Colts 2023 Training Camp
Another season in the books for the Colts – another losing season. Unlike in seasons past however, the Colts technically did improve. They improved their win total by one, which may not seem like a lot and that’s because.. it’s not. The Colts continued their woeful performance on the offensive end, but there was a marked improvement in the most import person on the team, Teddy Bridgewater.
The Colts finally moved on from their encumbent coach citing a lack of improvement, but new coach Matt Schaub is inheriting a pretty talented roster. An anemic offense was once again the recipe for disaster for the Colts. Bridgewater seemed to finally turn the corner, but the running and passing game both struggled as the WRs just didn’t seem to be able to get separation which made teams load the box.
Defensively, the Colts have been incredibly strong given their lack of offensive assistance. The defense returns all of their starters save for CB Trae Waynes whom was dealt right before the GZL draft. However, they added to a strong veteran core with draft picks and free agent acquisitions. The Colts continued in their 4-3 defense with good results. The feeling around Indianapolis is with this defense and Teddy improving, that their D should be enough to at the minimum, keep them in most games.
Coach Sutton was removed, finally. The optimism is high going into the season under a new regime as the Front Office and fans alike feel the roster is fairly talented, noting an elite defense, strong OL, and a new stable of WRs.
What are the overall expectations though? We will answer that question at the end of the article. The franchise has to quite frankly, win games and get to the playoffs soon. They went into last season on a positive note and wanted to see that continued success and progression. Fortunately, they did improve the record by one win and were close in many other games, but the time for morale boosting wins is over.
The Indianapolis Colts, again, came into the off-season with a ton of salary cap space available. Much like in years past, they didn’t target multiple free agents, but on signing one stud free agent to fill a big need. They did just that and also was able to add some veteran depth to their roster, as well. The moves were sort of under the radar, with the biggest FA signing coming after the draft, but the Front Office is incredibly optimistic.
In years past, the Colts were known to be very aggressive in Free Agency and made some high profile offers. Offers that brought them incumbent starters like Zach Ertz and like Luke Joeckel, but didn’t necessarily translate into wins like the team had hoped. The high priced SS Mark Barron is off the roster as is the high priced Offensive Tackle Luke Joeckel which allowed the Colts to be fairly aggressive. The offensive line, which was a problem, seemingly progressed last season and they addressed the OT position with their first round draft choice.
The first priority in Free Agency was to bring in some immediate starting caliber players and instant impact players, while not over spending. The Colts new they had an opportunity to upgrade Strong Safety so they went aggressively. They pursued and ultimately landed stud Strong Safety Bernie Freeman. Freeman is very tall for a safety, very fast, and has a proven track record of success. He should start immediately and be a contributor from day one.
There weren’t any major, major needs on the Colts’ roster for the first time in forever. However, the Colts wanted to be more explosive in the passing game. So, they went out after some Wide Receivers via trade and Free Agency. These moves ultimately landed them to coveted guys in Veteran Wide Receiver Terrance Williams. Williams is another tall, fast playmaker that will make Bridgewater’s life a bit easier. The biggest addition was the signing of Wide Receiver Anthony Perez. Perez has the physical tools to be one of the best WRs in the GZL and they are going to lean on him heavily to improve this passing game.
Those were the biggest names this off-season that garnered a lot of attention amongst local media and national media, but those were not the only three players the Colts brought in that excite the coaching staff and front office personnel. The Colts also added the services of Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh in free agency. The Colts are intrigued by his physical attributes and size and he’ll immediately create competition and depth. The Colts were also able to acquire, via trade one of the most prolific and talented HBs in the GZL in Jeremy Hill. Hill has been amongst the most productive HBs in the GZL for quite a time now and should be a big time improvement.
The Colts also, under the radar, signed stud defensive tackle Dontari Poe to a one year contract. Poe is one of the most physically imposing and dominating Defensive Tackles the GZL has ever seen and they’re thrilled to bring him on board. Now, the Colts have a three headed monster at Defensive Tackle and hope that’ll boost their overall defense and depth.
This draft was an easier one then in years past. The draft board pretty much indicated where they were going to go. Rumors heading into the draft had the Colts infatuated with Halfback Joe Mixon. The reality of the situation is the front office personnel, mainly GM Jason Arnold did indeed love Mixon, but was very content with OT Garrett Bolles and had him ranked as one of the best 4-5 players in the draft.
1.06 – DE Garrett Bolles, Utah
2.04 – CB Teez Tabor, Florida
2.23 – DT/De Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
3.2 – OLB Tyus Bowser, Houston
3.6 – DE DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
4.6 – FS Terrance Jackson, Boston College
5.6 – FB Hector Castelo, Kansas
6.6 – OT Owen Klein, Air Force
6.28 – TE Jackson Buchanan, Texas A&M
Conclusion: GM Jason Arnold is incredibly pleased and excited with this draft as a whole. The Colts view Garrett Bolles as a sure fire, immediate starter and big time contributor at the Right Tackle position. He has everything you look for, toughness, athleticism, technique. The Colts, having a pretty strong secondary then nabbed CB Teez Tabor. The Colts understand that Tabor has all the talent in the world, but is raw in technique. They’ll be able to play Tabor at either the nickel or dime position and because of their depth in the secondary will be able to bring him along slowly. Make no mistake, they view Tabor as a long-term, big time cornerback. Tyus Bower has been the pleasant surprise of the Colts. He has the athleticism and I.Q. to play immediately and came out of the draft with a 83 overall ranking. He’ll be used primarily in the base 4-3, but has a chance to be something special, early in his career. Eddie Vanderdoes is another player the Colts view as a day one starter. With a hole at RE he has been moved to that position and will compete with second year DE Mark Cook for the nod. He’ll be the favorite and Cook will have some catching up to do. The rest of the picks were thought of as more of depth players. DeMarcus Walker has a chance to be a good player for this team, but they will also be bringing him along very slowly and he provides depth.
The offense has been working with the group of wide receivers and tight ends. That has been their primary focus, to get them in sync with the tenured, franchise Quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. Hours and Hours have been spent in film study and practicing together to get this right. The Colts are trying to find unique and creative ways to exploit the speed that this WR corps has. The biggest issue the Colts had on offense last season was their inability to exploit their speed at wide receiver and convert big plays. On top of that, they struggled mightily in the red zone. There are many, many new faces at the Wide Receiver and Tight End position so, getting these players to connect with Teddy Bridgewater has taken many hours of reps and reps.
On the offensive line, the main focus has been in pass protection and keeping Bridgewater up-right. The Indianapolis Colts feel they have a strong overall corps of offensive linemen, but many are adjusting to new positions and some are starting for the first time. Left Tackle Thomas Donahue, after a solid season is being moved to the starting RG position. Eaton Petrovic whom was a second round pick and starting LG last season, is moving to the Left Tackle position and will start there. Second year Offensive Guard Dan Feeney was essentially given a redshirt year last year and is now taking over that starting position. And, obviously, rookie Garret Bolles is taking over the Right Tackle position. The talent is obvious, the athleticism is there, now it’s about cohesion and getting that continuity going.
The Colts defense is primarily in tact and has traditionally been the strongest part of the Colts teams in recent memory. The biggest focus right now for the defense seems to be getting acclimated to the few new faces. Star SS Bernie Freeman joined in the off-season and will be making the “calls” for the secondary. So, getting that trust and learning the playbook has been a focus for him especially. Working in one on one drills for Junior Malloy has been a big focus as he’s moving from the nickel to his more natural outside position, given his 6’2 frame. New faces in Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh are veteran stalwarts with many starters under their belt. They will just need to learn the playbook.
The 11 on 11 drills have been fantastic to see what they do on defense. The team is blitzing less and less this season with their numerous additions to the pass rush so, communicating and making sure the right people are in the right spot, at the right time. With the secondary being as deep as it is, there have been quite a lot of battles going on in training camp. The focus is going to be technique and having that intelligence to know how to play your opponent. Learning where to be on zone coverage, trusting your safety help, playing inside for the slants or outside for the comebacks/vertical routes. Situational awareness has been such a big focus that more and more time is being spent in the film room and with coaches. There has been a bit more creativity when the Colts do blitz, they’re sending more guys from different locations and it’s been confusing the offense.
Forcing and creating turnovers has been a big focus. The entire defense, including the defensive line has worked with the jugs machine on catching the ball. The defense is going to be the focus if this Colts team will have a successful season. Any successful defense in the GZL needs to accomplish three things – all of which the Colts think they can achieve. Create turnovers, lessen the amount of points teams score(obviously), and have a consistent pass rush. With the success of the pass rush, the aforementioned creating turnovers becomes increasingly easier. So, with that said, the defensive line has been working one on one in overdrive on techniques to get to the Quarterback. The defensive line is going to focus more on hitting the gaps and attacking the Quarterback as opposed to holding the line of scrimmage against the run.
All in all, the defense has won the majority of the snaps versus the offense in 11 on 11. No one expected anything different as the Colts have four new starters on the offensive line, two new starting WRs, a new starting Tight End, and a new starting Halfback. You would expect the defense to be two steps ahead and they’re right there, which is promising. The biggest standout so far has been Fernando George. He’s taking over the nickel linebacker duties and they’ll be using his speed and instincts to stop the pass and so far, the product has been incredible. Look for him to have a huge season in his new role.
This is tough to gauge, always. The Colts are coming off a season in which they improved. However, they were only able to improve by one win and that number was a measly five wins. The talent level has been increased significantly from the big time acquisitions in the off-season. The draft was a success as the Colts had a plethora of draft picks and they were successfully able to acquire starting caliber, big time contributors as well as solid depth acquisitions. With the way injuries accumulate in the GZL, having those low cost, solid contributing players is a luxury not many teams can possess.
GM Jason Arnold was asked directly what his aspirations and expectations for this years’ Indianapolis Colts was. His response was, “The playoffs. I’m tired of moral victories, I’m tired of top 10 draft choices, I’m tired of answering the same damn question every off-season. We have the talent. A top defense almost routinely every season. A talented offensive line. Teddy has come a long way. We’ve acquired one of the best Halfbacks in the GZL and two new solid wide receivers. There’s absolutely no excuse to not make the playoffs. My job as a GM is to acquire talent that fits our scheme and the coaches want. I did that – It’s on the players and coaches to complete the process.”
That response doesn't entirely answer the question at hand. The general consensus amongst Colts fans is that if Teddy takes another small step and the team stays relatively healthy overall, that the playoffs are not that farfetched. Unlike in years past, this is not a far-fetched fairy tale or something that shouldn’t be expected. This is definitely not only the thought, but also the expectation for the Colts this season.
It all comes down to Quarterback play and health of the Quarterback. The rest of the AFC South has consistent and stable play and development at the Quarterback position. The offense has the talent, the defense is elite, and the Colts were finally able to land Teddy Bridgewater a tandem of Wide Receivers that should help him take this offense to a new level.
Now, to stop beating around the bush and talking about the improvement, it’s time to put a number on the season expectations. While they may seem high, a 10-6 sort of record is probably the standard for the playoffs in the AFC. So, I would say somewhere around there because this should be a playoff caliber team.
(by J_Arnold on 11/02/2017)
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