Training camp goals
1. The Colts have plenty of work to do when training camp commences on July 28 at Anderson University. With a new general manager, new head coach, new offensive and defensive coordinators and most of a new coaching staff, there's also the matter of installing new offensive and defensive systems. A lot of work has already gone on during spring OTAs and minicamps in that direction. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, late to the fold after attending classes at Stanford, has already gained a pretty good read on the playbook. Luck will be given free rein with the Colts offense this season and it will be interesting to watch his learning curve develop. The Indianapolis defense is also a work in progress due to the shift from a 4-3 alignment to a new 3-4 hybrid scheme.
2. In addition to all the changes in the front office and the coaching staff, there was a massive roster shift during the offseason. The Colts have gone from one of the most experienced teams in the NFL to one of its youngest in a short period of time. So coming together as a team, finding that chemistry on both sides of the ball, will be paramount during training camp. Head coach Chuck Pagano thinks that the groundwork for a new Colts franchise was set during the offseason. Pagano came away from the spring workouts impressed with the work ethic and drive displayed by the team's returning players. He liked the tone that was set by veterans such as wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie, defensive end/linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and safety Antoine Bethea.
Player to watch
In the case of the Colts, it's probably more appropriate to say persons to watch. Both are rookies. Tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are expected to produce big results in 2012. With the loss of veteran tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme, Fleener and Allen are expected to give the Indianapolis passing attack a lift. They should prove tough to defend, both down the seam (Fleener) and in goal-line/short-yardage situations (Allen). Fleener has size and speed. Allen has bulk and speed. Both are athletic. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians liked to use a double tight-end alignment when he was in charge of Pittsburgh's offense, so look for the combination of Fleener and Allen to get plenty of work this fall.
On the hot seat
Dwight Freeney. With the change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 hybrid defensive alignment, Freeney will get a chance to play outside linebacker. That means he'll be dropping back in pass coverage on occasion, something he did occasionally earlier in his Colts career. But Freeney hasn't done it on a regular basis during his NFL career. To his credit, the Pro-Bowl veteran has – publicly at least – welcomed the change and was a regular at the team's offseason OTA sessions. New Indianapolis defensive coordinator Greg Manusky understands Freeney's limitations as a pass defender. But he also thinks that Indianapolis' former No. 1 draft pick can fill the same role that Terrell Suggs did for Pagano in Baltimore. How much Freeney will be dropping back into coverage remains to be seen.
Strategy and personnel
One thing that doesn't concern Arians is Luck's timing with the team's veteran receivers, such as Wayne and Collie. That will come in time. "Not really. We still have a long way to go. When you look at last year, guys didn't even have this [organized team activities and minicamps due to the labor lockout] and it got done," Arians stressed. "[Carolina's] Steve Smith and Cam Newton, they made a nice connection. [Cincinnati's] A.J. Green and Andy [Dalton] didn't even work together. Sometimes that gets blown out of proportion. I think the [offensive] tackle hearing the snap count is a little bit more important than them throwing routes."
So what's the deal with much-maligned defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes? The former first-round pick from Texas Christian has yet to show the skills on the NFL level that he displayed while playing for the Horned Frogs. Hughes has seen limited playing time on defense and appeared at times to be uninspired while working with the special teams units. But he's getting a second – and perhaps final – chance with new general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano. "I saw him in college and really liked what I saw. The only exposure I have to Jerry Hughes has been all good, what I saw in college and here. He's done everything [the coaches] have asked. He's great in the [linebackers] room. He's making strides every day," Grigson said recently. "Everyone on this team now, and from the day I came in, and with Chuck, truly, genuinely, 100 percent true, had a clean slate. Period. We don't want to know anything about the past. That's everybody, players, employees, everybody in this building. I don't want to hear anything about before. I want everybody to believe what I said: this is about moving forward. It's a new era. Chuck and I and [team owner] Jim [Irsay] are in lockstep on that."
RB Delone Carter missed most of the Colts' OTA and minicamp workouts this spring after suffering a thumb injury. How Carter was hurt wasn't known publicly until the second-year runner from Syracuse disclosed what had transpired. He smacked a blocking bag with his hand on the first day of OTAs back in April. Simple as that. "It was just a crazy, freak accident," Carter said as the team wrapped up mandatory minicamp. "I tore a ligament in my thumb and had to have surgery to fix it. I thought I just stubbed it. I practiced for another day. Then when I got it checked, the thumb didn't stop right there. It just kept going [back flat]." He estimates that his thumb was at 80 to 85 percent by the end of the team's final week of minicamp. "It's definitely frustrating," he said. "You feel like you're about to get going with the team and stuff, then you've got to sit back and be in the film room all the time and do minimal stuff. I don't feel like it's a big setback because we don't have pads on yet. The only thing I feel is setting me back is not really getting out there and running routes with the defense, having to do it on my own. It's different with a defender over you."
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