Despite pleas from fans to draft bigger, more physically imposing defensive linemen, Tony Dungy and the Colts continue to bring in smaller, more compact players. Dungy prefers speed, quickness and athleticism rather than sheer bulk.
Despite losing Marcus Pollard to the Lions, the tight end position could be as deep as any on the Colts this season. In addition to Dallas Clark and 2004 draft pick Ben Hartsock, Indianapolis will take a long look at former practice squad performer Bryan Fletcher and second-year player Ben Utecht.
The addition of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier could pay big dividends. Frazier, who was fired by the Bengals after serving two seasons on Marvin Lewis’ coaching staff, will be a defensive assistant with Indianapolis and will work with Colts’ secondary coach Alan Williams.
Indianapolis has not begun the regular season at home since 1999. The Colts have played at Kansas City (2000), the New York Jets (2001), Jacksonville (2002), Cleveland (2003), New England (2004) and Baltimore this year. They are 4–1 during that stretch of season openers, losing only to -- who else? -- the Patriots.
The Prophecy: "With Marvin Harrison drawing attention, Reggie Wayne is a key cog in the Colts’ aerial attack."
The Lie: "Adding Bob Sanders to the mix at safety should give the Colts some much-needed toughness against the run."
—Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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In the days and weeks after the Indianapolis Colts' 20-3 AFC playoff loss to the New England Patriots, team president Bill Polian and head coach Tony Dungy came to the realization that one thing had to change if the Colts ever wanted to make a legitimate Super Bowl run.
The offense is not the problem, despite the fact that it was held without a touchdown in the New England game. Rather, it was the overall play of the defense, and the shoddy tackling of the secondary in particular, that needed a major upgrade.
"When we came home from Foxboro last year, the thing that gnawed at us most was the tackling in the secondary," Polian remembers. "That had to get better. There were far too many misses."
To that end, the Colts drafted three defensive backs -- including a pair of hard-hitting cornerbacks -- with the idea of adding much-needed punch and physicality to a maligned defensive unit.
"We've got to tighten things up and we've got to be more physical," Dungy says. "I think that's going to be the buzzword for training camp and as we head into the regular season."
After winning back-to-back MVP awards, Peyton Manning returns with just one goal in mind -- win the Super Bowl. Despite throwing for 4,557 yards and an NFL single-season record 49 touchdown passes last year, Manning is a man on a mission this year.
League records and postseason awards are nice, but the Colts have come up short in the playoffs the last three seasons and Manning knows that he has the tools to lead Indianapolis a long way this year.
Second-year signal-caller Jim Sorgi emerged as the team's primary backup during his rookie season. Sorgi saw limited playing time but displayed a good working knowledge of the offense when given an opportunity during the regular-season finale at Denver.
The 2005 season might very well be Edgerrin James' swan song with the Colts. James was tagged as Indianapolis' franchise player during the offseason and, after finding a slow market for veteran running backs, inked a one-year deal with the team.
If a long-term deal can't be worked out between James and the Colts before the end of the year, the chances are pretty good that he will test the free-agent waters.
With James returning and looking for a big year, Indianapolis is blessed with a deep group of running backs. Primary backup Dominic Rhodes -- who appears to be fully recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2002 season -- signed a two-year contract extension during the offseason, and team officials have hinted that he will get an increased workload this year.
James Mungro has been used effectively as a situational player, especially on the goal line and in short-yardage plays. The Colts also return former Florida running back Ran Carthon, who spent most of last year on the practice squad, and drafted Wisconsin's Anthony Davis in the seventh round.
The Colts welcome back three receivers who had over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2004, led by six-time All-Pro Marvin Harrison. Harrison had 86 receptions for 1,113 yards and 15 touchdowns, followed by Reggie Wayne (with a team-high 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Brandon Stokley (1,077 yards and 10 TDs).
Indianapolis has good depth at the position, with Troy Walters, Aaron Moorehead and Brad Pyatt returning. Walters missed most of the 2004 season with a broken arm.
With Marcus Pollard's move to Detroit, Dallas Clark takes over as the primary tight end. Second-year tight end Ben Hartsock will be the top backup, along with Bryan Fletcher and Ben Utecht.
One of the NFL's most underrated offensive lines remains almost intact, with the notable loss of guard Rick DeMulling. DeMulling was an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2004 season and has signed with the Detroit Lions.
Everybody else returns, however, led by center Jeff Saturday and bookend offensive tackles Tarik Glenn and Ryan Diem. Glenn played in his first Pro Bowl last season, while Diem inked a contact extension during the offseason.
Second-year guard Ryan Lilja is expected to get the first shot at replacing DeMulling. Jake Scott, another second-year guard, will also go into training camp as a starter on the right side. Top backups figure to be third-year tackle Makoa Freitas, along with rookies Dylan Gandy and Rob Hunt.
The NFL's top sack tandem -- defensive ends Dwight Freeney (16) and Robert Mathis (10.5) -- is back to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Indianapolis also returns starting tackles Montae Reagor and Josh Williams. Reagor has become the emotional leader of Indianapolis' interior line, which should get a big lift with defensive end Raheem Brock rotating inside for additional athleticism.
Top backup Larry Tripplett, who has struggled with consistency, provides depth. The Colts drafted former Kentucky tackle Vincent Burns and ex-Wisconsin end Jonathan Welsh, with both expecting to fit in nicely this season.
With the loss of Rob Morris and Jim Nelson to free agency, it appears as if the Colts will rely on former undrafted free agent Gary Brackett to be the starter at middle linebacker heading into training camp. Morris and Nelson (Baltimore) were both unrestricted free agents, and their absence will give the diminutive Brackett the first shot at the job. Rookie Tyjuan Hagler will also get an opportunity to show what he can do.
Outside linebackers David Thornton and Cato June, both starters a year ago, are back. Gilbert Gardner and Kendyll Pope, both 2004 draft picks, were slowed by injuries as rookies. Pope was sidelined until late November, but has the speed and tackling ability to be effective when healthy. Both will be given every opportunity to see increased playing time this season.
This is where the Colts must show marked improvement this year, from both a performance and a consistency standpoint. There is talent in the secondary, but not a whole lot of experience.
Nick Harper was re-signed to a two-year contract during the offseason and figures to be the elder statesman of the group. When healthy, Harper has proved to be Indianapolis' best cornerback. He has been plagued with back problems the last two seasons. Jason David, who had a team-leading four interceptions as a rookie starter last year, is also back. David replaced Donald Strickland in the lineup when Strickland was sidelined due to shoulder surgery.
Von Hutchins, like David, was a 2004 draft pick and figures to battle for playing time with rookies Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden at cornerback. Jackson and Hayden, the Colts' top two draft picks, should contend for starting jobs.
Mike Doss and Bob Sanders, the Colts' top draft pick in 2004, should be the starters at safety. Doss was slowed by an ankle injury last year while Sanders missed considerable time with foot and knee injuries.
Rookie safety Matt Giordano, along with special teams standout Gerome Sapp, will provide depth in the secondary.
Kicker Mike Vanderjagt, punter Hunter Smith and long snapper Justin Snow are all back, along with Pyatt, the punt returner. Rhodes, who averaged a team-leading 24.8 yards per kickoff return, and Walters will also see plenty of work.
The Colts drafted former Michigan State kicker Dave Rayner to handle kickoffs, which probably won't make Vanderjagt a happy camper. Rayner is the fifth kicker in the last two seasons brought in an attempt to improve Indianapolis' kickoff problems.
With the strong possibility that James won't be back for the 2006 season, time is running short for the Indianapolis Colts' offensive triplets. Defense, as in past years, will be the all-important key to just how far Indianapolis will go in 2005. There has been improvement, but it hasn't come quickly enough.
Dungy's crew has come close in recent years, but until the Colts can find a way to get past those pesky Patriots, a Super Bowl run will remain just as elusive as it has already proved to be.