I'm going to start things off with the only thing that makes me excited for football right now, and that's the Colts off season needs going into the 2013-2014 season. I will give a position by position breakdown on what needs to be addressed this spring.
By all accounts, the Colts offense was a great success that had to have exceeded almost anyone's expectations. Solid contributions were made by rookies across the board at the skill positions, and veteran leadership from Reggie Wayne helped stabilize the offense. With Andrew Luck at the helm, the passing game should continue to flourish each year. This year, the Colts run game was much more of a factor than the end of the Polian regime, and it was nice to see some balance to our offense.
With Andrew Luck, the Colts are set here for at least 10-15 years. This is hopefully a position that will not have to be addressed for a very long time. Running Back Vick Ballard was solid as a rookie, with only minor fumble issues. Donald Brown is on his last year of his rookie contract and in my opinion should not be resigned after this, unless he shows a lot of improvement. Delone Carter makes for a good goal line back. The Colts do not have elite running backs by any stretch, but there is enough talent and depth that this position will not likely be addressed this off season.
Reggie Wayne still makes for a solid #1. TY Hilton emerged as a legitimate deep threat this season and looks like he will be a solid slot/#2 wide out next season. Donnie Avery and Austin Collie are both free agents this year. Lavon Brazil still needs some work before we should be banking on him as a starting wide out, so if the Colts do not retain Avery, wide receiver depth will be needed.
2012 2nd and 3rd round draft picks, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, had a relatively successful rookie campaign. Fleener was hampered somewhat by injury, but has proven to be a legitimate target in the passing game. I think Dwayne Allen actually made more of a contribution; run blocking, receiving and playing fullback on different running formations and sets. With the first draft of this new regime using two top draft picks on these tight ends, one can only assume they will continue to grow as part of Bruce Arian's offense. This is a position the Colts do not need to address this off season.
Anthony Castonzo was a former 1st round pick of the Colts and will certainly be a starting lineman for the Colts in 2013, although he is not an elite left tackle. Castonzo has been moderately effective with run blocking but is much better in pass protection. 2012 starting right tackle Winston Justice is a free agent and not a long term solution. The Colts could move Castonzo to right tackle if necessary, and that gives them the opportunity to go after either a left or right tackle in free agency. There are several good tackles available who are all in there mid to late 20's. I think this should be priority #1 for the Colts as protecting Andrew Luck is more important than anything else.
Jeff Linkenbach, Joe Reitz, Seth Olsen and Tony Hills are all free agents this off season. Ben Ijalana will hopefully be coming back, but the former 2nd round pick has spent the last two full seasons on IR and is starting to look like a complete injury bust. That leaves only Mike McGlynn under contract for 2013 at the guard position who had an OK, but not spectacular year. The offensive line needs to be upgraded and guard is certainly a position of need. Our guards are all restricted free agents, so we will have the opportunity to resign them if we desire to. I'd like to see the team target Andy Levitre in free agency. He is a great all around guard and played well at left tackle this year when he needed to move their due to team injuries for the Bills. Whether Levitre is signed or not, the Colts will need to resign some of the teams guards as well as find another starting caliber interior lineman this off season.
When healthy, I thought Samson Satele was our best lineman this season. His contributions in the running game really helped the Colts establish a running game for the first time in a couple years now, and he was solid in pass protection. AQ Shipley did a good job when Satele was hurt and provides good depth at the position. This is not a position the Colts need to address this off season.
The defense transitioned this season from a 4-3, to a 3-4 defensive scheme. With the Colts cap space very tight last off season, it was hard to bring in players that were a good fit for coach Pagano???s defense and the current personnel was shuffled around to find players who fit along the defensive line and at outside linebacker. This off season I believe the Colts will get their first real chance at finding the personnel they think will best thrive in the new defensive scheme.
Cory Redding turned out to be a great signing for the Colts and will be back in 2013. The rest of the defensive front is really up in the air to me. This off season the Colts can finally begin to find pieces that will better fit their new 3-4 defensive scheme. Fili Moala is a free agent. Redding was the only true 3-4 defensive end on the team, and someone other than our former 4-3 defensive tackles should be starting on the opposite side.
2012 Draft pick, Josh Chapman, really didn't have any impact on the 2012 Colts Season. Antonio Johnson, not a true nose tackle, is a free agent. This is another position that was never truly filled last off season. Brandon McKinney will be coming back next year after spending most of 2012 on IR, but I would not rely on his production. If the Colts intend to run a true 3-4 defensive scheme a solid nose tackle is necessary.
Robert Mathis had a Pro Bowl season and still looked like a dynamic pass rusher on the field. Another off season to help him learn the nuances of the outside linebacker position will only help him for 2013. Dwight Freeney is a free agent. He is not a true outside linebacker, and often struggled in his other responsibilities other than pass rushing and even there, his numbers are on the decline. He is not a good fit for the defensive scheme and will probably cost a good chunk of money to retain. Jerry Hughes continues to be a 1st round bust. The Colts should look into free agency and spend their money on a younger pass rusher who would be a better fit in the 3-4 scheme.
Former CFL standout Jerrell Freeman was probably the surprise of the season for the Colts. After taking the starting job for Pat Angerer when he was injured in the preseason, Freeman never looked back, and was our best inside linebacker this year. Kavell Conner and Angerer both also played well, but not great. Could the Colts improve at the inside linebacker position? Absolutely. Would I call it a team need? Not really.
Vontae Davis showed signs of mediocrity and signs of brilliance in his 2012 season with the Colts. But that was what he did with Miami, so I think that is to be expected. Hopefully coach Pagano and the Colts coaching staff can get his head on straight, because the man is a truly talented corner. Cassius Vaughn was torched in the Colts playoff game against Baltimore, along with just about every other game this season. Vaughn is a free agent. Jerraud Powers and Josh Gordy are free agents. Darius Butler, who had a strong season with the Colts this year, is also a free agent. Corner is definitely a huge need, arguably our biggest. I'd like to see the team go out and get one other starting corner and perhaps retain Powers and Butler as depth for nickel and dime packages which are becoming more and more popular in the NFL.
Antoine Bethea again had a solid season for the Colts and will be back in 2013. 2012 free agent signing Tom Zbikowski was OK, but here is somewhere I think the Colts should go out and make a big signing. Jarrius Bryd is a great ball hawking safety. With Bryd, Bethea, and Vontae Davis, the Colts would have three very good defenders in our secondary. This would probably require moving Bethea over to SS. With Zbikowski's play not being a huge issue for the Colts this is probably a position that will not be addressed, but with the Colts having so much cap space, I hope that one of the elite free agents of this off season is targeted, and Bryd is a young difference maker who would make for a great safety tandem with Bethea to lock down the secondary for the foreseeable future.
2012 was a better season on special teams then last year. Vinatieri kicked well, McAfee punted really well, and we had some sort of return game, which we haven't had in a while.
Pat McAfee has been a good punter and is a free agent. Resign him.
Punt Return/Kick Return
TY Hilton proved to be a dangerous punt returner and I can see him holding onto that role for the next couple of seasons. He may also do kickoff returns, although by the end of the year it was free agent to be, Deji Karim, who handled kickoff return duties.
Written by: Kelly McGuire