In anticipation of the Indianapolis Colts reporting for training camp July 26 at Anderson University, ColtsBlitz.com will offer a series of analytical outlooks on position groups.
Let’s start with the most important position, quarterback.
LAST YEAR: Luck missed nine games due to a series of injuries, including ribs, shoulder, lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle. The Colts, as a result, slipped to 8-8 while using five different quarterbacks. Trusty backup Matt Hasselbeck retired for an ESPN analyst gig. The last game Luck played, he led the Colts to a 27-24 home win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium. But Luck usually wasn’t himself when he played. He completed just 55.3 percent of his passes, the lowest percentage since his rookie year. Perhaps more importantly, Luck had 12 interceptions and one lost fumble. He is the first to be critical of his turnovers. His willingness to take punishment for the sake of a play ended his season after a high-low hit against Denver.
NEW CONTRACT: Luck signed a record six-year, $140 million deal on June 29, making the 26-year-old passer the NFL’s highest-paid player.
NEW BACKUP: The Colts signed Tolzien, who spent the past three seasons in Green Bay as Aaron Rodgers’ backup. Tolzien, 28, has played in six career games, including two starts.
OUTLOOK: Luck is a popular preseason candidate as NFL Comeback Player of the Year because of his immense talent and the expectancy that 2016 will be a return to his three-time Pro Bowl form as opposed to the quarterback who struggled while playing hurt last season. While Luck’s talent is undeniable, it’s his competitiveness that can be a make-or-break proposition at times. He’s an adept scrambler, capable of extending plays, but that also can get him into trouble. While he’s thrown 101 touchdown passes and run for 12 more, he’s also been intercepted 55 times and lost 14 of 32 fumbles.
The narrative on No. 12 is always about whether he will one day become one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks. That’s a testament to his potential. But now he’s being paid like one of the league’s elite, which means Luck has to prove he’s learned from past mistakes and can cut down on those turnovers. Granted, it’s not all on him. He needs a stronger offensive line and it would be beneficial to have a reliable run game. He can’t take so many risks or hits — Football Outsiders counted 352 hits taken in his first three seasons. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski returns as playcaller, a job he took on before the Denver game when Pep Hamilton was fired. “Chud” is installing a new playbook which the Colts hope will better utilize Luck’s skills. He has the wide receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett as well as tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle. The Colts’ most important player must bring everybody together.
POSITIVE SPIN: Luck bounces back, with the best offensive line he’s had and a decent run game, to put up career numbers. While every NFL passer commits turnovers, he’ll show more discipline to live for the next play in terms of not subjecting himself to unnecessary punishment and turning the ball over in key moments. More touchdown passes and fewer turnovers means the Colts offense will be among the league’s best in point production.
NEGATIVE SPIN: The lack of a steady run game will continue to stall the offense’s progression, which will make Luck continue to press and make too many mistakes. The worst thing about an offense is if it’s one-sided. The Colts have been that way since he arrived. They haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007. They haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in 56 consecutive games counting six playoff games. Until that problem gets fixed, this offense can go only so far. The other concern is the right side of the offensive line. The Colts still need a long-term solution at right tackle.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.