Luck's presence re-energizes Colts
No. 1 overall pick has been as good as advertised for Indy in camp
INDIANAPOLIS -- The first thing you notice about the new Indianapolis Colts is the energy.
Owner Jim Irsay has reinvented his organization since releasing Peyton Manning. He has a new coach: Chuck Pagano. He has a new general manager: Ryan Grigson. Gone is the Cover 2 defense, replaced by a 3-4 scheme similar to the ones run in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The energizer, though, is Andrew Luck. There is no replacement for a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Manning. Ask the Dolphins, Bills and others who have tried to manufacture offense after departures of great quarterbacks. The Colts' disastrous 2011 season allowed Luck to fall into Lucas Oil Stadium.
You also see the extra energy from the veteran defenders. Without Manning, the Colts had no hope last season, and their defense sagged. Quarterback Curtis Painter couldn't generate any offense, so the defense felt as though it were pedaling a stationary bike. Seeing Luck revitalizes not only the defense but also the fan base.
Here are my five observations from Colts training camp.
1. Don't be modest about Luck's statistics: When the Colts drafted tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, my first visions of the Colts' offense in 2012 were conservative. Going to a two-tight end running offense for a rookie quarterback is smart. From what you see on the field at Anderson University, it's not out of question for Luck to throw between 3,500 and 4,000 yards.
As pass-catchers, the Colts should be better than anticipated, and Luck is as billed. He has the look of being the most complete quarterback talent to enter in the NFL in decades. He makes all the throws. He's mature beyond his years. He's the real deal. And the Colts have weapons. Peyton Manning entered the NFL in 1998 with Marshall Faulk at halfback, Marvin Harrison at receiver, Ken Dilger at tight end and Adam Meadows and Tarik Glenn at tackles. He threw for 3,739 yards in a season the Colts went 3-13. To give Luck dependable targets, the Colts retained Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie. Third-round selection T.Y. Hilton is in development. The surprise in camp is fifth-year veteran Donnie Avery, who could emerge as a deep threat.
2. The Colts made the right hire for offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians: Peyton Manning helped turn the NFL into more of a quarterback-driven league, but Arians' role in this transition can't be underestimated. Behind the scenes, Arians played a big part in developing some of the top quarterbacks. He was Manning's first quarterbacks coach, did good things with Tim Couch in Cleveland and developed Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. He sees the skills of all three of those quarterbacks in Luck.
Arians has 14 years of experience working with first-round quarterbacks, and he has a chip on his shoulder after the Steelers let him go after the season. What he brings from the Steelers is the ability to develop unknown receivers within his scheme to work with great quarterbacks. A couple of years ago, no one had heard of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders. He brings the vision of those Pittsburgh success stories to Indianapolis. Avery, in Arians' eyes, could become his Wallace. In time, Hilton could become his Brown or Sanders. Arians didn't hold anything back in presenting his offense to Luck. He threw the entire playbook at him, hoping to see what works and what doesn't. Arians won't be calling 40 passes a game for Luck, but he'll try to make sure he can complete 20 a game.
3. Job changes for Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney: It's strange seeing the league's best pass-rushing defensive ends at linebacker, but Pagano came from Baltimore and is installing the 3-4. Here's the rationale: Under Tony Dungy, the Colts built a defense that worked with the lead. Manning put up seven consecutive seasons of 12-plus wins and was a master of setting up victories in the fourth quarter. Working with the lead, Freeney and Mathis were expected to close out games with sacks, turnovers and stops. Minus Manning, the Colts don't figure to be working with the lead, and Pagano has had to figure a way to augment the changing personnel.
The 3-4 gives Pagano the chance to be creative with where he lines up defenders to confuse offenses. Because more teams are using three- and four-receiver sets, Freeney and Mathis figure to put a hand on the ground and rush from defensive end positions in sub packages more than 50 percent of the time. Freeney and Mathis have a great chance to pick up sacks at Lucas Oil Stadium. The crowd can be loud, and the home schedule features a slew of young quarterbacks -- Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, possibly Jake Locker and maybe Ryan Tannehill late in the season.
4. Fleener and Allen have been impressive: The tight end combination of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen isn't anything like the Patriots' tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but the Colts' duo is an impressive pair. Fleener is the classic tight end: a tall, angular pass-catcher who can work the middle of the field and be a favorite target of his former college teammate, Luck. In some ways, Allen looks more impressive even though he was drafted a round later than Fleener, a second-round choice. Allen is a big athlete who can move well in addition to being a good blocker. He has a little bit of a Jermichael Finley look to him.
5. Study the rosters of the Ravens and Eagles: Pagano comes from Baltimore. Grigson comes from Philadelphia. The Colts have depth problems at linebacker and in the secondary. Many of those holes will be filled by players cut or traded by the Eagles and Ravens. Pagano has already brought in defensive end Cory Redding and safety Tom Zbikowski. On Thursday, the Colts traded cornerback Kevin Thomas and a conditional seventh-round choice to get Moise Fokou and Greg Lloyd. The next moves will be at cornerback. Jerraud Powers is their best corner. Justin King and Cassius Vaughn are their next two. Both the Ravens and Eagles are deep at corner. Expect some to be with the Colts, who have the top waiver-wire-claiming clout.
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Report: Hernandez questioned on homicide
- Gleason accepts fired radio DJs' apologies
- Falcons' Gonzalez back due to son's wishes
- Pats' Gronkowski undergoes back surgery
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
The NFL on ESPN.com