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NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
Based on sheer change, the Colts are in the midst of a retooling project on the defensive side of the football.
Thanks to a flurry of offseason free-agent signings, as well as one or two additions through the draft, the Colts could have at least six new starters when the regular season opens.
And the math works because, gone are six former starters -- outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (San Diego), strong safety Tom Zbikowski (Chicago), and cornerback Jerraud Powers (Arizona). Outside linebacker Erik Walden (Green Bay), strong safety LaRon Landry (New York Jets) and cornerback Greg Toler (Arizona) are expected to be their replacements.
With defensive tackle Fili Moala recovering from offseason knee surgery, Ricky Jean Francois (San Francisco) takes over.
Nose tackle Antonio Johnson was not re-signed after last season, which opens the door for either Josh Chapman (who missed his rookie year with the Colts because of knee surgery) or veteran Aubrayo Franklin (San Diego).
Finally, there could be an opening as well at inside linebacker. Jerrell Freeman, who set a franchise record for tackles in a season in 2012, is safely ensconced at one spot.
But with Pat Angerer recovering from offseason foot surgery, Kavell Conner or Kelvin Sheppard (Buffalo) are battling it out for a starting job.
Second-year defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has the unenviable task of trying to put all the pieces together and turning them into a cohesive unit. Not an easy task, but one in which he is more than ready to undertake.
"It's great. Last year it was a process across the board for all of us. But at the end of the season, things started coming around. Looking forward more than ever this year with the players that we've got, coaches that we have, and just ready to roll," Manusky said.
The goal prior to last season was to turn players who had been drafted to play in a 4-3 defensive scheme into a group that could make an impact in Indianapolis' new hybrid 3-4 package.
"When you have the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, you're trying to plug in the pieces and figure out what they're trying to do," the veteran assistant coach said.
"With last year, coming into the season, we were trying to figure out the players actually, what can they do and what can't they do. Then all of a sudden this year those pieces are a little bit more in place."
With Freeney gone, returning outside linebacker Robert Mathis will flip sides of the defensive line to become the Colts' primary outside pass rusher. Walden will take over Mathis' former role.
Franklin and Chapman, a 2012 fifth-round draft pick who earned All-America honors at Alabama, are the top two options at nose tackle.
Brandon McKinney missed last year with knee issues and was placed on injured reserve last week, which could open up playing time for rookie defensive lineman Montori Hughes.
Outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, Indianapolis' top selection in this year's draft, is currently listed as the top backup to Mathis as the Colts' rush end.
Werner, however, is getting looks at both outside linebacking spots and could end up playing on both sides of the line.
Defensive end Cory Redding, free safety Antoine Bethea, cornerback Vontae Davis, Freeman and Mathis are the five starters from a year ago who return this season.
According to Manusky, he likes what he's seen of his defense through the first week of training camp practices. But there's still much work to do in order to be ready for Indianapolis' Sept. 8 season and home opener against Oakland.
"It's a process across the board just like it was last year. We got a couple of guys through free agency that have helped us out across the board. It's a process," he explained.
"Offensively, usually in training camp, in the beginning, usually the defense wins a majority of the time. Why? Because they're still installing a lot of stuff offensively. We're just doing the process, grinding the stone and we're going to keep on working at it."
Manusky readily admits that he's not much of a stats man. There is only one number that has much meaning.
"The biggest No. 1 thing is we win games. I tell them I don't care how we win a game. It's just that we win games. Defensively, that's what we're looking for," he said.
"Would we like to have the No. 1 defense? Of course. But, stats doesn't really mean anything to me. We won 11 games last year and that's what we're looking to do and expand on that."
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - NOTES, QUOTES
--Indianapolis will have at least two new starters on the offensive line this season, with Donald Thomas taking over at left guard and Gosder Cherilus getting the nod at right offensive tackle. Both were veteran free-agent additions, from New England and Detroit, respectively.
Thomas and Cherilus will team with center Samson Satele, right offensive guard Mike McGlynn and left offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo.
A pair of rookies, center Khaled Holmes and offensive guard Hugh Thornton, will also push for playing time once they return from ankle injuries.
"I'm pleased with where they're at. Again, we got a long ways to go. It's early. We're only one week into camp. But I'm very pleased. The guys that we brought in stepped right in from day one. It was basically a seamless transition because of the type of players they are, the type of people they are. They fit right in the locker room," coach Chuck Pagano said.
"They fit inside that O-line meeting room. So that makes the transition pretty easy for everybody else, coaches and players alike. I'm pleased where they're at collectively as a group. It's a great room. They all get along. They're working extremely hard at their craft. I think with the first line and the depth we have right now, I feel really good where we're at with that group. They're going to do nothing but get better."
--Coach Chuck Pagano on his goals heading into this week's preseason opener with Buffalo:
"It's your opportunity to put your resume out on the field. We want to make a statement, much like we did a year ago in our preseason opener. We want to be physical in all areas: offense, defense and special teams. To me, it all starts up front. It starts in the trenches. It all starts with your offensive and defensive line. They've got to have the same mindset as close to the defensive line as possible. In order to run the football, you're going to have to come off the ball and knock those guys off the line of scrimmage and open up holes. That takes some nastiness, that takes some aggression, that takes a certain amount of physicality to do that. I think we got the right guys to have a more physical offensive line."
--Team owner Jim Irsay recently took a look ahead to the 2013 season during a visit to training camp:
"I made a significant investment. We're going to be six or seven million cash over cap. We really targeted guys that we felt could really help us. That's not always the big-name player that makes the big splash. You don't want weak links. Sometimes you can have a play where 10 players do the right thing and one player doesn't and it looks like the play completely was a disaster when you just had one person break down. I think it's a long season. Depth is important, particularly with the offensive line and some other areas. Obviously, adding some components and as I've said, I look for the defense to take a jump, to become formidable and become something that really starts being a cornerstone of what we're about. We want to be a really physical unit and a consistent unit."
--Quarterback Andrew Luck showed last week that he does have a funny side. Luck, who is usually serious when conducting locker room, post-game or post-practice interviews, showed a different side following Thursday's workout.
He threw a good-natured barb at veteran defensive end Cory Redding, who had jokingly chided the signal-caller for running with the football during practice.
"He's old," Luck chuckled. "No wait. Don't print that. He might beat me up."
--During an 11-on-11 period in last Wednesday's practice, second-year nose tackle Josh Chapman opened a lot of eyes with just one play. The 6-0, 340-pound former Alabama standout shoved the double-team blockers assigned to him into two other offensive linemen, effectively taking out four opposing players.
--Inside linebacker Josh McNary reported to training camp a few days later than everybody else, but he had a good reason.
McNary recently completed his military service, where he was a Lieutenant in the United States Army.
A former West Point standout, he had originally signed as a free agent with Indianapolis in late May but had to wait until he was given the green light from military officials before he could actually trade his Army fatigues for a football uniform.
--Safety Antoine Bethea missed several days of practice late last week in order to be with his fiancee, Asani, as she gave birth to their daughter. Bethea returned to practice in time for Sunday morning's walkthrough.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just don't want repeat offenders. Whatever mistakes that they've made, there's going to be mistakes made. But what you'd like to do is 'OK, come in, watch the tape, clean up the mistakes and then move forward.' So, especially for young guys, it's difficult because we're adding another installation (of the team's offensive and defensive systems). We'll continue to install this week, every day. Every night when we have our meetings, we're installing things. So we're trying to eliminate the repeat offenders. We want to get something cleaned up so we can move on. If we have to come back and fix the same thing over and over and over again -- whether it be a position play or a unit, a coverage, a run, a pass play, a protection, whatever that is -- we're not going to be able to make the strides that we need to make." -- Colts coach Chuck Pagano on cleaning up mental and physical practice errors, which is one of his primary training-camp goals for the coming week.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Tight end Coby Fleener. Through the first week of training camp practices, Fleener appears to be miles ahead of last year's pace. "Probably having the most productive camp, including his time at Stanford, that I've seen," offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "In the time that I've been around Coby, he's a lot more explosive and confident right now and he's making plays that big-time NFL players tend to make."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Running back. Vick Ballard is the presumptive starter and has been practicing like it. Ahmad Bradshaw remains on the Colts' PUP list as he rehabs from foot surgery. Donald Brown has looked good through the first week of training camp practices. Delone Carter is healed from spring shoulder surgery and has been running hard. And then there's rookie Kerwynn Williams, a specialty back who has gotten some work with the first-team offense.
--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (sprained left knee) was hurt during Sunday afternoon's practice. Initial reports indicate that the injury was not serious but there is no timetable on when he will be able to return to workouts.
--FB Dan Moore (right shoulder) is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a sprained AC joint. No indication as to when he will be able to return to practice.
--CB Greg Toler (concussion) has been held out of practice since the middle of last week. Toler will be able to return to practice after he passes the league's concussion protocols.
--OG Hugh Thornton (ankle) was in a walking boot for nearly a week after he was hurt on the final day of rookie camp two weeks ago. Thornton is now out of the walking boot but continues to rehab his injury.
--C Khaled Holmes (ankle) remains in a large walking boot after he was hurt during the first week of training camp. No word on how long he will be sidelined.
--S Sergio Brown (hamstring) was hurt midway through the first week of training camp. He is hopeful of returning to practice at some point this week.
--ILB Mario Harvey (hamstring) continues to rehab and might be able to return to practice later this week. He was injured during the first week of training camp.
--OLB Daniel Adongo (bicep) missed most of his first week of training camp with the team. Adongo tweaked an old injury that he had incurred while playing rugby.
--OG Joe Reitz (stinger) was hurt during practice late last week. Reitz is expected to miss several days of camp but the injury is not thought to be serious.
--ILB Pat Angerer (foot) remains on the Colts' PUP list. But he might have another injury issue to worry about. Angerer was spotted at various times over the past week with ice bags wrapped around his right knee.
--DT Fili Moala (knee) is still on Indianapolis' PUP list. No word on when he will be activated to the team's training camp roster.
--RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) saw a brief bit of work with the first-team offense during Sunday morning's walkthrough. Bradshaw is on the Colts' physically unable to perform list and isn't expected to be activated any time soon. He took a couple of handoffs from quarterback Andrew Luck. "No. Just getting the mental reps," coach Chuck Pagano said about the running back's abbreviated practice appearance.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: P Pat McAfee (tendered at $2.977 million; signed tender April 2).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--WR Austin Collie (not tendered as UFA).
--OT Winston Justice (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Mewelde Moore (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Jamaal Westerman (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed)
--LB Bjoern Werner (1/24): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Hugh Thornton (3/86); $2,735,380/4 yrs, $545,380 SB.
--C/G Khaled Holmes (4/121): $2,580,108/4 yrs, $420,108 SB.
--NT Montori Hughes (5/139): $2,361,972/4 yrs, $201,972.
--S John Boyett (6/192): $2,260,300/4 yrs, $100,300.
--RB Kerwynn Williams (7/230): $2,209,824/4 yrs, $49,824.
--TE Justice Cunningham (7/254): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896.
--CB Darius Butler: UFA; terms 2 yrs, unknown.
--CB Josh Gordy: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OG Jeff Linkenbach: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.
--P Pat McAfee: FFA; $2.977/1 yr.
--DE Fili Moala: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Joe Reitz: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--NT Martin Tevaseu: ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--CB Cassius Vaughn (RFA; tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.
--RB Ahmad Bradshaw: FA Giants; terms unknown.
--T Gosder Cherilus: UFA Colts; $35M/5 yrs, $10M SB/$16.5M guaranteed.
--NT Aubrayo Franklin: UFA Chargers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck: FA Titans; $8M/2 yrs.
--FB Stanley Havili (trade Eagles).
--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: FA Raiders; $3M/1 yr, $1.5M guaranteed.
--DT Ricky Jean Francois: UFA 49ers; $22M/4 yrs, $8.5M guaranteed/$6.5M fully guaranteed.
--S LaRon Landry: UFA Jets; $24M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
--LB Kelvin Sheppard (trade Bills).
--LB Lawrence Sidbury: UFA Falcons; terms unknown.
--G Donald Thomas: UFA Patriots; $14M/4 yrs, $1M SB.
--CB Greg Toler: UFA Cardinals; $14.25M/3 yrs, $5M guaranteed.
--LB Erik Walden: UFA Packers; $16M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--WR Donnie Avery: UFA Chiefs; $8.55M/3 yrs, $2.25M SB/$2.55M guaranteed.
--LB A.J. Edds: Not tendered as RFA/Dolphins; terms unknown.
--LB Moise Fokou: UFA Titans; $2.8M/2 yrs.
--LB Dwight Freeney: UFA Chargers; $8.75M/2 yrs, $3.25M SB/$4/75M guaranteed.
--DE Clifton Geathers (traded Eagles).
--G Tony Hills: Not tendered as UFA/Bills; terms unknown.
--LB Jerry Hughes (traded Bills).
--NT Antonio Johnson: UFA Titans; $850,000/1 yr, $250,000 guaranteed.
--RB/KR Deji Karim: Not tendered as RFA/Texans; terms unknown.
--G Seth Olsen: Not tendered as RFA/Vikings; terms unknown.
--CB Jerraud Powers: UFA Cardinals; $3M SB.
--C A.Q. Shipley (traded Ravens).
--QB Drew Stanton: UFA Cardinals; $8.2M/3 yrs, $3M guaranteed.