In discussing the attempt to return to the game of Mike Vick, Payton Manning described the problems he had just by missing training camp last year due to an infection in his knee. He said it took him until the middle of the season to really get the timing and feel of the pocket back. The statistics prove it. Prior to game 9 Payton threw 9 ints and 10 TDs. From game 9 to the end of the season he threw 17 TDs and only 3 picks.
The Colts are just beginning to see their window to the Super Bowl start to close. Payton is 33. He is the key to the Colts offense. Two of his critical protectors are on the wrong side of 30 as well. All pro C Jeff Saturday is 34 and RT Ryan Diem is 33. WR Marvin Harrison is gone. The Colts will only go as far as their O takes them.
Payton is poised to have his typical MVP quality season. He will miss WR Harrison but has Reggie Wayne to run deep patterns and former 3rd WR Anthony Gonzalez and always reliable TE Dallas Clark to run underneath routes. The battle for 3rd WR will be something to watch.
The running game has not missed a beat with Joseph Addai replacing long time starter Edgerrin James in 06. But injuries have slowed Addai in 07 and 08. Addai has to return to the explosive style he had in his rookie year or he might get replaced by 1st round pick rookie Donald Brown. Brown has great football smarts and catches the ball out of the backfield well. Mike Hart tries to return from an injury that ended what had been an impressive rookie campaign in 08.
The line is solid but there are question marks. C Saturday is healthy and well paid with an extension. LT Tony Ugoh stepped in and played very well. He and RT Diem are well above average. The questions are at G. G Ryan Lilja is coming off surgery. His return would go a long way to answer the issues at G. Both projected starters Charlie Johnson and Mike Pollak had injuries cut into their 08 seasons. If the Gs are healthy, the line will be fine. If not, Payton will have to depend on his pocket awareness more than usual.
The Colts D line had a ton of problems last couple of seasons. Their super pass rusher Dwight Freeney was out for half of 07 with injuries. He was used a little more sparingly in 08 and started 14 games. DT Ed Johnson, the undrafted rookie that played so well in 07 was cut in 08 for extreme stupidity. He was arrested for speeding and police found marijuana in the car. He is back on double secret probation by the team.
DE Raheem Brock and DTs Eric Foster and Keyunta Dawson will likely join Freeney on the D line. The Colts have added depth with Johnson, Adrian Grady, Marcus Howard, Antonio Johnson, Curtis Johnson, Robert Mathis and Fili Moala just to name a few. There is enough talent there to provide a good rotation on the D line.
The linebacking group will provide the most interesting training camp contests. None of the three positions is a lock. MLB Gary Brackett has the best chance of holding his spot but the outside backer positions are up for grabs. Clint Session started at SLB last year but could be moved to the other side. Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho were allowed to test free agency but were resigned on the cheap. Either of them might start. Philip Wheeler looked good in OTAs and will get a chance at starting.
The star among the DBs is SS Bob Sanders. He hits so hard he often hurts himself as well as the player on the business end of his tackles. He is the key to the Colts stopping the run. FS Antoine Bethea had a below average season last year and had better return to form. If not he will lose his spot to any one of the outstanding safeties in waiting including Melvin Bullitt, Brannon Condren, Matt Giordano and Jamie Silva. All 4 can play either safety position. The Colts hoped that both FA Kelvin Hayden and injured Marlin Jackson would return. Hayden was resigned and Jackson looks fine. That pair is as good as any in the AFC. If he has recovered from surgery Michael Coe should be the nickel. If not, Brandon Anderson or Brandon Foster will play it.
OVERALL: There is no doubt that the Colts will return to championship form. 5 key games will determine if the Colts have home field or have to play on the road in the playoffs. Wk 2 @ Miami, Wk 3 @ Arizona, Wk 5 @ Tennessee, and Wk 13 vs Tennesee are key. But the Wk 10 vs New England is the game that should decide home field between these two major super bowl threats in the AFC.
I think the Colts will be better but not good enough to beat NE and will not make the Super Bowl.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .