Work in Sports
Young guns ready to ride momentum in title hunt
The Indianapolis Colts, who turned in the best single-season turnaround in NFL history in 1999, opened their 2000 training camp at Rose-Hulman Institute in Terre Haute, Ind., on July 13. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Colts this season. SI's season preview will post Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Is this the NFL's new dynasty, the word being defined by my old, fat Webster as "the continued lordship of a race of rulers?" It's a word not to be taken lightly, but look at it this way: The Big Three of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison & Edgerrin James is under contract for at least the next four years. At the opening of training camp, only one of the 22 projected starters is older than 30, LB Cornelius Bennett. Talk about youth!
2.) How will the Colts fare with a beefed-up schedule that replaces teams such as Philly, Cleveland and Cincy with Jacksonville, Minnesota and Seattle?
3.) Will top draft MLB Rob Morris keep Bill Polian's hot streak going? Two No.1 picks with the Colts, two Pro Bowl choices.
4.) Is this team tough enough to outlast a roughneck outfit like Tennessee in the playoffs?
The Colts can make the playoffs if ... Well, a lot would have to go wrong, that's for sure. The Indianapolis offense returns three Pro-Bowlers (and all 11 starters) and the mostly intact defense is a deeper and more mature unit than it was after a respectable 1999 season.
Pivotal games: Sept. 25 vs. Jacksonville, Oct. 22 vs. New England. Indianapolis' Week 4 meeting with Jacksonville, which follows the Colts' bye week, could be an AFC championship preview, and is on Monday Night Football. Maybe games like this will help restore MNF to event status. Then the Colts go on the road for the three weeks (at Buffalo, New England and Seattle) before playing host to New England. It begins a soft-ish part of the schedule (Detroit, Chicago and the New York Jets follow) and could set the tone for the second half.
On the hot seat: When expectations get out of control (some are giving 6-to-1 Super Bowl odds), seasons become roller-coaster rides, as the 2000 campaign could after every Colts victory or loss. So the hot seats are hot potatoes and musical chairs in Indy. Whomever is deemed responsible for a loss -- say Edgerrin James combines for only 30 yards of total offense, or Three Million Dollar Man Ken Dilger has zero catches and a bad blocking day, or defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit gives up a couple big plays, or kicker Mike Vanderjagt blows a chippy -- that guy takes the heat. But if it all goes haywire, any genius will tell you that the head coach swallows the sword.
Up-and-comers: Unlike a couple of teams in this division, the Colts aren't desperate to fill many holes, nor are they counting on rookies to do so. The one exception is middle linebacker. Rob Morris, drafted No. 28 overall out of BYU, is No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker. Indy's second-round pick Marcus Washington is expected to back up linebacker Cornelius Bennett, and eventually to replace the 34-year-old, but Washington missed much of mini-camp attending to academic responsibilities at Auburn.