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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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Would the NFL appeal a two-game Brady suspension?

Richard Berman AP

It’s become a given that Judge Richard M. Berman doesn’t have the option to impose anything less than a four-game suspension on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Technically, that’s accurate.

As a practical matter, Judge Berman can reduce the suspension to two games, explaining that he has decided to deem the four-game suspension as two for “general awareness” (or whatever) of the alleged deflation scheme and two for failure to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation. Sure, he’d be susceptible to a reversal on appeal.

But what if no one appeals?

Tom Brady, if suspended two games for failure to cooperate at a time when he’s reportedly willing to accept at least one game for that infraction and exonerated on the question of whether he should be suspended for the deflation-related activities, could be inclined to accept the two games and move on. Which means that the case would be over — unless the NFL appeals.

At that point, would the NFL appeal? More specifically, would the NFL allow itself to be responsible for prolonging a case that the fans want to see end, when the NFL can legitimately claim partial victory and retreat?

From a legal perspective, the NFL would have a strong argument on appeal, arguing that Judge Berman has no right to chop the suspension in half and that it’s an all-or-nothing decision. From a P.R. perspective, the NFL possibly would be criticized heavily for not accepting a middle ground and moving on.

So maybe, just maybe, Judge Berman will technically get it wrong, but ultimately get to the right solution.

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Jets place Jace Amaro on injured reserve

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The Jets had high hopes for tight end Jace Amaro as a receiver in his second NFL season, but they were put on ice Tuesday.

Amaro has been placed on injured reserve and will have surgery on the shoulder injury that’s kept him out of action this summer. The move strips the Jets of a target for Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or Geno Smith and robs Bills coach Rex Ryan of two chances to face Amaro after the tight end was critical of Ryan this offseason for the lack of accountability on the Jets last season.

Amaro had 38 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis are the veteran tight ends left on the roster, which may lead the Jets to look for another receiving option at the position as cuts are made this week.

The Jets also placed veteran defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson on injured reserve and waived cornerback Dashaun Phillips with an injured designation.

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NFL turns Media Day into “Super Bowl Opening Night”

Super Bowl Media Day Getty Images

If you thought the hype surrounding the Super Bowl couldn’t possibly get any more overdone, think again.

The NFL has announced that it is shifting the long-standing Media Day, which always took place on Tuesday in the late morning or early afternoon, into “Super Bowl Opening Night,” a primetime extravaganza on the Monday night of Super Bowl week.

Super Bowl Opening Night will be a three-hour show at the SAP Center in San Jose, starting at 5 p.m. Pacific on Monday, February 1. In addition to appearances from the players and coaches on the two Super Bowl teams, the event will also feature musical performances.

The league is selling tickets to fans, but this is mostly about creating more Super Bowl week content for NFL Network. And although plenty of people will roll their eyes at the idea, it’s sure to get good ratings. Fans have an insatiable appetite for football, especially during Super Bowl week.

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Report: Randall Cobb expected to be ready for regular season

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The Packers lost one of their starting wide receivers to a preseason injury, but it appears their other one is going to be fine.

According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, all indications are that Packers wideout Randall Cobb’s shoulder injury won’t prevent him from playing in the opener against the Bears.

After losing Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL, the Packers couldn’t afford to lose Cobb for any amount of time.

Cobb’s coming off a career season of his own (91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns) and was rewarded with a new contract before he hit free agency.

Now, there’s even more pressure on him to deliver, as the Packers try to bring along the next generation of young wideouts.

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Panthers put Kelvin Benjamin on IR; waive Melvin White, Robert Lester

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The Panthers have reached the 75-man limit with a series of moves on Tuesday afternoon.

Some of the moves were expected, like placing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on injured reserve as a result of the torn ACL he suffered in August. The team also confirmed that they have parted ways with wideout Jarrett Boykin after swinging a deal with the Seahawks for Kevin Norwood.

The Panthers also waived cornerback Melvin White and safety Robert Lester. White, who has an injured designation after hurting his hamstring, made 17 starts over the last two seasons but lost his job with the first team last year. Lester played a lot in 2013, but only saw action in one game last year while also spending time on the practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Presley, defensive tackle Kenny Horsley, tackle Davonte Wallace and defensive tackle Micanor Regis were also waived.

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James Harrison says old pal Goodell will win fight vs. Brady

James Harrison, Art Rooney II AP

James Harrison has never been afraid to speak out against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but when Harrison was asked by reporters about DeflateGate and Goodell’s court battle vs. Tom Brady and the Patriots, Harrison said he believes Brady’s four-game suspension will be upheld.

Because the Steelers play the Patriots Sept. 10 in the season opener, the result of the proceedings are of particular interest to Harrison. But the 37-year old linebacker had no personal feelings involved when he shared his viewpoint.

“I don’t see what a federal judge can do with something the players signed in the collective bargaining agreement, which gives Roger Goodell (power) to do what he wants to,” Harrison said. “And if that’s the case and he’s going by the letter of what he says, there’s nothing (a judge) can do.”

Monday, federal judge Richard Berman pledged to rule by Friday on Brady’s challenge of his four-game suspension after talks between Brady’s representatives and the NFL failed to reach a settlement.

Harrison and Goodell have quite a history, both of face to face meetings regarding fines that have totaled $150,000 and of Harrison publicly criticizing Goodell. Harrison called Goodell a “crook” and “devil” in a 2011 magazine interview and last year took to Twitter and needled Goodell for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

“If (Goodell) was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it,” Harrison told Men’s Journal in 2011. “I hate him and will never respect him.”

Harrison tweeted last September, when he considered himself retired, that Steelers players voted against the new CBA in 2011.

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Report: Patriots to put James Develin on season-ending IR

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The Patriots lost one of Bill Belichick’s favorite players last week in Charlotte, and it will be a season-ending loss.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, versatile tight end/fullback James Develin will be placed on injured reserve today.

Develin broke his tibia Friday night against the Panthers, and stayed behind to have surgery there.

He met with Patriots officials yesterday, and they decided today to put him on season-ending IR rather than use the designated for return spot on him.

The injury was originally thought to keep him out for six to eight weeks, but they may have realized it was taking longer than that, or the team just wanted to use that spot otherwise.

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Akeem Spence to PUP as Bucs get to 75 players

Akeem Spence, Andy Dalton AP

There wasn’t a chance that the Buccaneers would have defensive tackle Akeem Spence for the first week of the season after he was suspended by the league for violating the substance abuse policy.

They won’t have him for at least the five weeks after that either. Spence started camp on the physically unable to perform list when camp opened and announced Tuesday that he’ll remain there into the regular season.

Spence had 28 tackles and two sacks in 16 appearances for Tampa last season.

The Bucs also waived/injured guard Josh Allen, wide receiver Robert Herron and cornerback Leonard Johnson. All three will revert to injured reserve if they go unclaimed on waivers.

Punter Michael Koenen was released earlier on Tuesday and the Bucs made 10 other moves over the weekend to get to the 75-man limit.

 

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Bengals place Cedric Ogbuehi on non-football injury list

Cedric Ogbuehi AP

The Bengals drafted Cedric Ogbuehi knowing he wasn’t ready to contribute immediately.

Now it’s official, as the rookie tackle was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list as part of their moves to get to the 75-man roster limit. They also placed linebacker Sean Porter on reserve/physically unable to perform and waived-injured wide receiver Onterio McCalebb, and he’ll revert to injured reserve if he clears waivers.

Ogbuehi suffered a torn ACL in Texas A&M’s bowl game, which was going to keep him from taking the field immediately this year. But they think he can contribute at some point, so they left the window open for him to come back after the first six weeks of the season.

The Bengals chose him knowing he’d likely redshirt this season behind Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, with second-round tackle Jake Fisher providing even more depth there now that he’s back from a shoulder injury.

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49ers coach says Dockett does not have cracked rib

Darnell-Dockett1a Getty Images

The rib injury suffered by 49ers defensive tackle Darnell Dockett in last weekend’s preseason game vs. the Broncos is not believed to be serious.

Tuesday, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said Dockett has a cartilage issue, not a cracked rib, and Tomsula said he expects Dockett to be available for the Sept. 14 season opener.

Dockett posted a picture on Snapchat Monday while receiving treatment and called it a cracked rib.

Dockett, 34, did not play last season after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason while he was with the Cardinals. He’s expected to be a rotational player on the remade 49ers defense.

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Dennis Pitta starting year on PUP list

Keith Wenning, Dennis Pitta AP

The Ravens are down to a 75-man roster and tight end Dennis Pitta isn’t one of them.

Pitta has been placed on the regular season physically unable to perform list Tuesday as he continues to try for a comeback from last year’s dislocated and fractured hip. It’s the second time that Pitta has suffered the injury and may not play again, but the Ravens have no reason to move on at this point with $4 million in guaranteed money coming Pitta’s way this year.

The Ravens also placed safety Matt Elam, linebacker Steven Means, cornerback Chris Greenwood, offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin and tight end Allen Reisner on injured reserve.

They completed their roster cutdown by releasing wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, offensive lineman Marcel Jones, wide receiver Trent Steelman, guard Leon Brown, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, offensive lineman De’Ondre Wesley, tackle Darryl Baldwin, cornerback Tramain Jacobs, punter Justin Manton, and long snapper Patrick Scales.

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PFT Live: Seahawks talk with Bob Condotta, Patriots talk with Tom Curran

Tom Brady AP

The wait for Judge Richard Berman’s ruling in the Tom Brady case is on and we’ll fill some of the time by talking about the possible outcomes on PFT Live.

Tom Curran of CSN New England will join Mike Florio to discuss the failure of the NFL and Brady to reach a settlement that would have left Berman out of the resolution and how they think things will go when the judge does rule. They’ll check in on other Patriots news as well.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times will also join the show to talk about the team’s first wave of cuts, Fred Jackson’s visit and the offensive stumbles in the preseason.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour by clicking right here.

 

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Dolphins make a change at punter

Brandon Fields AP

The Dolphins have moved to the 75-man roster limit by parting ways with longtime punter Brandon Fields.

Fields has been released after an eight-year run with the team that featured a Pro Bowl appearance after the 2013 season. Fields took a pay cut this offseason to lessen a scheduled cap hit north of $3 million, but it wasn’t enough to allow him to keep his job with the team this season.

Matt Darr is the only punter currently on the Dolphins roster and will fill the role into the regular season if Miami doesn’t look for other options in the next week.

The Dolphins also cut running back Demetrius Bronson to get to Tuesday’s limit. There will be 22 more moves to come before the team sets its initial 53-man roster.

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Saints trade wideout Jalen Saunders to the Patriots

Indianapolis Colts v New York Jets Getty Images

The Patriots continue to look under every rock for healthy receiver options, and just traded for a guy they got an up-close look at recently.

According to Evan Woodbery of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints have traded receiver-return man Jalen Saunders to the Patriots for a conditional draft pick.

As with most such deals this time of year, this gives a guy who might not have otherwise made a roster a chance with a team that has a greater need for his services. Generally, the condition is “make the 53-man roster,” which makes it a free week’s tryout.

The Patriots and Saints practiced together in West Virginia before breaking camp, so Bill Belichick had a chance to scout Saunders in person.

The Saints appear intent on keeping rookie running back Marcus Murphy as their return man, which left Saunders on the bubble.

The former Jets fourth-rounder now gets to return to the AFC East, where the Patriots have been looking for upgrades and healthy wideouts. They just signed veteran Reggie Wayne, after injuries left them thin through the preseason.

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P.R. chief Paul Hicks leaves the NFL

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The NFL has had a rough year when it comes to public relations. And now a major change is coming to the NFL’s public relations department.

Via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, executive V.P. of communications and public affairs Paul Hicks is leaving the NFL. He’ll join the Glover Park Group, a firm that provides P.R. advice to the NFL. It’s not known whether Hicks will be working directly with the league.

It’s also unclear whether Hicks chose to leave, was nudged, or feared that a nudge was coming. Some believe that the ultimate fallout of #DeflateGate won’t be a new Commissioner but a new structure beneath him — a process that apparently commenced with the hiring of Tod Leiweke to serve as the NFL’s Chief Operating Officer, a position that had been vacant since Roger Goodell had been promoted from COO to Commissioner.

As one source explained it after Leiweke arrived, the goal will be to cut down on the number of people who directly report to Goodell. Also, Leiweke will assist with day-to-day management and coordination between departments while serving as the conduit between Goodell and those departments.

In many respects, Hicks and general counsel Jeff Pash served previously as the conduit between Commissioner and the various departments he supervised. With another layer added between Hicks and Goodell, it’s not surprising that Hicks would decide to move on voluntarily — especially if he sensed that an involuntary parting was inevitable.

UPDATE 11:20 a.m. ET: Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Hicks will continue to contribute to NFL projects as part of Glover Park Group’s New York office. Leiweke will lead the search for an internal replacement.

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