Feeling the pressure? Here are 5 Colts under the gun
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – For anyone not up to speed with the true definition of “pressure,’’ we give you Lee Trevino.
“You don’t know what pressure is until you play for five bucks with only two bucks in your pocket,’’ the six-time major champion once said.
That will test anyone’s mettle.
Similarly, the upcoming season figures to determine whether several Indianapolis Colts have what it takes to perform at a high level with so much on the line.
All that’s hanging in the balance is the Colts returning to the playoffs after last season’s disappointment, or failing to advance to the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
From our vantage point, five Colts facing the most pressure heading into ’16:
QB Andrew Luck:
It all starts at the top with the team’s most indispensable player. Shoot, we’d argue no team’s fortunes are more dependent on one player than the Colts are to Luck.
He’s the $140 million man and, fair or not, will be measured against the richest contract in league history. Good luck with that, no pun intended. With so many questions around him – injuries already have reshaped the offensive line and the defense, and not even Frank Gore knows if these guys can run the football – Luck is going to have to play at a high level and cut down on his turnovers. This team doesn’t appear sound enough to overcome its personnel shortcomings and its QB’s mistakes (84 turnovers in 61 career starts, including the playoffs).
“I’ve always had high expectations for myself. Probably higher than what other people expect,’’ Luck said. “As far as pressure, I think pressure is a privilege and pressure from a coach, from your teammates, from your close friends and family is what’s important to me.
“You can’t control what folks are going to say good or bad, so I’ve never got too caught up in that.’’
And remember, Luck is in bounce-back mode after missing nine starts a year ago with a variety of injuries. He took his last regular-season snap Nov. 8 against Denver.
LB Robert Mathis:
He’s 35 and in his 14th season. He’s also the only proven pass-rush threat on the roster. If he doesn’t get pressure on the quarterback, who does?
That, with respects to Trevino, is the NFL’s equivalent of pressure.
Does Mathis still have it?
“Yeah, I do,’’ he said. “Stay tuned.’’
Motivation never has been a concern, and won’t be going forward. Mathis feeds off critics who doubt him. Also, he and former teammate Dwight Freeney are engaged in an intriguing Sack Race. Mathis is the Colts’ career leader with 118, which ranks No. 20 in NFL history. Freeney, now in Atlanta, has 119.5 sacks, No. 19 all-time.
“I tend to over-do it when people say I can’t do something,’’ Mathis said. “It kind of boils my blood a little bit.’’
Mathis finds himself in elite company. He’s one of four players to stick with the Colts for at least 14 seasons: John Unitas (17), Peyton Manning (14) and Reggie Wayne (14).
LT Anthony Castonzo:
No one is a harsher critic of Castonzo than Castonzo. Listen to his self-critique of 2015.
“I wasn’t happy with my performance,’’ he said. “I’ll be honest, I feel I have to come out this year and have a better year. I think I’m primed to do that.’’
Castonzo described last season as a “perfect storm,’’ one impacted by injuries. He had a streak of 66 consecutive regular-season starts snapped by a knee injury that kept him out of three games in late November and early December.
Despite altering his offseason regimen, Castonzo endured a rough preseason. The Colts simply can’t afford for that to bleed into the regular season. There are questions at left guard (Jon Harrison until Jack Mewhort returns from a knee injury) and right guard (Denzelle Good), and a rookie at center (Ryan Kelly). Castonzo must be part of the solution, not another problem to deal with.
And yes, the four-year, $43.6 million extension he signed 12 months ago heightens the pressure. Castonzo’s average ($10.9 million) ranks No. 7 among the league’s left tackles. He’s got to play up to that contract.
TE Dwayne Allen:
It didn’t come down to a flip of a coin, but the Colts nonetheless faced a tough offseason decision regarding their two free-agent-to-be tight ends. Re-sign Dwayne Allen or Coby Fleener? Go with the more durable and productive player (Fleener) or retain the more complete one (Allen).
Obviously, Allen got the nod in the form of a four-year, $29 million contract that included $16 million in guarantees. He’s been productive – 45 receptions as a rookie in ’12, eight touchdown catches in ’14 – but also has had injury issues. Allen has missed 21 of 48 regular-season games the last three years, including 15 in ’13 when he underwent surgery to repair a hip injury. The latter was a reason the media took note when the coaching staff held him out of a couple of recent practices due to “hip soreness.’’
The 2012 third-round pick must stay on the field and be a factor, and we’re not talking as an extra blocker in pass protection as was the case last year.
WR Phillip Dorsett:
Outsiders were harsh when assessing Dorsett’s rookie season. Some even tossed around the word “bust.’’ Ridiculous.
However, everyone is expecting a major bump in year 2 from the 2015 first-round draft pick. That includes Dorsett.
“Nobody expects more from me than I expect from myself,’’ he said. “I know what I can do. I’ve never doubted myself.’’
For Rob Chudzinski’s offense to work, Luck must have a wide array of skill-position options. But it starts with having three competent receivers, and that means Dorsett aligning behind T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. The Colts should feature one of the NFL’s more threatening receiving groups, but only if Dorsett builds on his lukewarm rookie season – 14 catches, 197 yards, one TD – that was impeded by a broken bone in his left leg.