30 September 2017 | Colts Season Preview Colts have risen ... · more like 2001 than 2012. The...

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Transcript of 30 September 2017 | Colts Season Preview Colts have risen ... · more like 2001 than 2012. The...

  • 30 September 2017 | Colts Season Preview

    Colts have risen from rough waters beforeT

    his season marks the start of yet another new era for the Colts. But the fran-

    chise isn’t quite fully commit-ted yet.

    Sure, general manager Chris Ballard has won over the build-ing with a calm and confident leadership style, and he’s poised to shape the roster for years to come.

    But the sawdust from his ongoing remodeling project is evident everywhere.

    This season figures to be more like 2001 than 2012.

    The Colts of 16 years ago entered the season with hopes of continuing a run of back-to-back playoff appearances and perhaps taking the next step with a postseason win.

    Instead, Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James was injured early and Indianapolis stumbled to a 6-10 campaign – its final losing season with Pey-ton Manning at quarterback.

    Head coach Jim Mora lost his job in the aftermath, and Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian

    put the capstone on his rebuild-ing project with the hiring of Hall of Famer Tony Dungy to replace him.

    As a bonus, the Colts snagged pass rusher Dwight Freeney in the 2002 draft – giv-ing a beleaguered defense the superstar it needed.

    That’s a handsome reward for a single season of pain, and Indianapolis made it pay off with nine consecutive playoff appearances, two AFC champi-onships and a Super Bowl XLI world title.

    If Indianapolis is to get back

    on an elite track, there will be a price to pay.

    Owner Jim Irsay put off this reboot for two seasons – watch-ing the Colts finish 8-8 in back-to-back years before firing maligned general manager Ryan Grigson.

    Even when he finally pulled the trigger, Irsay ultimately went with a half-measure, set-ting up an arranged marriage between Ballard and head coach Chuck Pagano.

    Ballard has free reign to evaluate every aspect of the franchise – including the coaching staff – and it makes for an odd dynamic. A first-year GM with time to lay long-term plans is building a roster for a sixth-year coach who might need to win now.

    Here’s some of that sawdustBallard brought in 26 new

    faces – just four less than Grig-son added in 2012 when he took over following a 2-14 sea-son – and there are 11 rookies on the initial 53-man roster.

    He jettisoned several veter-

    ans and fashioned a younger and more athletic defense.

    With a focus on takeaways, the idea was to support a high-powered offense with an oppor-tunistic D and see how far the combo could take the team in a wide-open AFC South.

    But eight months after Bal-lard was hired, the offense has lost a lot of its juice.

    Quarterback Andrew Luck will miss Week 1 at the least, and center Ryan Kelly also is on the shelf. Erik Swoope, expected to be the No. 2 tight end, will start on injured reserve. And wide receivers Donte Moncrief and Chester Rogers missed significant time in training camp with injuries.

    Scott Tolzien will start Sun-day against the Rams in Los Angeles, but newly acquired Jacoby Brissett stands ready to replace him if he struggles.

    This clearly is not the typical recipe for a playoff run.

    The defense has some injury concerns of its own, with cor-nerback Vontae Davis sidelined

    by a groin injury and safety Clayton Geathers on the physi-cally unable to perform list.

    The top two picks in the draft – safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Quincy Wilson – barely played in the pre-season and will take some hard knocks early in the season.

    Still, there is hope.When Hooker and Wilson

    have been on the field, they’ve flashed the potential that made them first- and second-round picks, respectively. Fellow rookie Nate Hairston figures to be the starting nickel corner-back. And rookie rusher Mar-lon Mack has electrified the fan base with his speed.

    Just as they were in 2001, the Colts are looking for play-ers who can become long-time contributors to their success.

    And just as it was in 2001, the road to find them figures to be bumpy and uncomfortable.

    Fans can only hope Ballard can learn from the franchise’s history.

    And find a way to repeat it. n

    George BremerCNHI SPORTS INDIANA