2013 NFL Preview: Predicting Indianapolis Colts’ 53-Man Roster
Predicting The Indianapolis Colts 53-Man Roster
The 2012 season for the Indianapolis Colts was a year of exceeded expectations and overcoming obstacles. Coming off of a 2011 season in which they finished a league-worst 2-14, the team had to cut ties with future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, and then went about the business of rebuilding the franchise under new leadership.
The Colts of the Manning era had long been known for an explosive offense, paired with an often porous defense, particularly against the run. The team brought in head coach Chuck Pagano from the Baltimore Ravens to fix just that. While Pagano’s credentials as it relates to X’s and O’s were undeniable, nobody could have known coming in just what an effect he would have on the team and the community. When Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia early in the season, the team found their new rallying cry – ChuckStrong.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck led the charge in the wake of their coach’s personal battle and set several rookie passing records while leading Big Blue back to the NFL playoffs. The defense improved overall, but in the new 3-4 scheme, veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney struggled to find a rhythm. While others, like Pat Angerer went down with injuries, the Colts battled their way to the AFC divisional round before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens.
In 2013, the Colts have several returning pieces of that exciting 2012 team, as well as many new additions through the NFL Draft and free agency. Their path in the AFC South may be more difficult than it used to be with the rise of the Houston Texans, but the playoffs are always the ultimate goal.
With Offseason Team Activities coming to a close and the newest Colts getting used to the system, here’s a look at what I believe will be their 53-man roster for the 2013 season.
Quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck
There's no doubt at this position — this is Andrew Luck's team to lead. Luck passed for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns in his rookie campaign, and is going to be the cornerstone of the Colts franchise for years to come. His key in 2013 will be making some better decisions with the football. Always a threat to run, Luck took 41 sacks last season, so he'll want to find some more openings to get rid of the ball.
The Colts also brought in veteran signal caller Matt Hasselbeck, the former Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans quarterback, for some additional leadership and depth. Having taken the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2005, Hasselbeck will likely beat out Chandler Harnish for the backup role. Harnish, the final pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, will likely spend some more time on the practice squad as the Colts only carried two active quarterbacks most of last year.
Running Backs (4)
Running Backs: Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Stanley Havili (Fullback)
The Colts are fortunate in that they will likely bring back a majority of the 2012 running back corps. It will be interesting to see if the Colts decide to continue splitting reps between Ballard, Brown, and Carter or if they will go with one primary rusher. If one is to step out above the rest, I expect it to be Ballard who broke out last year with 814 yards on 211 carries (average 3.9 YPC). He'll also provide a nice safety valve for Luck in the passing game. Stanley Havili, acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for defensive end Clifton Geathers, could provide some nice blocking out of the backfield.
Wide Receivers (5); Tight Ends (2)
Wide Receivers: Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Nathan Palmer
Tight Ends: Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen
The Colts received great news when Wayne decided to come back in 2013 for another run. A cornerstone of the offense, the 34-year-old receiver had a phenomenal 2012, reeling in 106 passes for 1,355 yards and five scores. There's no doubt he was a major part of Luck's rookie success. The chemistry between the two should continue to grow this year. Heyward-Bey, the speedster who never quite lived up to high expectations with the Oakland Raiders, will help stretch defensive backfields thin along with T.Y. Hilton. Brazill and Palmer should be worthy talents in four-wide sets and on special teams.
Although the Colts drafted tight end Justice Cunningham with the final pick this year, I expect he'll have a hard time finding the field with Allen and Fleener coming into their own. The incumbent tight ends combined for 802 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
Offensive Line (11)
Center: Samson Satele
Guards: Khaled Holmes, Joe Reitz, Donald Thomas, Hugh Thornton, Mike McGlynn
Tackles: Anthony Castonzo, Jeff Linkenbach, Gosder Cherilus, Bradley Sowell, Emmett Cleary
The Colts know that to be successful in 2013, not only will they need to protect Andrew Luck better, but they'll need to run the ball more as well. They addressed this need by spending two of their first three picks on the offensive line. Thornton, the second-rounder from the University of Illinois, will be able to step in and take some reps at the guard position. Khaled Holmes can step in and play at either guard or center. Returning tackles Castonzo and Linkenbach will add much-needed stability along the front five.
Defensive Line (8)
Defensive Linemen: Fili Moala, Cory Redding, Lawrence Guy, Kellen Heard, Ricky Jean-Francois, Ricardo Matthews, Montori Hughes, Martin Tevaseu
Going into the second year in their 3-4 scheme, the Colts new-look defensive line is starting to take shape. Montori Hughes, at 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, will add some much needed size to the front seven. Ricky Jean-Francois, brought in as a free agent after a Super Bowl run with the San Francisco 49ers, will also compete for time in the middle. Redding, Moala and Guy will protect the outside and open up blitzing lanes for the linebackers.
Linebackers: Robert Mathis, Bjoern Werner, Erik Walden, Justin Hickman, Pat Angerer, Kelvin Sheppard, Kavell Conner, Mario Harvey, Jerrell Freeman
The linebacking corps is probably the most improved aspect of the Colts this season. Despite the departure of Dwight Freeney, the starting four linebackers could turn out to be a very dangerous unit in 2013. Mathis, who tallied eight sacks last year, will now be paired up with first-round pick Bjoern Werner on the other side. Werner may spend some reps at defensive end this season, but will primarily be used as a stand-up pass rusher. Pat Angerer will once again anchor the inside of the defense, will free agent addition Kelvin Sheppard helping create havoc for quarterbacks and running backs alike.
Defensive Backs (9)
Safeties: Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry, Sergio Brown, Joe Lefeged
Cornerbacks: Vontae Davis, Cassius Vaughn, Darius Butler, Josh Gordy, Greg Toler
The Colts secondary returns in 2013 largely intact. Vontae Davis and Darius Butler should see the majority of reps on the outside in base defensive formations, with Vaughn or Gordy coming in nickel situations. The Colts only totaled 12 interceptions last season, so they'll be looking for some additional production there.
At safety, Antoine Bethea will once again be expected to fly around the field, as likely to come fast on a blitz as he is to sit back and make sure nobody gets too deep. Bethea was actually second on the team in tackles in 2012, posting 100 overall to go with two sacks. LaRon Landry, who started 15 games for the New York Jets last year, posted similar numbers and will make the unit that much more formidable.
Special Teams (3)
Placekicker: Adam Vinatieri
Punter: Pat McAfee
Long Snapper: Matt Overton
The Colts have one of the most reliable groups of specialists in the league. Adam Vinatieri returns for his 18th season in the league, and will provide an excellent scoring option when offensive drives stall. A career 82.6% on all field goals, Vinatieri scored 115 points for the Colts last year.
Pat McAfee will continue to be a true weapon in the field position battle. Averaging 48.7 yards per punt in 2012, McAfee placed a career high 35.6% of his kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard-line. McAfee should also continue to use his cannon leg on kickoffs, where he can be relied on to consistently put the ball in the end zone.