INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – We’re about to find out if the hype is real.
Are the Indianapolis Colts poised to contend not only for their first AFC South title since 2014, but so much more? Have Chris Ballard and Frank Reich made the requisite moves – through free agency and the draft – to elevate them from 2018 rags-to-almost-riches story to serious players in the NFL?
Listen to Ballard as he summed up ’18 and looked forward to ’19 and beyond.
“It’s hard to be great,’’ he said. “The step from good to great, that’s the hard step.’’
The Colts were good last season: nine wins in the last 10 games, a wild-card playoff berth, a first-round smack-down of the Texans in Houston.
But they weren’t good enough: a 31-13 second-round loss at Kansas City that wasn’t that close.
The Colts report en masse to Grand Park Sports Campus Wednesday for the start of training camp. They’re 90 players strong, and it appears to be a strong roster, top-to-bottom. So much so that when rosters are cut to 53 Aug. 31, difficult decisions must be made.
“Everyone knows it’s going to be harder to make this team this year than it was last year,’’ Reich said.
Here’s a position-by-position look at the roster, with a few appropriate comments. The numbers listed are the total players at the position and the number the Colts might carry on opening day. (*) Denotes a rookie.
An obvious caveat: it’s risky to project a 53-player roster in late July. Injuries probably will figure into decisions as will the numbers’ game: keep five wideouts, or six; nine offensive linemen or 10; 10 cornerbacks/safeties or 11?
- Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Phillip Walker, Chad Kelly.
- We’re expecting the Colts to carry just two QBs. Roster spots are too valuable to carry a third. If management believes Chad Kelly is a possible backup for Andrew Luck in 2020 when Jacoby Brissett could be elsewhere, it’ll have to re-sign him next offseason.
Running back (5/4):
- Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Spencer Ware, Jonathan Williams.
- We’re most interested in whether Spencer Ware is able to unseat Jordan Wilkins for the No. 3 spot behind Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines. We’re also interested in whether Reich and Nick Sirianni can actually expand Hines’ role with the addition of rookie wideout Parris Campbell.
Wide receiver (13/6):
- T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, Parris Campbell*, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, Reece Fountain, Krishawn Hogan, Steve Ishmael, Marcus Johnson, Jordan Veasy, Penny Hart*, Ashton Dulin*.
- This has the potential to be T.Y. Hilton’s best supporting cast since he arrived in 2012 as a third-round draft pick. The key is whether Devin Funchess earns his one-year contract worth a maximum of $13 million. We’ll be following Campbell’s development, both as a slot receiver and possible punt returner. The prevailing question: carry five or six?
Tight end (7/3):
- Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Mo Alie-Cox, Ross Travis, Billy Brown, Gabe Holmes, Hale Hentges*.
- One of the most intriguing positions. Jack Doyle was a 2017 Pro Bowler who was limited to six games last season by hip and kidney injuries. Eric Ebron’s relocation from Detroit to Indy resuscitated his career and included 13 receiving TDs and his first Pro Bowl selection. Mo Alie-Cox gets better with every practice. Again the prevailing question: carry three or four? Reich and Sirianni love to feature tight ends.
Offensive line (15/10):
- T Anthony Castonzo, C Ryan Kelly, G Quenton Nelson, G Mark Glowinski, T Braden Smith, G/T Joe Haeg, G/T Le’Raven Clark, C Evan Boehm, T J’Marcus Webb, C Josh Andrews, T Antonio Garcia, T Jackson Barton*, G William Poehls, G Jake Eldrenkamp, G Nico Siragusa.
- The starting line returns intact for the first time in more than a decade. That would be Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith. Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark, Evan Boehm and J’Marcus Webb offer starter’s experience. Our overriding concern: Who’s the backup left tackle in case Castonzo goes down?
- Jabaal Sheard, Justin Houston, Denico Autry, Margus Hunt, Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Grover Stewart, Jihad Ward, Ben Banogu*, Gerri Green*, Obum Gwacham, Caraun Reid, Sterling Shippy, Dadi Nicolas.
- To paraphrase Ballard, you can never have too many quality d-linemen. And that’s what coordinator Matt Eberflus, who utilizes a rotational system up front, seems to have at his disposal. The push for one of the final roster spots at the position should be keen. The wild card in the mix is whether the coaching staff allows Banogu to grow as a pass-rushing end, or shuffle him from end to SAM ‘backer.
- Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin, Skai Moore, Ahmad Thomas, Carroll Phillips, Bobby Okereke*, E.J. Speed*, Tre Thomas*.
- Ballard made clear his impression of this group when he invested three picks in the April draft – including two in the first three rounds – on linebackers. Banogu should contribute – again, at either SAM ‘backer or rush end – and Bobby Okereke should push Anthony Walker for playing time at MIKE. Darius Leonard? Can’t wait to see what he’s got for an encore.
- Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, Jalen Collins, Chris Milton, Rock Ya-Sin*, Marvell Tell III*, Shakial Taylor*.
- The team’s commitment to Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore II was evident with a new deal for Desir (three years, $25 million) and an extension for Moore (four years, $30-plus million). At issue is whether Quincy Wilson has finally moved past his inconsistent ways – Ballard is optimistic – and Rock Ya-Sin can push someone for playing time.
- Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, Matthias Farley, George Odom, Derrick Kindred, Rolan Milligan, Isaiah Khari Willis*.
- We like the Malik Hooker/Clayton Geathers combo. We also like the depth provided by Matthias Farley and George Odom. Then Ballard added Derrick Kindred (waivers from Cleveland) and Khari Willis (draft). The issue is whether Hooker and Geathers are able to stay on the field.
- Placekicker (2/1): Adam Vinatieri, Cole Hedlund*.
- Punter (1/1): Rigoberto Sanchez.
- Longsnapper (1/1): Luke Rhodes.
- The kicking trio is back, which clearly is a good thing. We don’t see the presence of rookie Cole Hedlund as an indication management is concerned with Adam Vinatieri’s level of kicking. The team routinely has a second kicker in camp to ease his workload.
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