Season in Review: Offensive Backs

The Colts have Pro Bowlers at quarterback and running back, and both Peyton Manning and Joseph Addai had strong seasons for the Colts in 2007. The key here is to develop quality depth at the two positions in case something happens to either of the offensive workhorses.

Starters: QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai.

Backups: QB Jim Sorgi, QB Josh Betts, RB Kenton Keith, FB Luke Lawton, RB Clifton Dawson, RB Justise Hairston.

Season in Review:

As the Colts' two primary ballhandlers, Manning and Addai each produced solid years, and both were selected to the Pro Bowl at their respective position.

2007 wasn't Peyton Manning's strongest year statistically, although he has set the bar so incredibly high for himself that even an average season is sublime for most quarterbacks. He threw for 4,040 yards and 31 touchdowns, which are extremely productive numbers for any quarterback, ever. For a detailed analysis of Manning's season, see Brad Keller's assessment that puts Manning's season into statistical perspective.


Joseph Addai scores in the Colts win over Carolina
AP Photo/Mike McCarn

Sorgi, who signed a contract extension before the season, saw action in only four games, and Betts remains a practice squad emergency quarterback who the team hopes it never has to use, or even activate. Betts is also under contract for 2008.

Addai had a productive year, topping the 1,000-yard plateau for the second time in his two-career, although he did seem to wear down late in the year and didn't rush for a 100-yard game after Week 9 vs. New England.

Keith was signed after training camp and emerged as a serviceable backup. When Addai was injured and missed the Tampa Bay game in Week 5, Keith came up big with 121 yards and two touchdowns.

Lawton spent part of the season on the practice squad and had just five carries for 13 yards in 2007. Lawton did have his moment in the bright lights, however, when he scored the winning touchdown against Jacksonville on Dec. 2.

Dawson, a rookie from Harvard, saw limited playing time, with 30 carries for 64 yards and one touchdown. Hairston spent the season on the practice squad and has been re-signed for 2008.

Strengths:

With top-five players at quarterback and running back, the Colts were able to score points in 2007 and will once again in 2008.

Manning is still in the prime of his Hall of Fame career and his leadership skills are unquestioned. Addai, meanwhile, has steadily improved over the last two seasons and ably performed in his first season as a starter with 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also had 41 receptions and three TDs, making him another weapon in Manning's aerial arsenal.

Both players showed their durability in 2007, as well. Manning continued his consecutive starts streak — he's started every game in his 10-year career — and Addai missed just one game despite being the primary ballcarrier for his team for the first time in his entire football career.

Keith showed he's a hard runner, while Lawton provides the team with a prototypical fullback if they need it, while Dawson has speed and moves and is the most intriguing prospect among the backups.

Needs Improvement:

Most of the issues in this unit lie with the reserves. Sorgi, who the team showed confidence in by extending his contract prior to the season, wasn't able to return the sentiment. In his only significant action of the year, in Week 17 vs. Tennessee, Sorgi failed to impress. He completed just 11-of-24 passes for 68 yards in that game for a 68.3 passer rater.


Jim Sorgi will return as the team's backup in 2008
Getty Images

Given Manning's durability, the performance of Sorgi in one game isn't terribly significant. He has been a human victory cigar for his entire career, but the coaches see him every day in practice, so to judge his future based on one game is more than a little unfair.

The fact that Sorgi is never more than one play from being under center is slightly distressing, although it's a fact that most fans have learned to live with. When a team has a record-gobbling quarterback that plays nearly every snap in every game, the backup isn't going to be a world-beater — and if he is, he won't be around for long. He'll go somewhere where he can compete for a job.

Addai will have to devote himself to offseason conditioning to make sure he's able to hold up over the season, but the only real concern for the running backs lies with Keith's hands.

The former Canadian League star showed an aggravating inability to handle the ball in the passing game, even though many of the balls that came his way were short, check-down passes.

This ailment manifested itself at a particularly crucial time, when Keith mishandled a screen pass from Manning near the goal line in the playoff loss to San Diego. The pass was intercepted and was one of the momentum-changing plays in the game.

Keith also needs to continue to improve his understanding of the Colts' offense and his blocking ability. Dawson will likely challenge for more playing time and could potentially pass Keith on the depth chart with a good offseason.

What's Next?

As far as personnel moves, probably not much. Manning and Addai aren't going anywhere, and Sorgi remains entrenched as the backup.

The reserve running back situation is a little more unsettled, and it's possible the team could look at some running back prospects, especially with an NFL Draft stocked with prospects at the position.

The Colts don't have a first-round pick, and they'll probably use their second-rounder to address more pressing needs, like on the offensive line. But if accomplished running backs like Steve Slaton, Ray Rice, Mike Hart or Tashard Choice are available in the second or third time through the board, the Colts might be wise to take a look in hopes of restoring a two-back system similar to the platoon of Addai and Dominic Rhodes that was successful during the Super Bowl run.

More likely, however, is that the team will take a look at undrafted free agents and try to find a player that could potentially impress through training camp and the preseason. However, both Dawson and Keith were able to do that last season, so don't be surprised if the Colts backfield looks much the same in 2008 as it did in 2007.


Colts Blitz Top Stories