!!!!!!,” Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted. “The legend has begun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The Colts' 38-3 thrashing of the Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium was the lone NFL preseason game of the day, and Luck fittingly offered a singular performance.

Peyton Manning’s first preseason toss with the Colts was a short pass to Marvin Harrison that went for a long touchdown, too.

Luck looked beyond comfortable and in command.

He knew where to go and delivered the ball in good spots. The protection was not always great, but he moved away from pressure and kept his eyes downfield, giving up on a handful of plays when he knew they weren’t going to turn into anything. He threw from the pocket and on the move.

An intermediate pass up the left side to rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton was just beyond the reach of Rams rookie corner Janoris Jenkins, and Hilton showed good footwork. Just in case it wasn’t good enough, Luck and the Colts offense hustled to get the next snap off to avoid a challenge.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Michael ConroyAndrew Luck was all smiles after his first preseason pass with the Colts went for a touchdown.
Luck kept a safety honest before hitting Austin Collie with a 23-yard TD strike.

He engineered a third scoring drive -- running back Delone Carter went airborne to get the ball over the goal line -- before yielding to Drew Stanton.

Irsay gave the run down in a tweet: “n less than a half,#12 was 10/16..188 yards,2 TDS...142.7 QB rating..WOW..yes it's only the beginning in pre-season,but OH,WHAT a BEGINNING!”

Stanton and rookie Chandler Harnish were also on target against a wildly ineffective Rams defense.

It’s just a preseason performance, but it’s all Luck and the Colts have to offer right now.

I’d expect a decent day at the box office tomorrow, and I suspect in Indiana, a few more Manning jerseys will get pushed closer to the back of closets, replaced by new No. 12s.

The defense also had a great showing, with eye-catching work from players like outside linebacker Jerry Hughes, inside linebacker Kavell Conner and defensive lineman Drake Nevis.

Chuck Pagano’s team has worked hard to do what the new coach and his staff have asked. There is a ton of work still ahead, but the first checkpoint of the preseason couldn’t have been better and the Colts now get a day to catch their breath.

They are scheduled to return to practice Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. and again at 1:50 p.m. They break camp Friday at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind., ending their dorm lives and heading home. The Colts' second test, coming next Sunday, will be a tougher one: a trip to Pittsburgh.

Luck’s done nothing so far to reduce expectations for that, and well beyond.
ANDERSON, Ind. -- What’s next?

As the Indianapolis Colts begin a new era, the centerpiece of change is Andrew Luck.

The impressive rookie quarterback has been sitting in meetings, running through every piece of the offense. Coaches are always looking for acknowledgement that a player gets it before moving forward. Coaches often circle back and go over something again and again and again, but Luck has helped them pick up the pace.

“Everything we’ve given him to this point he’s been able to handle,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s one of those guys that’s probably got a photographic memory or something like that. Because he just gets it. It’s not like you’ve got to come back and repeat something and give it again and give it again.

“The coaches will sit there and they’ll be installing the offense and they’ll be like, ‘Are you with me, do you understand it?’ And he’s like ‘Yeah, yeah, next thing up, next thing up.’ As a coach you’re always looking for affirmation: 'Do you understand? Do you get it?' He’s, ‘Yeah I’ve got it, what’s next? Yeah, I’ve got it, what’s next?’”

What’s next in bigger terms is a preseason debut Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium, the continuation of training camp and the buildup to the Sept. 9 opener at Chicago.

As rebuilding teams around the league wonder if they’ve got the right quarterback, the Colts can skip right past that fundamental question.

Luck’s exceptional maturity extends to the practice field as well.

"The day I got him a couple times (with interceptions) at practice, he came up to me and [Antoine Bethea] and said, ‘If I’m tipping off anything presnap or y’all get any read off me during the course of a play, please let me know,’” said the Colts' top cornerback, Jerraud Powers. "'And just let me know if there is any way I can help y’all.'

“That right there, for a guy to be so young and able to realize that, it shows you what type of guy he’s going to be.”

Such interplay was completely natural for Luck.

“It’s been nice to talk to Antoine and Jerraud, maybe once a week, once every two weeks,” Luck said. “Any help I can get as a rookie that doesn’t know the ropes, I’ll try to take it.”

That timetable for learning the ropes is going to be the most interesting thing about the 2013 Colts.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDwight Freeney
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLongtime defensive lineman Dwight Freeney will be adjusting to a new position in Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme.
1. How will Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis fare as outside linebackers? The transition is bigger for Mathis than Freeney. Per Mathis, he will be in the role Jarret Johnson played in the Ravens defense (now filled by Paul Kruger), while Freeney will be in the Terrell Suggs role. (Courtney Upshaw’s there now, while Suggs is out after shredding an Achilles.)

That means far more of an adjustment for Mathis, who will regularly be dropping into coverage as the strongside linebacker, while Freeney will be moving forward from the rush linebacker spot. They are great, veteran football players, and a smart defensive coach like Pagano would not put them into roles that take away their strengths.

But it will take a lot of repetition for them to break old habits and operate in different ways and hop around. Both are excited about being less predictable and expect big production as a result of the element of surprise. The energetic Mathis seems invigorated by the change as he talks enthusiastically about an “exotic” defense after playing in what could fairly be called a bland Tampa-2 scheme in recent years.

2. Can they run? Whether they try a bell-cow approach or a committee, it’s hard to envision Donald Brown, Mewelde Moore, Vick Ballard and/or Delone Carter providing the level of run-game output that Pagano and his staff keep emphasizing.

Also, will a patchwork offensive line with at least three new starters be able to make room for those backs? The Colts gained size with the addition of center Samson Satele, right guard Mike McGlynn and right tackle Winston Justice. But simply being bigger doesn’t complete the change to playing bigger. This is a team that has long had a smaller, more mobile, more finesse line and offensive mentality.

It’s yet another transition to be monitored, and one that was hard to read in the early days of camp.

3. Where is the depth? With massive roster turnover, the Colts could only do so much replenishing with one draft class and minimal money to spend in free agency. They didn’t get much done in terms of big-time additions at cornerback or on the offensive line.

Even if they manage to be alright at those spots in the starting lineup, the depth is very poor. When they suffer injuries and guys miss games, will they have quality backups?

Maybe they will on the defensive line. Maybe there are young options at receiver or running back. Otherwise, they’ll be facing some big problems. Good health would be a big help, but you can never count on that.

Sixty percent of the Colts' 90-man roster right now is new to Indianapolis. That can be a great thing when you’re talking about Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill and Cory Redding, but it’s not great when you’re talking about backups.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Chuck Pagano and Jim Irsay and Ryan Grigson
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThere's nowhere to go but up for the Colts' new regime: Chuck Pagano (left), Jim Irsay (center) and Ryan Grigson (right).
There is nowhere to go but up. Last year was a complete cave-in, and after a 2-14 year with Peyton Manning sidelined by a neck injury, owner Jim Irsay decided it was time for a restart. He booted the powerful head of the organization, Bill Polian, and ultimately changed coaches, too.

Enter general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano. Manning was let go, and Luck arrived via the No. 1 overall draft pick.

It’s a fresh start in virtually every respect, and the team is swallowing a huge chunk of dead money this year. While no one wants to concede anything, the franchise more or less is playing with house money this year. Things will be better than last year, and as long as the Colts show growth, improvement and direction, it’s 2013 that will be big. That's when they’ll have money to spend on free agents and a second draft class with which to further restock.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Change can be slow. The expectations are high for Luck, but it’s a big transition, and beyond Reggie Wayne, we aren’t sure about his weapons. We have no real idea about how several groups will produce, especially the corners, offensive line and running backs.

While Houston has shown a transition to a 3-4 can be successful quickly, it’s far more common for a team to take time to adjust. The Colts don’t have nearly as many pieces who are natural fits for the scheme as the Texans did. Pagano wants a defense that looks like Baltimore’s, but it will take time to reshape things to fit that model.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Beyond Powers, we can’t be certain the guys who will play corner on opening day are on this roster yet. Maybe it’s Justin King and Cassius Vaughn, but the Colts will certainly be looking at other options who become free agents. Powers and others in the group have rallied around each other, which is what you want. You also want the group to turn over if it needs upgrading.
  • It’s hard to tell much at all about the running game at this point. But Pagano is determined for the Colts to run effectively, to ease pressure on Luck and the defense and establish a physical tone. Brown’s been touted as an every-down back, but it may be more encouragement/hype at this point. He’d like that role but will take whatever he’s given.
  • Antonio "Mookie" Johnson is the lead guy at nose tackle, with Brandon McKinney behind him. Johnson’s up 10 pounds to 330, but the Colts aren’t looking for a mere space-eater. Like the Texans last year in their first incarnation of the 3-4, Indianapolis can be fine without a dominant tackle. And when they go to nickel, they’ll basically look like a 4-3 again, with Freeney and Mathis creeping up to the line, sandwiching Redding, who is likely to kick inside, and perhaps tackle Drake Nevis.
  • I jokingly proposed a pool to the Colts' beat writers with the money to be collected by the guy who prompted anyone within the organization to say anything remotely negative about Luck. They said it would have to exclude Luck himself. That’s great. When you’re the linchpin of an organization and everyone is going to constantly rave about you, even if it’s deserved, you do yourself a great service by being consistently self-critical.
  • Austin Collie is starting off as the No. 2 receiver in a base offense that now features two tight ends. But he will move around, spending time outside and in the slot when the Colts put an extra wideout on the field.
  • One spot that probably hasn’t gotten enough attention as a depth concern is quarterback. The Colts saw how much a bad backup plan can hurt last year, with Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky trying to fill Manning's shoes. Now, Drew Stanton is the guy behind Luck, and he wasn’t very good in the camp practices I watched. Will they look to upgrade as third quarterbacks around the league come free? Or will they feel like camp work for Stanton gives him an experience advantage?
  • I’m not sure how much the tension Polian cast over the organization reached players, but there is certainly a looser atmosphere around the team. When players' families sat on a hillside during a recent practice, one regular observer pointed out how they never would have been allowed there under the previous regime. Minor difference? Maybe, but I think a team with a broader circle of trust and more emphasis on family -- a Pagano and Grigson theme -- can be a healthier environment.
  • Watch Brazill as a punt coverage gunner. He’s had a lot of hands-on work with new special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf.
  • Allen looked excellent in early camp. He will move all over the place as part of Bruce Arians' two-tight end scheme and, like Fleener, can be an impact guy early.
We’re talked a lot about needs for the Colts, beyond quarterback which will be addressed when they draft Andrew Luck first overall: cornerback, safety, nose tackle, tight end, receiver and perhaps an offensive lineman.

We’re expecting Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney to spend most of their time at outside linebacker in a new 3-4 the Colts will be in as often as possible. If so, then some guys who were tackles in the old 4-3 will shift to end in that front. Fili Moala and Drake Nevis would head the list to work with free-agent addition Cory Redding. Nevis was not mentioned by GM Ryan Grigson recently when he talked of free-agent addition Brandon McKinney and holdover Antonio Johnson as the team’s primary answers at nose tackle.

In this scenario, the Colts are quite thin at outside linebacker.

I fully expect Jerry Hughes will get a chance there. The next most notable linebacker names on the roster for a spot that needs a great deal of depth are Kavell Conner and Scott Lutrus. And Conner may be an inside guy.

While Mathis and Freeney will surely be asked to do much of what they’ve done through successful careers as outside backers, the fact remains that there isn’t one proven 3-4 outside linebacker in that group. (And beyond Pat Angerer, there isn’t a guy we know can play inside in a 3-4 either -- though that situational job isn’t as difficult to fill.)

Freeney is also entering the last year of a very expensive contract.

The Colts have 10 picks in the draft, five in the first 136. They’ll need to address linebacker somewhere along the way.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:31
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10

Scoring defense: The Colts have allowed at least 23 points in all nine of their games this season. If they give up 23 to the Jaguars, they will become the third team in the last 30 seasons to allow at least 23 points in their first 10 games of a season -- joining the 2010 Texans (10) and 1981 Baltimore Colts (15). The Jaguars are probably a prime candidate not to get to 23. Jacksonville is averaging just more than 12 points a game.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Brett Davis/US PresswireExpect running back Arian Foster to continue carrying the load for the Texans at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Determined to run: The Texans' run game is their foundation this season. They lead the NFL in attempts per game at 34.8 and are second in rushing yards per game at 155.1. Arian Foster has not only been a dominant force in the backfield, he’s picked up the slack as a receiver in the absence of Andre Johnson with a league-best 285 yards after the catch since Week 5. Matt Schaub’s not been putting up big numbers, which is just fine, because the offense is doing so well with him handing off more than dropping back.

Contain Cam: The Titans just lost to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals. Now they see a different style of rookie quarterback in Cam Newton. He’s big and strong and can run effectively, but he’s done a nice job of being a throw-first quarterback. The Titans have not blitzed a lot, and the tendency against young quarterbacks is to try to confuse them with coverage. With a young quarterback who’s hard to bring down, that may be even more the case. But the Titans would be wise to throw some new blitzes into the mix. An interesting contrast -- Newton has the most completions in the league (24) on throws of more than 20 yards in the air this season while the Titans defense has allowed the fewest such completions (five).

Between the tackles: Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew has the most rushing yards in the league running between the tackles. His 457 yards give him a giant lead over Adrian Peterson (335). MJD has eight rushing touchdowns in 10 career games against the Colts. Indianapolis rookie defensive tackle Drake Nevis could be ready to return from a back injury, and the Colts should get a boost from him if he’s on the field.

Tampa Bay’s play-action: The Texans have intercepted the most passes (five) and allowed the fewest yards per attempt (5.0) on play-action passes this season. That tells me guys have been disciplined about not biting on fakes. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has thrown the most interceptions (five) on play fakes this season. So this could be a nice match for Houston in that department. The pass rush could be limited, though, because the Buccaneers have protected Freeman rather well.

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