Colts camp preview: Different year, same explosive Colts offense
Editor's note: These camp previews are up to date as of the start of preseason games. For the latest changes since then, check our updated rankings, projections and profiles.
The big news this offseason in Colts Land was that there was no news. Coach Tony Dungy held a press conference in late January to announce that he would be returning to Indianapolis for at least one more season, ending speculation that his coaching days were through. With Dungy returning, we should expect the same old Colts offensive attack that we've grown to love and respect. Peyton Manning will lead a high-powered offense, throwing the ball to Reggie Wayne and a gaggle of able-handed receivers, including tight end Dallas Clark, the team's newly named "franchise player." Nine different players caught touchdown passes in 2007, and you should expect more spreading of the wealth through the air, while Joseph Addai, coming off another 1000-yard season, ably handles the rushing duties.
Injuries could well tell the tale of 2008. Marvin Harrison is recovering from knee surgery, but it appears the team is confident that he will be healthy enough to make it through one more year, since they didn't make any significant additions to the wide receiver corps in the offseason. On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts will need Dwight Freeney (left foot) and Bob Sanders (right shoulder) to provide the Pro Bowl-level skills that helped Indianapolis surrender the fewest points in the NFL last season. However, both players could miss portions of the preseason. Of course, Sanders has been on the PUP list each of the last two years and not missed a beat once the games started counting.
In the end, it all revolves around Peyton Manning. Even with a piecemeal offensive line and no-name receiving options that included names like Devin Aromashodu, he led this team into the NFL playoffs, scoring fantasy points at a level eclipsed only by Tom Brady and the Patriots. If the offensive line can stay healthy and play together as a unit, it's possible no team in the NFL will approach the Colts' scoring output this season.
The Colts made a few changes this offseason. It's just a matter of getting a few key players healthy.
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Fitting in: The Colts have Dallas Clark at tight end but have lost Ben Utecht to free agency, and this is an offense that loves to use two-tight end sets. While from a fantasy standpoint, there might not be a lot of value in Jacob Tamme, the fourth-round draft pick who might be asked to fill Utecht's shoes, his ability to learn the ins and outs of offensive coordinator Tom Moore's schemes may be essential to the entire Colts' offense operating on all cylinders.
On the line: Peyton Manning got sacked 21 times last season, the most since 2002. Not so coincidentally, he had his worst passer rating since that season as well. Injuries were certainly a factor, as at one point last season, Tony Dungy had defensive lineman practicing on offense due to the lack of available bodies. Jeff Saturday anchors this unit, which includes Tony Ugoh and Charlie Johnson, and the veteran center should be able to help mentor young Mike Pollak and groom him to eventually take his spot on the line.
On the mend: All eyes will be on Marvin Harrison. Assuming that legal issues stemming from an incident in Philadelphia don't end up coming into play, the veteran receiver still must prove that the knee injury that kept him out for most of last season isn't going to cause the same amount of missed time in 2008. We want to see Harrison running routes and making cuts in the preseason because we need to see what we have and how he fits in now with the first-string offense.
At the first "if this were a regular season game, he'd have been in there" comment from Tony Dungy, you'll be tempted to write off Harrison. But the fact of the matter is, if he's truly good to go, everything else on this offense should fall right into place.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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