Anderson University awaits the Indianapolis Colts in 11 days.
The Colts report for training camp on Saturday, Aug. 1, with the first practice the next day at their preseason home away from home, about an hour’s drive from the team’s West 56th Street complex.
As with any NFL season, questions abound for the Colts entering 2015. In preparation for the team’s arrival, ColtsBlitz.com will offer a series of “Camp questions” stories and videos to analyze and try to answer what’s on the minds of fans.
First and foremost, a majority of people are wondering if the Colts have done enough on defense to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender? They’ve added pieces in free agency as well as the draft, but doubt lingers about if the Colts have addressed their needs sufficiently to dethrone the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who have defeated the Colts in each of the past two postseasons.
The Colts’ 3-4 defense will have new outside linebacker Trent Cole, inside linebacker Nate Irving, defensive end Kendall Langford and safety Dwight Lowery, all signed in free agency. Draft picks were used on cornerback D’Joun Smith, defensive end Henry Anderson, safety Clayton Geathers, nose tackle David Parry and linebacker Amarlo Herrera.
The X-factor in how the Colts’ defense shapes up is outside linebacker Robert Mathis, who returns after missing 2014 due to an Achilles injury and four-game suspension. If Mathis, at 34, can be some semblance of the disruptive pass rusher who led the NFL in sacks in 2013, the defense will undoubtedly be stronger. But if he shows his age and isn’t the same player, it’s fair to doubt whether the defense will be strong enough to help the Colts get over the postseason hump.
The Colts were effective at rushing the passer last season without him, but a healthy Mathis could make all the difference. He demanded double teams in 2013. If he still commands that kind of attention, he frees up pass-rush opportunities for his teammates.
More specifically, the Colts were run over in those playoff losses to the Patriots. Their inability to stop the run led to their offseason signings. Irving and Langford are regarded as decent run stuffers. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones, hampered by injuries in his first season with the Colts last year, is looking for a bounce-back season to help solidify the defensive line.
Another specific question pertains to nose tackle. Many thought the Colts would address the position in free agency, but they didn’t. They’re counting on a combination of Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes and the rookie Parry to be stout in the middle.
Chapman has shown flashes of potential, but the Colts will want to see more from him in his fourth season. Hughes has also made a few plays, but not enough to earn a starting job. That the Colts drafted Parry in the fifth round suggests general manager Ryan Grigson thought the position needed to be addressed.
The Colts weren’t awful at stopping the run against most opponents last season. They’ve been able to win 11 games in three consecutive regular seasons. But weaknesses are magnified in the postseason by the elite teams.
As much as everyone wants to know just how stout this defense will be, the true test probably won’t come until January, presuming the Colts reach the playoffs yet again.
That’s when this defense will show if it has the mettle to get enough stops. Andrew Luck and the offense could be one of the league’s most prolific point producers, so scoring shouldn’t be a problem. Stopping opponents from doing the same is undoubtedly one of the most prevailing questions about this team entering training camp.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.