INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis is going retro.
After making a nine-game improvement and reaching the playoffs with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in charge, new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has installed a power-running game with double-tight end formations, and coach Chuck Pagano got the pieces he wanted to make Indianapolis’ 3-4 defense look more like the defense he had in Baltimore.
The Ravens won last year’s Super Bowl this way, and, well, Pagano figures he can replicate that success in Indianapolis this year.
With nearly three dozen new faces at training camp, the message seemed to resonate.
There’s nobody in there that’s relaxing, Pagano said. I think everybody, because of the acquisitions, because of the free agents, because of the draft, those types of things, our roster is in a much better place than it was at any time last year.
What else has changed in Indianapolis? Here’s five things to know about the Colts:
After more than a decade of playing in the shadows of the Colts’ high-powered offense, Indianapolis’ defense is playing with the kind of swagger normally reserved for the best in the NFL.
Don’t believe it?
Ask Reggie Wayne, who was mocked by Cory Redding and Robert Mathis when a practice catch was ruled out of bounds. Ask Anthony Castonzo, the victim of one of Mathis’ nasty spin moves in practice. Ask the Giants, who went 0 for 4 in the red zone and endured six sacks in the second preseason game. Or ask Cleveland, which had only four first downs and ran only three plays – one of those a punt – in Indianapolis territory before the starters left early in the third quarter.
If first impressions mean anything, this will not be the same old Colts.
Last season, Luck turned in one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.
Yes, he’s playing for his second offensive coordinator in two seasons, but Luck is no ordinary quarterback and this is no ordinary transition.
Hamilton has essentially installed the same offense he and Luck used at Stanford, and the shorter passing game should help Luck reduce the interceptions, improve his completion percentage and lower the number of hits he took a year ago.
Keep an eye on second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton, who emerged as a genuine playmaker at training camp and should play an even larger role in this offense than he did as a rookie.
Indianapolis’ top offseason priority was protecting Luck.
General manager Ryan Grigson spent a lot of money on right tackle Gosder Cherilus and left guard Donald Thomas, who were signed in free agency. Grigson also drafted Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes in April.
Will all these moves will work?
Thornton and Holmes have missed a lot of practice because of sprained right ankles. Cherilus and Thomas have been solid, but Colts quarterbacks were under duress throughout the preseason.
Clearly, as Thomas recently said, the line is a work in progress.
Grigson also wanted to spend the offseason adding depth. In some places, such as the secondary with additions such as Greg Toler and LaRon Landry, the Colts are clearly improved. In other places, not so much.
Indianapolis is still looking for a solid option behind Wayne and Hilton at receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bey has sometimes struggled to hold onto balls. LaVon Brazill is suspended for the first four games, and Grigson is still making moves to push the other Colts’ receivers.
Indianapolis’ top two tight ends, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, struggled with injuries over the last couple of weeks, too, but should be ready for Sunday’s opener against Oakland.
The Colts are also looking for another pass rusher to help Mathis.
After going 2-14 and finishing with the worst record in the NFL in 2011, the Colts were the beneficiary of one of the league’s easier schedules. This year, the trendy thought is that a tougher schedule will damage Indianapolis’ playoff hopes. Not so fast.
First, these Colts are more experienced and more talented than they were a year ago. Second, they still play in the AFC South where the Titans and Jaguars are playing catch-up and where two-time division champ Houston has never swept Indianapolis. Plus, the Colts will play perhaps the AFC’s weakest division, the West.