Five to Watch: Sophomores

Everyone's talking about how this year's crop of rookies will contribute in 2009, but what about the guys we were talking about before last season? Brad Keller has five breakout candidates to watch from the sophomore class.

1. Pierre Garcon:

If this were a list of the players that would start the most games during the 2009 season, the first name on it would be Mike Pollak, since, barring injury, he should start every game at right guard this season for the Colts.

However, it's a list of players to watch and no second year player will garner more attention for their potential to contribute than Garcon.

He has a legitimate shot at the third receiver job, given that Marvin Harrison isn't walking through that door and Garcon is competing against rookie Austin Collie and perpetual "upside" player Roy Hall.

Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez are cemented as the starters but, with a team that runs as many three receiver sets as Indianapolis does, the third receiver job is extremely important.

Even if they end up going to more two tight end sets (see below), Garcon can contribute significantly on special teams.  It is really up to him and his effort between now and September as far as how much he ends up being involved.

Tamme is a talented receiver who could find himself in the mix a bit more in 2009
AP Photo/Mike McCarn

2. Jacob Tamme:

If the Colts do end up going to more two tight end sets and are looking for another target that can stretch the seam and be more of a "receiver in tight end's clothing," then Tamme is their man.

He has a very similar skill set to Dallas Clark and could do a lot of damage to opposing secondary's if Tom Moore starts to draw up more plays for the two tight end formation.  If the Indianapolis staff finds — as they did towards the end of the 2007 season and early on in 2008 — that they will have the best collection of players on the field if they line up with two tight ends instead of three receivers, they will not hesitate to line up that way.

If that happens, then Tamme, not fellow 2008 draftee Tom Santi, will be heavily involved.  And, with another year under his belt, he should be able to ward off Gijon Robinson.

3. Philip Wheeler:

Indianapolis did not draft Wheeler in the third round in 2008 to let him sit idly by and watch everyone else make plays. Unfortunately, he much of 2008 with an injury, so Colts fans had to wait until this season to see what he is capable of.

In addition to vying for some serious playing time at linebacker, Wheeler could contribute on the blitz in known passing situations. That would be a big boost for a pass rush that only recovered slightly after a substandard 2007.

But, he wouldn't be contributing as significantly as he'd like as just a situational player, so where he could make a real impact is at linebacker.

He has the speed and athleticism to cover a lot of space in the back seven and, at 6-feet-2 and 245 pounds, brings a great deal more size and thunder to the position than the Colts have had in some time.

He's been penciled in as the starter and needs to prepare in the offseason and during the regular season as though he were going to be, although he'll face competition for the job from former starters Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho.

He has the skills and ability to be a big-time contributor on a unit that has generally been an afterthought on the defense, but it's up to him to make the most of what is available to him.

4. Mike Hart:

Just because the Colts drafted Donald Brown in the first round in the 2009 draft does not mean that Hart cannot make his presence felt this season.

One of the reasons Brown was selected was because Indianapolis officials were not sure if Hart could return to his 2008 form in 2009 after a knee injury ended his rookie campaign prematurely after a very promising start.

If he makes a full recovery, Hart still has the tools and talent to succeed in this system.  This is not to mention the fact that has a year's worth of experience in the system and the favor of the coaching staff, given his strong showing in 2008 mini-camps, OTAs, training camp, and the preseason.

He can either fade into obscurity or step up and defend his spot in the depth chart.  It's up to him, but it will be interesting to watch.

5.  Marcus Howard:

Speaking of situational pass rushers, Howard has a great deal to prove in 2009, given that his 2008 season was marred by injury, long spells on the inactives list, and being outshined by fellow rookie defensive end Curtis Johnson.

There is no doubt that Howard is anxious to put 2008 behind him and show what he can do.  But, given his size and his durability issues, the question remains whether or not he will be able to.

After all, there are only so many Robert Mathises on the planet and, even a player that Howard mirrors so closely can prove to be both his best friend and his worst enemy.  Mathis can — and will — help Howard become a better player, Indianapolis coaches will have the success of Mathis to use as a point of reference for Howard's potential, and he will be given every opportunity to succeed by the Colts staff, since they've experienced positive return on their investment in such a player in the past.

But, the time will come for Howard to put up or shut up and, with the bar already set, Howard will need to at least come close in order to be considered a good selection.  The weight of the world — and the coaching staff's expectations — are currently on Howard's shoulders.  How he responds will certainly bear watching.

Which of these five players do you see breaking out in 2009? Let us know in our forum poll right here.

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