TEAM NEEDS: Wide receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker, running back, cornerback.
WR — With Marvin Harrison gone and the jury still out on backups Roy Hall and Pierre Garcon, the Colts need to find a big-play receiver to help get the usual high-scoring offense back on track. Indianapolis likes receivers who are smart, disciplined and also seasoned route runners.
DT — Getting bigger along the defensive line continues to be a goal. The Colts need to bolster both their physicality and size up front without giving up athleticism and speed. While the Colts are still gauging the cost to get that type of player in the draft, there are indications that there are a couple of defensive tackles in the draft pool fitting that description.
LB — Improve the overall depth at all three linebacking positions. Indianapolis is always looking for playmakers with speed over sheer size, especially at weak-side and strong-side linebacker. Finding a dependable backup to middle linebacker Gary Brackett would be good, especially considering he is returning from a lower leg injury that sidelined him for the last month of the regular season in 2008.
RB — Questions abound at running back for the Colts. If veteran Dominic Rhodes does not return, Indianapolis is left with Mike Hart, who continues to rehab from knee surgery, along with Chad Simpson and Lance Ball to serve as backups to starter Joseph Addai. Both Simpson and Ball showed some ability late last season, but additional depth would be good.
CB — While Kelvin Hayden returns after signing a contract extension in the offseason, Marlin Jackson and Michael Coe both continue to recover from knee surgeries. Top backup Keiwan Ratliff is an unrestricted free agent and has not been re-signed as of yet. Tim Jennings played well at times last year but needs to develop more consistency. Dante Hughes has yet to emerge and could be passed on the depth chart if the Colts find a player they view as a better fit in this draft.
— UFA RB Dominic Rhodes recently visited the Buffalo Bills, and has reportedly signed a deal with them.
Rhodes rushed for 538 yards and a team-high six touchdowns in 2008 while splitting time with Addai. He also ranked fifth on the team with 45 receptions for 302 yards and three TDs.
Rhodes became a free agent in late February.
— LB Buster Davis, who was re-signed last month as an ERFA but was then subsequently released, has been added to the Houston Texans' roster.
— The Colts are not expected to add veteran free agents until after the draft. Indianapolis' philosophy regarding veteran free agents is to sit and wait for the first big wave of signings to be completed and then see how things shake out after the draft.
When teams begin tweaking rosters and begin the process of trimming veteran players, the Colts will take a long look at who may be available. The price tag of adding a veteran free agent at that point is usually much less than it was before the draft.
— LB Gary Brackett will be recognized at the NFL Players Gala in Washington, D.C. as a JB Award Honoree and one of 12 finalists for the Byron "Whizzer" White Award. This award, the NFL Players Association's highest honor, is presented annually to a player who has served his team, community and country in the spirit of former Supreme Court Justice Byron Raymond White.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a process. You start with the first round and you go through the last collegiate free agent signed. You try to bring an analysis to the subject that gets you to the point where every guy has a realistic chance to make the team. That almost never happens, but we put as much work into the last collegiate free agent as we do the first-rounders. That's what all the time is devoted to." — Colts team president Bill Polian on how he approaches the NFL Draft and the signing of undrafted free agents.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Colts have been known to be major players when it comes to tracking down and then signing undrafted college free agents. And the franchise has had good success with those players over the years.
RB Dominic Rhodes, LB Gary Brackett, OG/OT Daniel Federkeil, WR Terrence Wilkins, DE Josh Thomas and DT Ed Johnson all became major contributors early in the NFL careers. Expect more of the same this April.
"We just believe in seven-round drafts there are players who are capable of playing in the NFL who go undrafted for one reason or another," team president Bill Polian said. "If you feel you have that kind of player, you ought to pursue it."
MEDICAL WATCH: CB Marlin Jackson is making good progress from knee surgery that was performed last season. Jackson missed most of the 2008 season after he tore two ligaments in his right knee during a midweek practice session on Oct. 29. He has been spending time in Arizona over the past several weeks rehabbing the knee, which underwent two surgical procedures. While he fully expects to be ready for the start of the regular season in September, Jackson has been putting in a lot of time trying to get back into football shape.
"I'm pretty far ahead of schedule," he said recently. "Originally, the things (doctors) were telling me were devastating to hear. Now, I know I'll be ready for training camp. No doubt."
Nationally recognized orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed the dual operations on his knee. Andrews addressed Jackson's torn anterior cruciate ligament by using a graft from Jackson's right patellar tendon.
"It's simple to know to go to him because he's the best in the business," Jackson said. "You don't want to take a chance. You've got to get it fixed right."
The former first-round draft pick in 2005 has regained strength in his right knee and is able to run straight ahead at full speed. He is able to accelerate, decelerate, hop and pull a sled. He's attacking drills that focus on lateral movement, but only in controlled situations.
"I had to start working a lot harder and a lot earlier," Jackson said. "It's been real in-depth and the intensity has been very high, but I had to really get after it right from the get-go."
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