The Colts are realizing the true benefit bottoming out.
With quarterback Andrew Luck at the helm of their offense, there’s a floor that they’re simply not going to fall through.
Playing in a division that is unsettled at best and ridiculous at worst (it occupied three of the bottom eight spots in our Preseason Power Rankings), the Colts should easily own the top spot in the AFC South barring a calamitous injury.
This year’s additions weren’t as dramatic as last year’s spending, but they added depth to an already good team, the kind of thing you’re able to do when your quarterback is both excellent and on a cheap rookie contract.
Winning 11 games each of the last two years has raised expectations, so this year will be about the Colts taking that next step.
The Colts have quietly developed a deep stable of targets for Luck to throw to.
If Reggie Wayne returns to anything resembling his old form, he’ll join with T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks (who came on a one-year prove-it deal) as a very good receiving corps.
They also have problem-child Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen in reserve, giving them developmental players for the future.
But perhaps the biggest boost will be getting tight end Dwayne Allen back from injury to pair with Coby Fleener, giving the Colts plenty of options in the passing game.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton would love to call a traditional grind-it-out game, but given the weapons at his disposal, spreading the field and using multiple formations is the right thing to do.
It sure would help if the Colts could find some balance in their offense with the running game.
And it sure would help if Trent Richardson ever proved to be worthy of the first-round pick they gave up to acquire him.
Richardson averaged 2.9 yards per carry after coming over from the Browns last year, hardly what they were hoping for or needed. He admitted it was hard learning a new offense, so it’s reasonable to give him this year as a fresh start.
Then again, some help up front would also help.
The Colts offensive line has underperformed despite some big investments the last few offseasons, and finding a center and some stability in that group would pay big dividends.
Second-round pick Jack Mewhort has seen work at center, guard and tackle during the offseason, and he could add an element of toughness that they need.
There’s also the small matter of how they’ll rush the passer in the first four games, with Robert Mathis out following a PED suspension. That could cost them significantly as they open with the Broncos and Eagles, before they start division play with the Jaguars and Titans.
The Colts didn’t make wholesale moves this offseason, but they made three significant ones which should help their defense.
Keeping cornerback Vontae Davis with a four-year, $39 million extension was the first big step, as they could ill afford to lose one of the top cover men in the AFC.
But adding linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and defensive end Arthur Jones will add some heft and legitimacy to a defense that was too often pushed around last year.
After losing safety Anotine Bethea to San Francisco, they need LaRon Landry to be a more consistent producer.
The Colts have some decisions to make at guard, as Donald Thomas is coming off two muscle tears, making it hard to know how much he can be counted on.
Mewhort worked at left guard during OTAs, but they also have Hugh Thornton as a possibility. The Colts think Lance Louis can add something as well, and seeing how that position shakes out will be huge as they try to run the ball more consistently.
They also have running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard coming off injuries, and they would love to have one of them ready to go if Richardson isn’t able to carry the load as expected.
Finding a safety to station next to Landry will also be a toss-up, as the Colts have a host of candidates for that job including Mike Adams, Colt Anderson along with holdovers such as Sergio Brown.
It’s easy to have high expectations for the Colts, as they practically have six wins in the bank by function of playing in the AFC South.
The Texans are good on defense, and the Jaguars are improving, but there’s no reason for the Colts to not roll through this group.
But a division title isn’t the goal for this bunch, as Manning found out more than a decade ago.
The Colts have something of a narrow window with this group because of Luck’s pending contract situation.
They have the ability to add parts now while he’s on a cheap rookie-scale deal, and they have bought aggressively in free agency. Of course, not all those deals look like bargains.
When they have to start paying Luck real money, it will be harder to make wholesale changes, so they have to hope they have a solid base in place.
Last year’s comeback win over the Chiefs in the playoffs was a solid first step, but the Colts are still punching over their weight (or at least their age) when they come up against the big guns of the AFC.