AFC South: Indianapolis Colts

ANDERSON, Ind. -- There was one substantial trade in the NFL last season. One that was supposed to give Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck his complimentary piece in the backfield that he would team with for years to come. Too bad that hasn't happened yet.

The move to acquire running back Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns in September 2013 is not favoring the Colts so far. The more Richardson struggled last season, which was on a regular basis, the more he was criticized and the more Indianapolis general manger Ryan Grigson was questioned for making a trade that wasn’t panning out.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck and Trent Richardson
AP Photo/Michael DwyerTrent Richardson averaged only 2.9 yards per carry as a Colt last season.
Richardson was eventually benched and ended up averaging only 2.9 yards a carry last season.

To Richardson’s defense, he was thrown on the field less than a week after being acquired, teams stacked the box at times, and he was running behind an interior offensive line that wasn’t any good.

New season, fresh start?

That’s what you would like to believe.

In Richardson and Grigson’s case that has to happen. No more excuses. Richardson has had an entire offseason to familiarize himself with the offense, get in better shape and let his shoulder heal.

Richardson revealed for the first time Thursday that he had a chipped collarbone and his AC joint had separated last season.

“Toward the end of the season I felt a lot more comfortable, but the other time I was more injured,” Richardson said.

Richardson’s offseason, according to him, was spent working with his high school coach in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida, running the beaches, working his speed and learning the playbook like he’s studying for the bar exam.

“He’s a lot more comfortable,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Basically it was survival for him at first, memorization. Now he has a better understanding scheme-wise, why we’re doing things, why we’re calling certain things, how we run plays. He has a better feel for guys he’s playing with, the line, guy in front of him, the fullback. He’s obviously in a much better place.”

Richardson is expected to get the first shot at starting because not doing so would be a sign of admission of the trade not working in the Colts’ favor. Don't expect the Colts to stick with Richardson in the starting lineup for as long as they did last season if he struggles like he did last season. He’ll be pushed by Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard for playing time.

“I think through the course of camp it’s all going to take care of itself, shake itself out,” Pagano said. “You’d like to have a bell cow. We’ll see if that happens…We’ll do a good job of getting the guys the necessary reps to make evaluations. If someone separates himself and becomes that guy then that’s your bell cow.”

ANDERSON, Ind. -- For Indianapolis Colts running back Vick Ballard, the date of his surgery -- Sept. 19, 2013 -- and the reason why he needed the procedure -- a torn ACL because of a cut during a running drill in practice -- are still entrenched in his mind like it just happened hours ago.

Ballard's second season came to an end days prior to Week 2 because of the knee injury.

"You never forget anything like that," Ballard said. "It's like a car crash. You remember the last few seconds. I remember everything. I've made the cut a million times. It was one of those things."

Ballard has put in the time to rehabilitate his knee, and he passed his physical Wednesday morning clearing him to take part in training camp. He's been cleared, but the Colts will likely keep a close eye on him during the first part of camp at least.

Ballard showed that his knee has healed when he was sprinting around the base paths during teammate Robert Mathis' charity softball game in late June. But a softball field is way different than a 300-pound defensive lineman flying at you.

One of the biggest issues with Ballard now will be overcoming the mental obstacle of returning to the field, cutting hard on his knee, getting hit in his knee and regaining the speed that allowed him to be the Colts' leading rusher in 2012.

"I'm just trying to keep my mind right," Ballard said. "It was tough physically, but physical pain goes away. You have to nurse yourself to get over any mental hurdle you have. I'm just keeping my confidence."

Ballard, who rushed for 814 yards as a rookie in 2012, is about to join a crowded backfield that also features Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson. All three will get snaps, but coach Chuck Pagano said during the offseason that they want a "work horse" in the backfield.

"All of us have carried the rock, been the primary back in big games," Ballard said. "It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out. I feel like all of us can contribute and make plays."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said he would not have selected University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam if he was still coaching.

Sam, who is gay, was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the May draft.

"I wouldn't have taken him," Dungy told the Tampa Tribune. "Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it. It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said on the draft's final day that Indianapolis considered selecting Sam with one of their picks.

Sam's situation may end up being a distraction inside the locker room and for the franchise, but the Rams deserve credit for being willing to select him.

Coach Chuck Pagano and punter Pat McAfee were two of the many Colts who earlier this year said they would have no problem with Sam's orientation inside their locker room.

"I love the environment we've created, the culture we've created," Pagano said earlier this year. "I think we have an outstanding locker room. The Colts never have and never will discriminate based on sexual orientation. We look at the player. We'll evaluate him just like we evaluate everybody else. If he can help our team and help us win football games, he'll be more than welcome."
Examining the Indianapolis Colts' roster:

This is the safest position on the roster for the Colts. They plan to always keep a veteran backup if Luck ever goes down with an injury.


The Colts will have a solid running combination if -- and we’re saying if until proven wrong -- Richardson can bounce back from a poor first season in Indianapolis and Bradshaw and Ballard can stay injury-free. Havili, a fullback, gets the edge over Mario Harvey, who switched from linebacker to fullback during offseason workouts.


The final receiver spot will come down to Rogers and Griff Whalen. If the Colts want to play it safe, Whalen is the guy because he’s familiar with Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but Rogers has the size and speed the team likes. There’s also the possibility of the Colts keeping six receivers.


Allen, who missed all but one game in 2013, and Fleener have the potential to be one of the top tight end duos in the league. Doyle and Saunders are both familiar with the system after backing up Fleener in Allen’s absence last season.


There are plenty of questions surrounding the offensive line outside of tackles Castonzo and Cherilus. The one thing general manager Ryan Grigson wanted with this group is depth. The Colts have plenty of it.


Like the offensive line, the Colts want depth on the defensive line so they can constantly rotate in players, so come the fourth quarter they still have fresh legs to get after the opponent. Jones was the key offseason acquisition for the Colts. Chapman showed flashes last season; now he needs to do it every snap that he’s on the field.


All eyes will be on outside linebacker as the Colts look to find a replacement for Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games of the season. Werner gets the first crack at starting in Mathis’ spot. McNary is a player for whom Grigson has high expectations. It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on how he uses McNary.


It’s anybody’s guess how the secondary will perform. It’s anybody’s guess who will start alongside Landry at safety. It looked like it would be Howell for most of the offseason, but the Colts signed the veteran Adams in June. Can Toler finally remain healthy? Can Davis live up to his contract? So many questions with no answers at the moment.


This only changes if an injury occurs.

Camp preview: Indianapolis Colts

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation’s Mike Wells examines the three biggest issues facing the Indianapolis Colts heading into training camp.

Khaled Holmes: Colts general manager Ryan Grigson took a big gamble in the offseason by not heavily pursuing a veteran center. He signed Phil Costa, who was beaten out by a rookie in Dallas, only to have the veteran suddenly retire before ever playing a snap for the Colts. Even with Costa on the roster, the plan all along for the Colts was for Holmes to start. This is the same Khaled Holmes who managed to play a total of 12 snaps as a rookie, despite poor play by Samson Satele at the position last season. Grigson has constantly defended Holmes ever since, pointing out that the second-year player would be his starter. The goal is for Holmes to team with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck for years to come. Holmes needs to have good chemistry with Luck and control the line of the scrimmage, all while making sure the rest of the offensive linemen know the correct calls. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a player who is basically a rookie, especially when you think about the expectations the Colts have this season.

Safety: Similar to his decision at center, Grigson didn’t look far outside the organization to address a position of need. Veteran Antoine Bethea left Indianapolis to sign with San Francisco, and it appeared Delano Howell was the frontrunner to start alongside LaRon Landry at safety. Things seem to change in the middle of June, when the Colts signed veteran Mike Adams. Adams has started 73 games in his 10-year NFL career, but even though he says he feels like he’s 26 years old, he’s actually 33. Howell has started only four games in his career. And speaking of Landry, he didn’t exactly ease anybody’s mind about whether he’ll be able to rebound from a disappointing first season with the Colts. He didn’t attend any of the voluntary offseason workouts, then showed up at the mandatory minicamp with what was described as a soft-tissue injury. While the offseason workouts are voluntary, it would have helped Landry if he had at least attended a few of the sessions. Grigson and Colts coach Chuck Pagano didn’t criticize Landry for not showing up, but they did point out their preference of wishing he was in attendance. If anything it would have showed that Landry cared about working on chemistry with the rest of his defensive teammates. There are too many questions surrounding the safety position on a defense that was way too inconsistent last season.

Trent Richardson: The excuses are no longer available for Richardson in the Colts organization. The ready-made line of, “Richardson is still learning the offensive system,” is in the trash on the curb. Richardson, who the Colts acquired from Cleveland just days before Week 3 last season, has had an entire offseason to learn the playbook. Now he can use his natural instincts when he’s on the field, instead of constantly trying to remember the plays. The Colts clearly are trailing the Browns in the who-got-the-better-of-the-trade race. Cleveland turned the No. 26 pick into hotshot quarterback Johnny Manziel after using it to trade up to No. 22. The Colts? All Richardson gave them was 2.9 yards a carry and a demotion to the second unit last season. Richardson and the Colts have to hope this season is different. The pressure is on Richardson, because Grigson said earlier this year he would make the trade again if put in the same position. Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, had offseason shoulder surgery and will head into training camp as the starter, with Ahmad Bradshaw ready to take some snaps from him if he struggles.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The news of the Indianapolis Colts releasing receiver LaVon Brazill on Friday shouldn’t be surprising.

That was expected.

The only way Brazill had a chance of sticking with the Colts at the conclusion of his suspension, which will be at least a year, was if team officials were compassionate -- the same way they are with owner Jim Irsay -- and realized the receiver has a problem with substance abuse.

That evidently is not the case.

It’s easy to question the whole double-standard thing when talking about Brazill and Irsay because both parties have significant issues they need to address.

The difference between the two, though, is that Irsay is a businessman who helps the franchise. Brazill is a replaceable receiver. The Colts proved that when they signed a receiver -- Aaron Burks -- to take his spot on the roster Friday.

Don’t worry -- Irsay will get his punishment, too, once commissioner Roger Goodell figures out the best discipline for the owner.

As far as Brazill goes, he put himself in the position of not only losing out on the $570,000 he was scheduled to make during the 2014 season, but also being without a team to play on.

He knew that he could be randomly tested up to 10 times a month because he was in Stage 2 of the program following his first suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

He still failed to avoid the temptation.

Now Brazill’s money and roster spot, which wasn’t guaranteed anyway, are gone.

I talked to Da’Rick Rogers on the final day of the Colts’ mandatory minicamp last month and he said he was looking forward to the competition for one of the final receiver spots on the roster.

“I embrace the challenge,” Rogers told me.

You know what?

Rogers and Griff Whalen no longer have to worry about Brazill pushing them in the competition.
Marlin JacksonAlbert Dickson/Sporting News/Getty Images
Score: Colts 38, Patriots 34

Date: Jan. 21, 2007. Site: RCA Dome

In a closer vote than it should have been, Indianapolis Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson's interception against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game -- a play that helped seal an 18-point comeback and a spot in the Super Bowl -- was voted as the team's most memorable play.


Which is the most memorable play in Colts' history?


Discuss (Total votes: 30,682)

I went into the voting earlier this week thinking Jackson's interception would be the clear winner.

I was wrong. So were a number of other people, too.

That play received 40 percent of the more than 30,000 votes, barely edging out quarterback Peyton Manning's then-record breaking 49th touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers in 2004. Manning's touchdown pass received 38 percent of the votes.

The Colts' 28-point comeback against Kansas City in the playoffs last season was a distant third in the voting (22 percent).

Manning's record-setting touchdown passing obviously is huge because it's a milestone during what will end up being a Hall-of-Fame career. But Jackson's interception was substantial for the franchise.

The Colts had been eliminated by the Patriots the previous two times they faced each other in the playoffs. Indianapolis finally got New England, the AFC power squad, off its back in a fashion that didn't seem possible when the Colts walked into the locker room down 15 points at halftime.

So after four consecutive playoff appearances that ended short of a Super Bowl appearance, Manning and the Colts celebrated clinching a Super Bowl berth in front of their fans.

"[The Patriots] were a nemesis of ours for years," Jackson said. "We beat them to get over the hump. And the fashion we were able to come back after being down by 18 points and still believing because of a great simple speech by coach Tony Dungy."

The Colts went on to beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in the Super Bowl.

An interception that helped the franchise eventually win a Super Bowl or a touchdown pass that set a single-season record?

Seems like an easy choice to make even if the voting didn't appear that way.

Colts' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
Quarterback Andrew Luck isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He’ll remain in an Indianapolis Colts uniform for the foreseeable future.

 Owner Jim Irsay will make sure of that.

The Colts look at Luck in the same way they looked at Peyton Manning (minus having to part ways with him at some point). They want to keep Luck under center and have him lead the Colts to the Super Bowl multiple times.

If the first two years are in any indication, the Colts are in a good position to accomplish those things with Luck. The only real question -- one that has been burning since Luck’s rookie year -- is whether he will be as durable as Manning because of poor offensive line play?

Luck has been sacked so many times (73) during the first two years of his career that you’re left wondering at times how he has yet to miss any snaps in a game because of an injury. He has shaken off countless hits to lead the Colts to 22 regular-season victories and three playoff games in just two seasons.

 Still, the Colts are flirting with danger when it comes to their franchise player because of poor pass protection.

The Colts are set at tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus on the left and right side, respectively.

The interior part of the line has remained poor, however.

Luck has a new center in Khaled Holmes, who played only 12 snaps last season. Hugh Thornton is the frontrunner to retain one of the guard spots, while the other guard position is uncertain. Rookie Jack Mewhort could end up starting at guard. If so, Luck and the interior part of the offensive line will grow together. Luck, in just his third season, is the elder statesmen of the group. Holmes and Thornton are both in their second season, and Mewhort has yet to play an NFL snap.
Peyton ManningAP Photo/Michael Conroy
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 This is the last of three nominations for the most memorable plays in Indianapolis Colts history dating to when they moved to Indianapolis in 1984. The first nomination was second-year quarterback Andrew Luck leading the Colts from 28 points down in the second half to beat Kansas City in the AFC playoffs last season. The second was cornerback Marlin Jackson's interception of New England quarterback Tom Brady with 18 seconds left to seal the Colts' 18-point comeback in the AFC Championship Game in January 2007.

Score: Colts 34, Chargers 31
Date: Dec. 26, 2004. Site: RCA Dome


Which is the most memorable play in Colts' history?


Discuss (Total votes: 30,682)

It didn't seem like Peyton Manning would break Dan Marino's season touchdown passing record on this day. For 59 minutes you thought Manning would have to wait until the season finale against the Denver Broncos to pass the record.

Manning was untouchable by defenders all season leading up to the Week 16 game against San Diego.

But the Chargers sacked him four times, forced two fumbles and intercepted him once.

With the game on the line, though, Manning did what he does best: Be clutch.

Manning shook off the play call that came in through his headset and decided to make a backyard play call to receiver Brandon Stokley.

Manning told Stokley to run a post route.

Lined up in the slot, Stokley threw the defense off balance by faking a fade to the corner and cutting back inside on the post to catch the 21-yard touchdown pass from Manning. Chargers safety Terrence Kiel was faked out so badly by Stokley looking as though he was going to run the corner route that he fell in the end zone.

"You think the NFL is real complex," Manning told reporters after the game. "But it turns into street ball real quick."

The touchdown pass was the 49th of the season thrown by Manning, breaking the record set by Marino in 1984.

"It says a lot about Peyton that here we are, the game on the line, and he calls a play we've never run before," Stokley told reporters. "He calls a post. I just didn't want it to hit me in the face."

Manning spent the weeks leading up to that game talking about how playoff seeding was more important than passing Marino's record. The Colts beat the Chargers in overtime.

"At the time I threw it, there wasn't a lot of emotion for me, because if we don't get the 2-point conversion, this is a down locker room right now," Manning said after the game. "The fact that it happened, we won the game ... . It sure made for an exciting day."

Marlin JacksonAlbert Dickson/Sporting News/Getty Images
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This is the second of three nominations for the most memorable plays in Indianapolis Colts history dating back to when they moved from Baltimore in 1984. The first nomination was second-year quarterback Andrew Luck leading the Colts from 28 points down in the second half to beat Kansas City in the AFC playoffs last season. The final play is Peyton Manning's 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley for Manning's 49th TD of the season, which broke Dan Marino's single-season TD record in 2004.

Score: Colts 38, Patriots 34
Date: Jan. 21, 2007 Site: RCA Dome.

The Colts were down 21-6 at halftime when coach Tony Dungy gave his team a speech that even had his players wondering what he was talking about.


Which is the most memorable play in Colts' history?


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Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, who sealed the 18-point come-from-behind victory for Indianapolis with an interception with 18 seconds left in the game, gives a breakdown of what happened on that late-January day in 2007.

“The speech Coach Dungy gave was quite simple and for us it quite shocking at the same time when he said it. He came in with his cool, calm demeanor. Most coaches wouldn’t be cool and calm at that point in the game. He said it almost jokingly. He goes, ‘You know we got them right where we want them.' He said, 'We’re going to come out after halftime we’re going to go down and score, we’re going to stop them, we’re going to score again and we’ll be right back in the game.’ We were like, ‘We got them what?’ That’s exactly what happened. I think it was his demeanor not as much as what he said, but the way he came across that there was no doubt in his mind that we were going to win the game. We fed off his interview at halftime.

"As far as the play goes, I remember leading up to that play there was a sense that they were coming out in a certain formation. It was trips to my side. Troy Brown was in the slot and a receiver to the outside. I can’t remember the tight end as the third guy. They were pretty much running the same play two to three times in a row, trying to hit the tight end down the seam. It was obvious the first two times when they were dumping the ball down to the back out of the backfield.

"On the actual play, I saw the formation was the same thing so I backed up deeper so I didn’t have to take a deep drop and actually have it be a wasted step making my break on the ball because I was anticipating he was going to go to the tight end in the seam. I knew because of my film study that [Tom] Brady always in those types of situations would throw blindly in the opposite direction and that’s exactly what he did. Snapped the ball, looked opposite of me so I knew once he turned back my way I had already broke on the tight end, which allowed me to get a great jump to make the play and get the interception.

"For me it was a moment of disbelief, like did that really just happen? Did I really just make that play? We were now going to the Super Bowl. It was even sweeter because it was a victory over the New England Patriots. That made it even more special because of the history of the organization leading up to that game. They were a nemesis of ours for years. We beat them to get over the hump. And the fashion we were able to come back after being down by 18 points and still believing because of a great simple speech by coach Tony Dungy.”
T.Y. HiltonBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable plays in Colts' history dating back to when they moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore in 1984. In the next two days we'll feature: Peyton Manning's 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley for Manning's 49th TD of the season, which broke Dan Marino's single-season TD record in 2004, and cornerback Marlin Jackson's interception of New England quarterback Tom Brady to seal the Colts' 18-point comeback in the AFC Championship Game in January 2007.

Score: Colts 45, Chiefs 44
Date: January 4, 2014 Site: Lucas Oil Stadium

Indianapolis Colts second-year quarterback Andrew Luck was playing in his first home playoff game, against a team he had beaten two weeks earlier.


Which is the most memorable play in Colts' history?


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But the Colts didn't know what hit them.

Seven-point deficit. Ten-point deficit. Seventeen-point deficit. Twenty-one point deficit. The deficit grew as large as 28 points, and many of the Colts fans at sold-out Lucas Oil Stadium sat stone-faced, not believing what they were watching on the field.

Luck wasn't helping the situation. He looked like a rookie quarterback taking his first snaps. His third interception of the game gave the Chiefs a short field to work with, which they used to increase their lead to 38-10 just 81 seconds into the second half.

“[Luck] kept telling us, even at 38-10, 'We're going to win this game,'" offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo said.

Luck wasn't worried about the double-digit deficit. He proved six prior times in his young career that he could lead the Colts back from a double-digit deficit.

Luck -- pun intended -- was on the Colts' side. Trailing 41-31 early in the fourth quarter, Colts running back Donald Brown fumbled a handoff and the ball bounced off of center Samson Satele's helmet. But Luck picked up the ball and ran in from 5 yards out to cut Kansas City's lead to 41-38.

Indianapolis completed the improbable comeback when Luck stepped up in the pocket and found receiver T.Y. Hilton streaking downfield for a 64-yard touchdown with less than five minutes left in the game.

The 28-point comeback was the second-largest in NFL playoff history. Long snapper Matt Overton called it an, “Instant ESPN Classic,” after the game.

“[Luck's] not giving you a bunch of bulls--- when he says that stuff,” Castonzo said. “At no point does he not believe we're not going to win. He's led us on a lot of comebacks for a reason. The guy does not freak out.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- So money over marijuana, LaVon Brazill?

That is what Brazill told reporters in training camp in July 2013 after he revealed he was suspended for the first four games of last season for smoking marijuana.

It turns out that was just talk by the Brazill. Now he won’t be making any of the $570,000 he was scheduled to make in 2014 because taking substances not allowed by the NFL is more important.

The NFL suspended Brazill for at least the 2014 season for again violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Don’t be surprised if his two-touchdown performance against New England in the playoffs turns out to be the final time you see Brazill in an Indianapolis Colts uniform.

Brazill’s suspension does make things easier for the Colts coaching staff when it comes to picking the final receiver spots on the roster.

He was expected to be one of the primary options with Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen to compete for possibly up to two receiving spots on the roster depending on how many the Colts decide to keep.

Now Rogers and Whalen have the inside track if the Colts go with six receivers on the roster. The Colts are set with the first four receivers: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is headed into his third season. He has played in three playoff games -- winning one -- and has had two offensive coordinators in his first two seasons.

Luck also has 22 regular-season victories, an arm, mobility and the will the win. That is why ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, with the help of anonymous league insiders Insider, views the Colts’ franchise player as a top-five quarterback in the league.

Luck is ranked higher than fellow quarterbacks like Manning. No, not that Manning, but Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.

The quarterbacks are broken up into four tiers. Luck is in Tier 1 with all future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. He joins Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in that top tier. Impressive company for a third-year player.

Here is what Sando wrote about Luck:

"Luck doesn't have the track record of the other Tier 1 QBs, and there was a clear gap in the voting between him and the top four. But people in the league love him almost unconditionally, and 14 of the 26 voters insisted upon putting him in the top tier (each of the top four received 25 of 26 Tier 1 votes).

The evaluators think Luck has carried a subpar roster to a 22-10 record without much help. They see no limitations. They have zero doubt about his long-term stardom and felt strongly enough to give him 14 first-tier votes even while acknowledging he is below the Big Four at this early stage. Every other QB fell into the tier in which he received the most votes, and so shall Luck, even if his Tier 1 designation feels a bit premature."

The Colts' offensive line was atrocious Luck’s rookie season and only a little better last season. Luck didn’t have a reliable receiver to turn to outside of T.Y. Hilton after Reggie Wayne went down with a torn ACL in Week 7 last season. The running game? That was a problem, too.
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts guard Hugh Thornton doesn’t prefer to use the word “scared” when talking about his initial reaction when then-starter Donald Thomas was taken off the field in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins last season and Thornton was told he would be manning the position for the rest of the season.

Thornton says he was “hesitant” and “timid” in his rookie season. It didn’t take him long to realize he was no longer at the University of Illinois.

[+] EnlargeThornton
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesHugh Thornton, a third-round pick in 2013, was thrown into the lineup as a rookie and fared reasonably well.
“We were playing against top athletes every week [last season],” said Thornton, the Colts' locker room DJ. “Definitely going out there for the first time, there was a lot of nerves. I was playing not to get beat rather than playing to succeed. As the games went on, I realized I could play with these guys physically.”

Inconsistent is a good way to describe Thornton’s rookie season. There were times when he looked completely overwhelmed and other times when you could see his potential.

That’s expected when you consider that Thornton, the Colts’ third-round pick in 2013, wasn’t expected to play as a rookie because Thomas and Mike McGlynn were set at guard.

“Last season taught me how to be a professional, learning how to be accountable for your job,” Thornton said. “It helped me be a better teammate. It definitely humbled me a lot as far as coming out of college and through the draft and everything, you’re considered as the best of your group. Now you come to the NFL and you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and there’s some humility in that.”

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had positive thoughts about Thornton’s rookie season.

“We were really pleased,” Grigson said. “You talk about a guy who can match up with anybody physically. He matched with [San Francisco’s] Justin Smith in that first game. He had his snags, but heck, for a guy who is 336 [pounds], the way he moves around, he looks great out there.”

The Colts will likely have two new starters – at guard and center – on the interior part of the offensive line this season, but Thornton, even though he doesn’t see it that way, is in the position to maintain his starting spot. Thornton, who said nothing is a given, spent the offseason at right guard with the first unit. He could end up being the veteran member of the interior part of the offensive line if rookie Jack Mewhort and second-year player Khaled Holmes start at guard and center, respectively.

“It’s all about competence, his overall knowledge of what he’s doing,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “He’s done a great job of really spending time just watching the film and working on communicating with the guys that are around him and beside him and just gaining a better understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively. But he’s a bear now. He’s big and strong and he’s another smart guy that we have on our offense.”

Projecting Colts starters

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
INDIANAPOLIS -- A lot can happen for the Indianapolis Colts between now and Week 1 against the Denver Broncos. Injured players become completely healthy. Healthy players get injured. Projected starters get beat out by a teammate.

But that hasn't stopped fans from asking about what the Colts' depth chart will look like this season. It's July and players, coaches and front office officials are taking one last vacation before reporting for the start of training camp in Anderson, Indiana, on July 23. So for the next two days I'll take a shot at who I think the starters will be.

We'll start with the offense today. We'll do the defense on Tuesday.

Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck

Comment: This is self-explanatory. Go ahead and keep Luck's name there as long as he's healthy.

Running back: Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Stanley Havili

Comment: As I mentioned last week when I did position battles, Richardson will be given the first shot at starting because of his talent and the last thing the Colts want to show is that their trade for him last September was a failure.

Receiver: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks

Comments: The pressure isn't on Wayne to be the Reggie Wayne of a few years ago because he has help with Hilton and Nicks at the position, but Wayne is out to prove that he can still produce at the age 35 and after tearing his ACL.

Tight end: Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen

Comment: Allen is a better all-around tight end than Fleener, but he missed all but one game last season because of a hip injury.

Offensive line: (LT) Anthony Castonzo, (LG) Jack Mewhort, (C) Khaled Holmes, (RG) Hugh Thornton, (RT) Gosder Cherilus

Comment: The only position really up in the air at the moment is left guard. Mewhort currently has the edge because Donald Thomas didn't take part in offseason workouts and he moved ahead of Lance Louis during organized team activities (OTAs).