Peyton Manning had an incredible challenge to face coming into the season, and the manner in which he handled it shows something about his maturity and character. The organization is pleased with Manning's rookie season and is excited about his future. The team has signed Arizona reserve Stoney Case as a backup. Case has had a disappointing career, but would prove to be a capable backup if he learns the system.
Despite a marginal supporting cast, Marshall Faulk continues to produce. He amassed a career-high 1,319 yards and finished sixth in the league in rushing. However, there is a serious concern in the running game for Indianapolis. The team was awful in short-yardage situations, and besides Faulk, there was nobody that could handle carrying the football. It was thought that Craig Heyward could be a good fullback to lead block until he underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor. Lamont Warren was supposed to be the guy to spell Faulk, but his production dropped to 25 carries in '98, and his $1.3 million contract won't help his return next season. Expect to see the Colts try to deal for a power back that will take care of short down situations.
The go-to-guy, Marvin Harrison, was injured for a better part of the second half of the season and it really hurt the Colts offense. Harrison is a speedster that has the ability to separate from tight coverage, and has all the tools of a Pro Bowl WR. WR Torrance Small is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Rookie Jerome Pathon was forced into the fire and proved to be a legitimate starting prospect. E.G. Green recovered from an injury-plagued start to his rookie season with a healthy finish and his production was promising for the future of this position
Ken Dilger was forced to spend half the season handling the FB duties. But the fourth year TE was a disappointment nonetheless, and the team is going to need to bring in a full-time blocking back so that Dilger can move back to his natural position. Backup Bradford Banta is not the answer, but keeps himself on the roster as a long snapper and reserve TE.
There's excitement about the play of this young unit and the growth made by ROG Larry Moore, who was filled in for injured veteran Tony Mandarich. Moore played well in what were his first five NFL starts. Waverly Jackson, forced into the starting lineup at right tackle when Adam Meadows sustained a shoulder injury. Moore and Jackson were first year pros who showed an ability to offer much needed depth and their late season play has enhanced their value to the team. Rookie Steve McKinney started all 16 games at left guard while Meadows and LOT Tarik Glenn showed nice improvement as sophomores.
The team has completely changed its look at the ends. Through free agency, the Colts significantly upgraded this unit by adding Shawn King and Chad Bratzke. Both tackles, Tony McCoy and Ellis Johnson, will return, but it has been stated that they are both in jeopardy of losing their jobs. The Colts are prepared to shop around the FA block some more for guys to play down lineman that can create a rush.
The linebacking situation in Indianapolis can be confusing at times, but the future looks bright. The Colts recently upgraded this unit by signing veteran Cornelius Bennett, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons. Andre Royal will add good depth to the outside position position. After starting only seven games for the Colts, Jeff Herrod's career in Indianapolis is over. He is having second thoughts about retiring, but he is no longer the presence in the middle that he used to be. Michael Barber will take over the duties in the middle if the team is unable to sign a player before the season, and the organization is happy with the fact that Herrod left a lasting impression on Barber. Anthony Jordan will start at the other outside spot, and should continue to improve with experience.
Despite a tough season, the Colts seem devoted to DC's Jeff Burris and Tyrone Poole. Both players carry expensive price tags and have not played up to their potential. Robert Blackmon started 23 of 25 possible games in his stint with Indianapolis until this season when he was unseated by Tim Hauck. Hauck is undersized, but comes up strong in run support. However, his starting stint will be a short one as the Colts added toughness to the position by signing Chad Cota from New Orleans. Jason Belser started all 16 games at the SS position and will return in '99.
Star punter Chris Gardocki was lost to Cleveland in free agency. Since joining the team as an unrestricted free agent in 1995, Gardocki's been one of the NFL's elite punters and will be tough to replace. PK Mike Vanderjagt had the unenviable task of replacing Cary Blanchard, but did a fine job of it. He knocked down 27-of-31 field goal attempts and tied a franchise record by hitting six of at least 50 yards.