The Indianapolis Colts have made strides to improve their roster and open a small window for a Super Bowl run. The recent rash of free agency spending has shaken up the team’s depth chart.
Today we take a look at who will be starting and playing backup. Some of the positions are very obvious (like quarterback) but there could be some changes following the draft and even more prior to training camp.
Andrew Luck is clearly going to be the starter. He had a fantastic season in 2014 but was a bit turnover prone. This mostly stemmed from trying too hard to make a play when he should have taken the sack or gotten the ball out of the pocket sooner.
Look for Luck to cut down on turnovers in year four and continue to improve in the passing game. I’d expect him to be more patient and for the team to utilize more dump off routes to the running backs.
Matt Hasselbeck will be backing him up, and while he’s valuable when it comes to game planning, he doesn’t offer the team much on the field.
After getting him to back out of a deal with Philadelphia, the Colts will be starting Frank Gore in the backfield. While he’s past his prime, Gore gives the Colts a reliable back who can still make big plays and take some pressure off the passing attack.
As of now, Dan Herron will be the backup after proving his value in the playoffs (especially as a receiver). We can assume the Vick Ballard will be the third running back on the depth chart, but he’s still recovering from back-to-back torn ACLs.
If healthy, Ballard could leapfrog Herron on the depth chart. I have my doubts and with so much damage to his knees, its hard to see him having the same explosiveness he did during his rookie year.
The Colts also have Zurlon Tipton and Jeff Demps signed to the roster. I believe that the Colts still need to find a running back in the draft and luckily there is a lot of depth at that position available. Picking up another RB in the draft will likely leave Tipton and Demps without a spot on the active roster, but there might be room on the practice squad.
The Colts head into 2015 with the same duo at TE as they’ve had since 2012: Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Both players are in a contract year and could potentially be playing for one roster spot in 2016.
Jim Irsay wants to re-sign both players, but a big season from either one could make it too expensive to keep both. The Colts want to see more consistency from Fleener in 2015 and need Allen to stay healthy for a whole season.
The Colts love the two tight end set, but only Allen has proven to be a good blocker. Fleener and Allen will be on the field at the same time and likely split the rest of the snaps.
The team also has Jack Doyle and Erik Swoope on the roster for 2015. Doyle proved to be a versatile player who was more skilled in the blocking department. Swoope was on the practice squad but the former basketball player has a ton of potential.
T.Y. Hilton will be the starting receiver with Andre Johnson starting opposite of him. Johnson will be used the exact same way the Colts used Reggie Wayne the past three years: possession receiver to move the chains.
Hilton needs to work on breaking double teams and finding ways to get open downfield. He also has to stop dropping passes. Hilton would have had a multiple touchdown game against the Bengals in the playoffs if not for three drops all due to a lack of concentration (look the ball in, then turn upfield).
Donte Moncrief will be the third wide receiver on the depth chart. Expect for him to lineup outside and for Hilton to move into the slot when the Colts run with three wideouts (a position where Hilton can do a ton of damage). If Moncrief has made a leap in his development, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him eat into some of Johnson’s snaps.
The Colts also have Duron Carter to round out the receiving corps, but its reasonable not to expect much out of him in his first year in the NFL.
There will be a few competitions for spots on the starting lineup over the next few months, specifically at center. Right now, its basically a toss up between Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison for who takes over at center. Both struggled last season in their starts and failed to stay healthy for the entire year.
Left tackle: Anthony Castonzo
Left guard: Jack Mewhort
Right guard: Todd Herremans
Right tackle: Gosder Cherilus
Herremans has the inside track on the starting job and will be competing with Hugh Thornton, who has disappointed the past two season. Both Herremans and Thornton had health issues in 2014 and it could come down to who is healthiest heading into next season.
Re-signing Joe Reitz also gives the team a versatile lineman who can play tackle or guard. He’s a good stopgap in the event that someone goes down with an injury (and should be given the opportunity to start, but that’s unlikely).
Ulrick John was a seventh round draft pick last season, but broke his ankle before the season began and spent the year on IR. He’s another swiss army knife lineman who had experience at every position in college. John will likely serve as a backup tackle, effectively taking Xavier Nixon‘s role.
The Colts also have Ben Heenan from the CFL on the roster and he’ll hopefully be a quality backup at the guard position.