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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 12: Indianapolis Colts

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The Colts were the surprise team of 2012, vaulting from 2-14 the previous season to 11-5 in the playoffs based on a combination of a new quarterback and some old-fashioned emotion.

Now that the strong feelings have subsided, and a new baseline of expectations has been set, it’s reasonable to wonder whether they’ll be able to continue to build, or will suffer the kind of regression to the mean so many teams that make big leaps find.

Quarterback Andrew Luck is a special player, and as long as he’s well, there’s a floor on how bad the Colts are going to get. But they overachieved by such a remarkable degree last season, that it seems almost impossible to replicate.

They strengthened the middle third of their roster with a bunch of free agent signings, but the offseason didn’t bring in many difference-makers.

They have many young parts other than Luck which will provide the base for years to come, but may not have done enough to help him yet.

Strengths.

It starts at the top, as Luck was as good as advertised as a rookie.

While his overall stats might not shine like others, he was also asked to much more, and with much less. The Colts didn’t put Luck into a comfortable spot, with a leaky line and an offense that asked him to move the ball downfield rather than making the safe, short throws.

He still excelled, and looked his best in late-game situations, when young players can often fold. He has a legitimate star in Reggie Wayne to throw to, a young deep threat in T.Y. Hilton and a pair of good tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

Now’s he’s going to have to build on that, and even what could be considered a problem may work out in his favor. Losing coordinator Bruce Arians and replacing him with Pep Hamilton will be a change in style, but Hamilton was Luck’s OC in college at Stanford, and will bring a system well-suited to his strengths and weaknesses.

Weaknesses.

One of Luck’s biggest problems last year was hardly his fault.

He took 41 sacks behind a makeshift offensive line that seemed like the last problem that General Manager Ryan Grigson got around to addressing.

They’ve at least added some new names there this year, signing right tackle Gosder Cherilus for more money than anyone thought he’d get, and then bringing in former Patriots guard Donald Thomas.

That’s still just a 40 percent turnover for a line that was pretty bad last year, which may not be enough to fix it.

They’re also not overwhelmed with options in the pass rush. Letting Dwight Freeney walk was reasonable given his age and the direction of the franchise, but they kind of have Robert Mathis and your guess is as good as mine to provide sacks.

Signing former Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden early in free agency was a bit of a head-scratcher. He’s not a bad player, and may well be able to set the edge and help the run defense, but he’s hardly worth the investment and urgency they put into him.

As with many young and rebuilding teams, special teams was kind of a hash last year, but a season to put parts together might lend some stability there, particularly in the return game.

Changes.

The Colts spent, as the owner referred to it, “SERIOUS coin” this offseason, but they also bought a lot of bulk.

While some of the new additions could have an immediate impact (safety LaRon Landry, running Ahmad Bradshaw), many of the guys they brought in were more subtle tweaks to the roster.

Cornerback Greg Toler’s a solid addition to a secondary that needed help.

New quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is the right kind of voice to put in Luck’s ear at this stage in his career, a smart veteran who has made the transition from starter to backup.

But some of the moves just seem like they were made for the sake of making moves.

An upgrade at tackle was a necessity, but Cherilus got an awful lot of money ($34.5 million over five years), considering a market that went flat and some of the guys who are still available now.

They needed another outside weapon on offense, but Darrius Heyward-Bey has always provided more sizzle than steak. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois got a big contract for a guy who was always a backup.

The Colts needed to add depth to a young roster, and some of the guys they signed should provide that. But Grigson behaved like all that coin of Irsay’s was burning a hole in his pocket.

Camp Battles.

The sorting at defensive tackle will be interesting, as Jean-Francois and Fili Moala are likely battling for a starting job. But both are versatile enough to play end in Greg Manusky’s hybrid 3-4, and should have a role. The fact Jean-Francois has never been a full-time player makes Moala a necessity, even if he’s not starting.

They’re also looking at options at inside linebacker.

They brought in Kevin Sheppard in a trade with Buffalo, and he took a lot of offseason reps with the first defense while Pat Angerer was recovering from a foot surgery.

Angerer’s likely to win the job if he’s well, and should give them a solid pair along with Jerrell Freeman.

Prospects.

Though it sounds strange to say, the Colts are practically in the early stages of another coaching change.

While Chuck Pagano’s battle with cancer was the emotional lift for last year’s climb, much of that success happened when he was away from the team taking care of his health.

He set the tone in the offseason and established the program, and Arians did a masterful job of running things in his absence. Now it’s on Pagano to keep the progress going. Hamilton was an excellent hire, someone who was going to have his pick of NFL jobs at some point.

The Colts are still an at early stage in their growth as a franchise, and Pagano was respected around the league before last season.

He’s a good coach, but the job’s harder now. Going from good to great is much harder than going from terrible to good, and Pagano will have to adjust to that.

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Raiders release Taiwan Jones

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The Raiders won’t be bringing Taiwan Jones with them to training camp this year.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Raiders are releasing the six-year veteran ahead of their first camp practice this Saturday.

Jones was drafted by the Raiders as a running back in 2011, but they moved him to cornerback a couple of years later before reversing the switch when Jack Del Rio became the head coach ahead of the 2015 season. Regardless of his listed position, Jones saw the great majority of his playing time on special teams.

Jones both covered and returned kicks over his time with the Raiders and that would figure to be his path toward playing time if he finds another home for the 2017 season.

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John Harbaugh on Colin Kaepernick: What’s his priority?

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As the Ravens consider signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick, coach John Harbaugh hinted today that they want to know whether Kaepernick is all-in on football.

Harbaugh said he wants to find out what Kaepernick’s passion and priority is, suggesting perhaps that the team wonders if Kaepernick is more interested in his social justice work than in living and breathing football.

“He’s a really good football player and I believe he’s a really good person,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. “It all depends on a lot of things. It depends on Colin, first of all, what he wants to do. What’s his passion? What’s his priority? What’s he want to do? What kind of shape he’s in, and if he’s ready to go, then our needs. So we’ll kind of see where it goes. I don’t think that’s different for us than any other team. We’re definitely going to get another arm in here. But he’s not an arm, obviously. He’s an accomplished football player and we always like having good football players around.”

Kaepernick played for Harbaugh’s brother Jim in San Francisco, and Jim Harbaugh has vouched for Kaepernick many times. So if John Harbaugh wants to know about Kaepernick’s passion for football, his brother would be a good reference — unless Harbaugh suspects Kaepernick once made football his priority but now has other priorities.

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Cam Newton on running less often: Do you ask a lion not to roar?

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The selection of running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the first two rounds of this year’s draft led to a lot of offseason discussion about the Panthers’ offensive plans for the 2017 season.

A lot of that discussion focused on getting the ball out of quarterback Cam Newton’s hands more quickly than in past years, which would allow receivers a chance to make plays after the catch as well as allow Newton to avoid some of the hits that lead to injury issues. The latter point has also been part of talk about Newton running the ball less often, although the quarterback didn’t sound like he’s planning any major changes on that front when asked about it on Thursday.

“That’s my edge,” Newton said, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “You going to expect a lion not to roar?”

Adding shorter passes and less predictability to the offensive menu would seem to be a step in the right direction for the Panthers offense, but any gains there could be mitigated by taking away something that Newton has done very successfully during his career. As Newton said, his running ability gives him an edge that can be exploited to the team’s benefit so it’s likely to remain a central part of the offensive picture in Carolina.

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Titans sign Erik Walden

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The Titans have beefed up their pass rush as training camps open.

Outside linebacker Erik Walden is signing with Tennessee, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

The 31-year-old Walden is coming off his best career season, having started all 16 games and recorded 11 sacks last year in Indianapolis. A 2008 sixth-round pick of the Cowboys, Walden has also played for the Chiefs, Dolphins and Packers.

Walden was one of the few remaining free agents around the NFL who has the potential to make a significant impact on the field this season. The Titans hope they just made their defense better.

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NFL has generated plenty of embarrassing moments

In an effort to make PFT Live interactive (and in an effort to fill the full three hours), we try to come up with a question of the day.

And by “we” I mean someone other than me who, as Barstool Big Cat learned earlier this week, does all the heavy lifting while I just staple my toupee in place, show up, and talk.

For Wednesday, Rob “Stats” Guerrera had a good idea. (For a change.) Inspired by the Lucky Whitehead situation, which clearly was embarrassing for the Cowboys, what was the most embarrassing moment in NFL history?

The response was overwhelming, both on Twitter and in the comments. Here’s a list of the best.

The Fail Mary.

The Butt Fumble.

The Colts Fake Punt Debacle.

Dan Orlovsky’s Extended Run Out of the End Zone.

Odell vs. The Kicking Net.

Gus Frerotte vs. The Wall.

Leon Lett vs. Common Sense I.

Leon Lett vs. Common Sense II.

Tony Romo vs. The Field Goal Snap.

Jim Marshall’s Wrong-Way Run.

Najeh Davenport’s Hamper Dump.

The Elvis Dumervil Fax Machine Faux Pas.

The Super Bowl XLVII Power Outage.

The Vikings Screw Up The Draft I.

The Vikings Screw Up The Draft II.

The Love Boat.

The Hall of Fame Game Cancellation.

The Super Bowl XLV Seating Debacle.

Thanks to everyone who responded, and who listens to or watches the show. We hope you enjoy it at least 10 percent as much as we do.

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Teddy Bridgewater: I’m in it for the long haul

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Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater met with the media on Thursday for the first time since suffering the knee injury that kept him from playing at all last season and said that he thought spending the last year rehabbing has made him a better person.

Bridgewater said that the injury made him more “appreciative” of the things he has in life because he’s seen how quickly things you love can be taken away. Bridgewater said he’s “learning my body all over again” now that he’s been able to get on the field to take snaps and make throws, something he called a “constant grind” that he makes it through by drawing inspiration from his mother’s battle with breast cancer.

“You have days when you don’t see the progress, but it’s a long process,” Bridgewater said. “I’m in it for the long haul. I want to be the best version of Teddy I can be.”

Bridgewater said that the injury hasn’t changed his goals as a football player and that he hasn’t had any doctors tell him that he won’t be able to resume playing again. He doesn’t know when that will be, but said it will be a significant milestone when he’s ready to face a live defense again.

“That first initial hit or contact will tell me I can do this,” Bridgewater said. “If I can do it one time, I can do it forever.”

The uncertain time line explains why Bridgewater said he isn’t spending time worrying about the fact that the Vikings didn’t exercise their option on his contract for the 2018 season as there’s not much point thinking about contracts until he’s all the way back into action. The biggest message Bridgewater sent on Thursday is that he has little doubt that day will come.

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Jarvis Landry didn’t want his contract hindering the team

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The Dolphins and receiver Jarvis Landry are not yet negotiating a new contract. That hasn’t affected Landry’s willingness to report for duty.

“No, there was not,” Landry told reporters when asked whether there was any question as to whether he’d show up for the first day of training camp practice.

“Like I said, for me, being a leader and having an opportunity to take another step, we don’t need anything hindering us off that path,” Landry said. “So for me to be here and to show the guys that it is about them and it’s about the team, that’s what I’m here to do.”

That’s great news for the Dolphins, but it doesn’t change the fact that, absent a contract extension before the end of the season, they’ll have to decide between paying him, letting him his the open market, or using the franchise tag.

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Bengals credit Vontaze Burfict for losing weight this offseason

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Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is coming off his first healthy offseason in three years, and he made the most of his ability to work out in the spring.

The Bengals’ coaches asked Burfict to report to camp slimmed down and in better shape, and he’s drawing praise because for doing exactly that. Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Burfict has gone from the 260s to the 240s and looks better as a result.

“He’s probably in the high 240s. He’s played at 260, 265. He’s moving good,” Guenther said, via Katherine Terrell of ESPN. “I told him it’ll add three years to your career if you stay at that level. He can be just as physical at 245, 250 as he can be at 265.”

Burfict is heading into the last year of his contract and will make a $3.75 million salary this year, after collecting a $200,000 workout bonus for the offseason. Up next, he hopes, is a big 2017 that makes him a prized free agent in 2018.

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Mike Pouncey emotional talking about “brother” Aaron Hernandez

AP

Not everyone had sympathy when Aaron Hernandez’s life ended by suicide in his jail cell.

But Dolphins center Mike Pouncey has never been shy about his feelings for his friend and former college teammate, and became emotional Thursday when discussing the former Patriots tight end who was serving a life sentence for murder at the time.

“It was tough,” Pouncey said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. “Obviously, I don’t condone any of the things that he was accused of, but just to have a friend I was so close with, that I felt like was my brother and I know that he felt the same way, it’s tough. It’s tough for anyone to have a loss in their family, but that one right there hit my and my brother really hard.”

Hernandez wasn’t simply accused, he was convicted of murdering Odin Lloyd, though he had just been acquitted in a separate double-murder trial days before his death. Pouncey said the last time he talked to Hernandez, his friend was in “great spirits.”

“Just, you know, about the case that he had just won,” Pouncey said. “He was excited, ready to fight the first one again. Just a lot of different stuff. Happy for him.

“It was just tough, man. . . . We’re still shocked to this day that we’re even at this point.”

As difficult as it is for some to imagine, it’s evident that Pouncey never backed away from his friend, when many did all they could to distance themselves from Hernandez.

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John Harbaugh: Ravens will add a QB, maybe Kaepernick

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Of all the teams that could be a match for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Ravens make the most sense. The brother of their head coach, John Harbaugh, coached Kaepernick in San Francisco, and still raves about him. Their Senior Offensive Assistant (and possible offensive coordinator in waiting), Greg Roman, served as offensive coordinator in San Francisco when Kaepernick played as well as ever.

And the Ravens could indeed sign him.

Via multiple Twitter accounts of reporters at practice, Harbaugh said the Ravens plan to add a quarterback, and he didn’t rule out Kaepernick.

Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun notes that Harbaugh said it all “depends on what Kaepernick wants to do.” Harbaugh also said that the Ravens have been talking to Kaepernick throughout the summer.

This suggests that the outcome hinges on whether Kaepernick would take whatever money the Ravens have budgeted for the position. If he does, he’ll have a job. And a chance to supplant Ryan Mallet as the No. 2 guy on the roster. And an opportunity to be in position to play if Joe Flacco’s back injury is something more than a minor inconvenience.

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Owa Odighizuwa at Giants training camp

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Giants defensive end Owa Odighizuwa created some uncertainty about his football future this offseason when he announced he needed some time away from the game in April before showing up for some of the team’s offseason workouts.

Odighizuwa did not take part in the team’s minicamp in June after being excused for personal reasons, which created more doubt about what he was going to do during the 2017 season. Odighizuwa apparently wants to play.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo said on Thursday that Odighizuwa reported to training camp and will presumably be trying to hold onto his role as a backup on the defensive line. He played in 14 games last season and saw 169 snaps on defense. Romeo Okwara, Devin Taylor, Kerry Wynn and fifth-round pick Avery Moss are also vying for roles behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon.

McAdoo said all players on the roster reported for camp, although running back Shaun Draughn and cornerback Valentino Blake are not practicing after being placed on the physically unable to perform list.

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Patriots sign two with training camp underway

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The Patriots have added a couple of players to their 90-man roster with training camp underway in Foxborough.

The team announced that they have signed wide receiver Tony Washington and defensive end Caleb Kidder. They had open roster spots so did not need to make any corresponding moves to create space for the new arrivals.

Washington arrives after veteran wideout Andrew Hawkins announced his retirement this week. Washington played in six games for the Jaguars over the last two seasons and caught one pass for nine yards. The path to the final roster for Washington is an uphill one, but he’ll get a chance to put some play on film in the preseason if the Patriots don’t churn the roster again before games get underway.

Kidder signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in May, but was dropped by the team in June. He had 14 sacks during his college career at the University of Montana.

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RGIII workout may have helped Chargers land Cardale Jones

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When word emerged of the Chargers working out quarterback Robert Griffin III, the motivation for it wasn’t clear. When someone with the Chargers leaked to ESPN that Griffin looked good, the motivation for it wasn’t clear. When the Chargers didn’t sign Griffin after such a supposedly good workout, the motivation for it wasn’t clear.

On Wednesday, it all became clear when the Chargers traded for quarterback Cardale Jones.

Griffin was the leverage for the Chargers in their talks with the Bills. Bringing Griffin in for a workout and leaking a positive review to ESPN made it clear to Buffalo that the Chargers had an alternative, in the event that Buffalo tried to put a thumb on the scale and get more from a guy who probably was on the way out if there hadn’t been a trade.

So why would Griffin allow himself to be used in this way? He likely didn’t know that the Chargers were trying to get Jones from the Bills. Even if Griffin had known what was happening, the workout knocked the dust off his name for the first time in months, reminding all other teams that he still exists.

Thus, it was a win-win-win. The Chargers got a quarterback they want, the Bills got rid of one they didn’t want, and Griffin got his name in circulation.

And maybe the Bills will be interested in giving Griffin his next workout. Right before they trade for someone else.

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Devontae Booker having surgery Friday, Broncos expect him for Week One

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Broncos running back Devontae Booker is set to miss time due to a wrist injury, but the team does not currently expect his absence to spill over into the regular season.

That was the word from Broncos coach Vance Joseph on Thursday during an interview with Orange and Blue 760. Joseph said that Booker will have surgery on Friday to repair what Mike Klis of KUSA reports is a fracture that was discovered when he reported lingering discomfort in the wrist from offseason workouts.

Joseph said that Booker could play without having the surgery, but fixing it now keeps it from being a “long-term” issue for the running back. He also said that Booker should be ready for the regular season given a six-week timeline to recover from the operation.

That outlook could change and the Broncos will get longer looks at rookie De’Angelo Henderson and veteran Jamaal Charles as potential complements to C.J. Anderson while Booker is recovering.

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Aaron Rodgers has rekindled “love affair” with football

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There was a time when Aaron Rodgers thought he’d be finished as a football player in his mid-30s.

But now, the Packers quarterback says he’s back to his “love affair” with the game, and that has made him want to continue on much longer than he previously thought.

“[That feeling] has kind of given me the idea that this is what I want to do. I love football, and I want to keep playing as long as possible,” Rodgers said during an interview on Wilde & Tausch on ESPN Wisconsin. “And when you have that kind of slight shift in your thinking, then you start going to, ‘How can I do that?’ And the way you can do that, in my opinion, is taking care of yourself at a hyper-sensitive level to all the areas that that entails — the rehab area, the eating area, the workout/focus area. And all those combined have kind of given me the idea that I’d like to keep playing at a high level, as fun as it is right now.”

If that sounds a little Tom Brady, it’s probably not accidental, as the two have become friends and Rodgers has taken his own steps (which don’t involve avocado ice cream) to keep himself going into his 40s.

So as the 33-year-old Rodgers enters his 13th NFL season, he’s thinking more long-term, and appreciating the game more than he has before.

“I think it’s a change, a slight change that happened the last few years, where it really has become just a love affair,” Rodgers said. “From [being] a game I always enjoyed playing and enjoyed competing and am hyper-competitive [in] to just really loving the process even more — the practice, the preparation, just enjoying those moments even more.”

Of course, this love story might not include the kind of paparazzi treatment previous relationships have led Rodgers into, but it will certainly make Packers fans swoon, as they imagine a long and happy marriage.

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