Chinks in the Armor: Part I

With a future Hall of Famer at quarterback, tons of talent on offense, a stingy defense, and a well-respected coaching staff, the Colts are one of the top five teams in the NFL. But that doesn't mean they're perfect. Where are the chinks in the armor? Brad Keller has the breakdown here.

Indianapolis finished the 2007 season with a 13-3 record, which came the season after it won Super Bowl XLI.

The Colts have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, explosive playmakers at wide receiver, quality depth at defensive tackle, as well as in the secondary, and a good mix of established veterans and emerging young talent on both sides of the ball.

But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Here are the weakest links for the Colts.

Tight End Depth:

By releasing Bryan Fletcher and allowing Ben Utecht to depart as a restricted free agent, Indianapolis exposed themselves at the position.

At this point, they have Dallas Clark and little else.  They still have Zac Herold and Gijon Robinson as carryovers from last season and added Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi through the draft, but they are sorely lacking in experience and high round draft picks with all their backups.

There's little experience behind Dallas Clark at tight end on the Colts' roster
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The Colts like to run a lot of two tight end sets and, if the injury bug strikes the wide receiver corps in 2008 like it did in 2007, Indianapolis will be even more hard-pressed than they were last season to put a sufficient number of healthy, quality players on the field from down to down.

The young guys on the roster need to grow up in a hurry in order to prevent a lot of sleepless nights for Tom Moore and Tony Dungy — unless, of course, the Colts know something about this batch of rookies and second year players that the rest of us don't.

The Right Guard position:

Perhaps because everyone knew that either Jake Scott and Ryan Lilja would not be returning for the 2008 season, most have ignored the fact that there is no obvious successor to fill the role that Scott had filled the past three seasons.

After Dylan Gandy was released, that left a number of inexperienced players — either rookies or men that have not started at guard in the NFL — fighting for Scott's old job.

There's no shortage of candidates, including three rookies who played center in college: Mike Pollak, Steve Justice, and Jamey Richard. Charlie Johnson, while a valuable reserve, only has experience at the two tackle positions, which are more focused on pass protection than run blocking.

It's very possible that, like many other seasons when there was a defection at guard, that an unheralded rookie will step into the lineup and the offense will not miss a beat.

It's also very possible that this spot on the offensive line will be a problem that will persist and nag the Colts the entire season.

The Linebackers:

This unit was a pleasant surprise last season, as the Colts discovered depth they didn't know they had and a number of backups stepped into the lineup and played at a very high level. Those backups return this season, having gained valuable experience in 2007.

One school of thought is that they'll be even better with one year of NFL experience under their belts.  The other school of thought is that lightning never strikes twice.  Will they be better, worse, or the same in 2008?

Outside of third-round draft pick Philip Wheeler, the Colts brought in very little new blood to challenge the 2007 crew and also released Rob Morris after he failed a physical in the offseason.

Indianapolis has, historically, kept only six linebackers on the regular roster.  Will the six guys they settle on perform as well as last year or will they take a step back?  Given the lack of available options, everyone is left only to wait and see.

The Pass Rush:

More specifically, depth behind Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

The Colts need Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis healthy for their defense to be effective
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The Colts struggled to pressure the quarterback after Freeney was placed on injured reserve last season and, if he or Mathis misses considerable time, or Freeney is not 100 percent recovered from the Lisfranc injury that he sustained when the season starts, Indianapolis will need to start thinking outside the box in order to collapse the pocket.

They brought in Mathis clone Marcus Howard of Georgia in this year's draft and signed Curtis Johnson as an undrafted free agent, but it remains to be seen if either of those men can fill the shoes of Mathis and Freeney if either misses time due to injury. 

If the Colts talented ends are either injured or struggling to pressure the quarterback, the possibility of blitzing rush linebacker Philip Wheeler has been discussed, as well as corner blitzes and using Bob Sanders to rush the passer in a more regular capacity than just chasing down Vince Young when Indianapolis plays the Titans.

Blitz packages are a departure from business as usual for a Tony Dungy defense and would put undo pressure on another unit that is under fire in this piece, the linebackers.

Everything starts with the four men up front for the Colts.  If those guys are hurt or can't get it going, it has a very unhealthy ripple effect on the rest of the defense.

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