Indianapolis Colts' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
The Indianapolis Colts have made strides this offseason, whether that be by re-signing their free agents (Vontae Davis, Pat McAfee, Adam Vinatieri), bringing in new players (Arthur Jones, Hakeem Nicks) or even addition by subtraction (Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn).
But the offseason isn't over, and the Colts aren't done evolving. The NFL draft in May is the big moment, but there is also months of workouts, team meetings and training camp before the regular season kicks off.
So what are the most immediate issues that should have GM Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano's attention? On this note, we won't be looking at needs that haven't been temporarily filled and still need long-term solutions (like wide receiver or inside linebacker). Rather, these are the needs or issues that haven't been solved yet for the 2014 season.
Fix Trent Richardson...Or Find a New Back
One of the Colts' most controversial decisions of the 2013 league year, trading for Trent Richardson has not yet paid dividends for Indianapolis.
That's putting it mildly.
Yet, despite Richardson's horrific 2013, the Colts have faith that he'll be an intricate part of the team going forward. Sure, that could just be coach-speak, but that isn't the vibe that's come out of Indianapolis. Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton want to be able to run the ball, and a rejuvenated Trent Richardson has the most potential of the Colts running backs.
Bringing back Ahmad Bradshaw was a savvy move, but Bradshaw is injury prone and missed over 75 percent of last season. Vick Ballard can produce, but not more than what the offensive line gives him. Oh, and he's also coming off of an ACL tear that caused him to miss all but one game of the 2013 campaign.
The Colts need some durability and explosiveness from the running back position if they're to be a dynamic offense. Richardson has the athletic potential to do that, although his acceleration through traffic does leave some to be desired. If he can regain the explosive potential that made him the coveted prospect that he was at Alabama, the Colts will have all the tools they need to be one of the league's top five offenses.
If he can't, then the Colts need to look elsewhere to solidify their running back core.
Find a Starting Safety
The void left by Antoine Bethea will not be filled easily.
Nevertheless, the Colts have to at least attempt to do so. The team opted not to do so in free agency, despite several affordable options being available. Thus, there are two options.
One, use a safety currently on the roster. Delano Howell is the assumed heir of the position, but Sergio Brown has expressed a desire to contribute as well. Howell is an intriguing prospect, with impressive instincts and willingness to be physical in run support, but his lack of speed may limit him from being an effective starter.
Note: I've done extensive film work on Howell, so check that out for more details on his play last season.
The other option is the draft, something that Chuck Pagano mentioned as a real possibility at the owner's meetings last week:
We've got the draft coming up, there are some great safeties in the draft...We'll see how the board is once we get to our first pick. It'll be nice to get a young on in the fold, but we'll see how it goes.
The void is real, but so are the options to fill it.
Fill out Secondary Depth
Both last season and in 2012, the Colts secondary depth included Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy as the main depth corners. By the end of both seasons, both would be pressed into starting positions.
Injuries seem to be incredibly common for the Colts' cornerbacks, even enough to stand out amongst the most injury-prone franchise in the league:
2013 was the first year that Vontae Davis has played 16 games, and Greg Toler was injured before I finished typing this sentence. The Colts need quality depth at cornerback. With the team choosing not to re-sign Vaughn, they have a chance to upgrade at the position.
Don't be surprised if cornerback is the pick in the second or third round. A corner there could come in and learn without having to be an instant contributor. Davis, Toler and Darius Butler is a decent three-man rotation, and although upgrades are certainly welcome, a rookie wouldn't necessarily have to contribute right away.
Commit to a Starting Center
Like safety, the Colts chose not to address the hole at starting center through free agency. While the team could spend an early draft pick on a center (Pagano did visit USC center Marcus Martin at his pro day), it seems more likely that they will let Khaled Holmes and Phil Costa battle it out in OTAs and training camp.
Pagano, at the owners meetings again, on the center situation:
It was unfortunate what happened to Khaled, but he's a talented guy and the expectations are high for him. To bring in a guy like Costa in the mix, who's to say there's not a guy? Time is going to tell.
We feel like he might be sitting right there. We have to stay healthy and get them on the field and play at that level. I think we have two capable guys that can play at a high level.
The decision to not draft a center early, if it's really been made, is a defensible one. When it comes to championship-caliber teams, a Pro-Bowl center isn't a prerequisite. Continuity at the position is important, as is the ability to communicate protections, but given the choice between elite talent at center and nearly any other non-specialist position, I'd choose the latter.
The team doesn't have to make a decision now, but by the time the final two weeks of the preseason roll around, the team should have a starting center. It should be one of the team's top goals throughout OTAs and training camp to decide between Holmes, Costa and any rookie the team may bring in.
Solve the Pass Rush Issue: Just Jones or Something More?
One of the Colts' biggest flaws last season was their lack of pass rush. Sure, the team finished 11th in team sacks, but that's largely because OLB Robert Mathis had a historic year. If he finished with, say, 11 sacks instead of 19.5 (still a very good year), the team would have finished 27th.
If teams were able to shut down Mathis, they shut down the Colts' pass rush. Not only did Mathis record sacks at a ridiculous rate, but when he was getting pressure, it opened the floodgates for teammates to get to the quarterback as well. But without Mathis' pressure, opposing quarterbacks had all day to read the field.
Pass rush needs to come from other areas of the defense. Arthur Jones should help, but will it be enough? Bjoern Werner's development at outside linebacker would be a big boost, but it's no guarantee. Don't be surprised if the team looks to the draft early for a pass-rusher, be it an interior lineman or a linebacker to spell Mathis.