Jan 6, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) runs the offense huddle against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at M

Colts Training Camp Preview: The Offense

The Colts will be reporting to training camp very soon. This week, we’ll cover what the team is looking like before the players report to Anderson.

In 2012, the Colts had the 10th best offense in terms of yards per game. The team was 18th in scoring, averaging 22.3 points per game. The team was very good on third down, converting 42.8 percent of the time.

The 2012 Colts massively overachieved, especially on offense. They won an improbable number of close games (seven by less than a touchdown). Most positions have been set for the 2013 team, but we’ll take a look at each spot on the roster.

Quarterback

Andrew Luck had an extraordinary rookie season and was robbed of offensive rookie of the year by the flashier player, RGIII. He should be primed to make a big leap in his sophomore season in the NFL, even with a new offensive coordinator (who really isn’t that new to Luck). Many QBs fail to develop due to annual changes in the coaching staff and being forced to learn a new system every year.

Pep Hamilton, the Colts new offensive coordinator, coached Luck when he was at Stanford. He favored a West Coast offense that relied heavily on the run and shorter, high percentage passes. Its almost the complete opposite of Bruce Arians’ “chuck it deep, and again, and again” offense (that might be an oversimplification).

Luck needs to cut back on the turnovers (18 INTs in 2012) and improve his completion percentage (54.1 percent).  Hamilton has said he won’t abandon that vertical passing game, but the integration of his system should improve both of those numbers for Luck. Quicker throws and a greater emphasis on the run game will lead to fewer QB hits.

Matt Hasselbeck won’t be competing for the starting spot. What he brings is 15 years of experience to help mentor Luck (Hasselbeck did lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl). He will also be a decent stopgap in the event that Luck gets injured and has to sit out a game or two. His experience will be very valuable when it comes to planning and in-game adjustments.

Running Back 

Donald Brown and Vick Ballard did an admirable job last season behind what can only be described as a horrible offensive line. Taking out Luck’s running stats, the Colts rushed for 1,416 yards. The Colts lacked a feature back last season, but by the middle of the year it was clear that Ballard was the better back.

Adding Ahmad Bradshaw gives the Colts a veteran in the back field. He’s entering his seventh season in the league but has only topped 1,000 yards rushing twice in career (once being the 2012 season). He averaged 4.5 yards a carry last season and was rated as one of the most successful backs per attempt. He will compete with Ballard for the starting spot. The only issue with Bradshaw will be his health.

The team will probably carry four running backs, like they did last season, which means there might not be a spot for Brown. If he comes back from his knee injury at full strength, he will fight for carries. Bradshaw and Ballard will be a nice one-two punch, along with rookie Kerwynn Williams or Delone Carter filling in another spot or two. Williams should at least find a roster spot as a return man. Carter will likely be used exclusively in short yardage situations.

Wide Receiver

The Colts let Donnie Avery walk after his one year contract was up. The team upgraded the position by signing Darrius Heyward-Bey. While Heyward-Bey hasn’t exactly been the most productive receiver in the league, a lot of that stems from the quality of quarterback play in Oakland. He’ll be used to stretch the field as a deep threat and will more than likely be the second string receiver. He’ll also be a great target in the red zone (he’s 6-2 and perfect for jump balls).

Reggie Wayne is of course back, and will more than likely be Luck’s security blanket once again. He led the team in receptions with 106 and it wasn’t even close, the next closest player was Avery with 60 catches (and 106 targets). Wayne was an extremely reliable receiver and his heroics against the Packers (and other opponents) is hard to forget.

TY Hilton was only behind Wayne in terms of yardage and led the team in touchdown receptions with seven. He is a prototypical slot receiver. He was the only wideout to receive a positive DVOA last season. He won’t press for a starting spot, but his development and abilities will be crucial for the offenses down field success. He had one of the best rookie seasons as a receiver in years.

The top three spots are set, and the Colts will look to use a two tight end set frequently. They will probably carry four to five receivers on the team, LeVon Brazill will probably eat up that fourth spot (despite his four game suspension for substance abuse). Nathan Palmer and Griff Whalen will have a shot to make the final roster. Whalen has chemistry with Luck leftover from their time at Stanford, but a foot injury landed him on IR last season. Palmer didn’t make the most of his chances on the field last year, but will get a shot while Brazill is suspended.

Tight End

The Colts made a big statement in last year’s draft by taking tight ends in the second and third round, signaling their commitment to the offense and Luck’s development. Coby Fleener was expected to gel with Luck right away since they were teammates at Stanford, but that didn’t quite happen. Dwayne Allen was a breakout player last year and really made the most of his chances on the field.

Fleener is a player that the Colts really need (and want) to develop into a star. He has the physical tools and is the most likely player to have a breakout second season (behind Luck that is). Steady improvement from Allen will give the Colts a 1-2 punch at tight end much like the Patriots have had the past few seasons.

The Colts seventh round pick, Justice Cunningham is exceptional at blocking and will feature in the Colts heavy packages. He has very good hands, but is limited in the passing game due to speed and route running ability. Weslye Saunders filled the roll of blocking TE last season but with an eight game suspension for PEDs looming, it is unlikely that he’ll even make the team. Its doubtful that the Colts would head into the season with more than three tight ends on the 53-man roster.

Offensive Line

Luck was hit 83 times last season, knocked down 122, and sacked 40 times (fourth highest in the league). That can’t happen again. The Colts know this, and have taken steps to improve the offensive line. Gosder Cherilus was brought in to play right tackle. He isn’t an outstanding run blocker, but is very good as a pass blocker. He’s getting $35 million over five years, so he better have a productive season.

The Colts still have Anthony Castonzo to play left tackle and Ben Ijalana, coming back from injury, will get a chance to play for a back up position (it is unlikely that he’ll unseat Castonzo or Cherilus, especially with the money Cherilus being paid). The tackle position appears to be set, and a few players will compete for the depth chart.

Offensive guard Donald Thomas was brought in as well (for $14 million over four years). He will vastly improve the interior, which was horrific last season. The big problem was that there was no cohesion at the middle of the line. Players were continually hurt and even when healthy, weren’t all that effective. The Colts spent two draft picks on interior linemen, Khaled Holmes (center) and Hugh Thornton (guard). Thornton will go up against Mike McGlynn for the right guard position.

Holmes will challenge Samson Satele for the center position. Satele was very disappointing last season, and failed horribly in pass protection. Holmes has a bit of a history of injuries, but was a three year starter and captain his senior season at USC.

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