Fantasy thoughts: The obvious concern for fantasy owners is how high to draft Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning(notes), who is usually one of the first two passers to come off the board. This year, Manning could last a few more picks, depending on how long it takes him to get back to practice following neck surgery – so monitor his progress carefully. Tom Brady(notes), Drew Brees(notes), Michael Vick(notes) and Aaron Rodgers(notes) could all go ahead of Manning in most drafts this year, so a little patience is advised.
Aside from Manning, who missed most of the 2008 preseason, the really important question is what the Colts will do at running back. They have Joseph Addai(notes) back but are still hopeful that 2009 first-round pick Donald Brown(notes) will finally emerge. Brown posted the first 100-yard game of his career in Week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, then was inexplicably relegated to the sideline during the Colts' playoff loss to the New York Jets. Expect to see more of Brown this season since some changes have been made in the Colts coaching staff. He is considered more explosive than Addai, who was re-signed to a three-year contract over the offseason. That move was uncharacteristic of how the Colts have traditionally handled running backs at this stage of their careers.
The rest of the skill positions are pretty well established with wide receivers Reggie Wayne(notes) and Pierre Garcon(notes) and tight end Dallas Clark(notes). All will put up big numbers, assuming Manning is OK. In addition, owners in deeper leagues should keep an eye on the preseason progress of Austin Collie(notes), who missed time with multiple concussions last season.
Learning to pitch: Defensive end Jerry Hughes(notes), Indy's first-round pick in 2010, was a huge disappointment last season. He finished with only six tackles and zero sacks, and was limited to only 12 games. Not that Hughes was expected to play a lot given the fact that he's behind the combo of Dwight Freeney(notes) and Robert Mathis(notes). However, more than six tackles would have been nice.
Hughes used a baseball analogy to explain his main problem.
"They say when you're out there rushing the passer, be more of a pitcher, not a thrower," Hughes said. That's a reference to the ability to use different techniques in the pass rush to fool offensive linemen. "Last year, it was all fastballs," Hughes said, referring to his exclusive use of the speed rush, which is pretty easy to block if the opposing lineman knows that's all that's coming.
Hughes said he has since added two more pitches to his repertoire in hopes that the combination will make it easier to have success. Freeney, for instance, uses a primary combination of the speed rush with a spin move. Don't look for Hughes, who is 6-foot-3, to perfect Freeney's spin move because Hughes is at least four inches taller than Freeney. Hughes said he could use his version of the spin occasionally, but he declined to say exactly what other moves he has developed to complement the speed rush. Hughes' development is important because the Colts would like to have the freedom to let Mathis go in free agency, if necessary. Mathis' contract is up after this season.
Tidbits from the road: The Colts train in Anderson, a little town just northeast of Indy. There's not much here aside from a nearby horse track and casino now that the auto industry has pulled up stakes. However, there are a couple of cool, old places to eat.
Dinner on Monday night was an "Onionburger" from The Lemon Drop, a perfect hole-in-the-wall spot about three miles from Anderson University, where the Colts practice. The Lemon Drop has been around for at least 58 years and has been owned for 40 of those by Bill Pitts, who bought the place from original owner Mike Lemon and resisted suggestions to call it "The Pitts Stop."
The place seats 29 and looks pretty much the same as when it opened in the 1950s. Moreover, Pitts and his staff couldn't be any nicer. But the important part is that the food is good. Really good.
The Onionburger is the signature dish of a simple menu. It consists of two thin patties with fresh onions put in the middle and then squeezed together. During the cooking, the onions cook to a perfect translucence, almost as if they were grilled. The moisture from the onions also helps keep the burger moist. With a side of onion rings and a drink, you get out for less than $10. Sweet.
- Jerry Hughes