Charlie Bernstein: Jim Caldwell is certainly a Tony Dungy disciple and much of the rest of the Colts coaching staff is intact. Can we expect to see any differences in philosophy on either offense or defense from the Colts we've seen all throughout the Dungy era?
Eric Hartz: There has actually been a fair amount of turnover in the Colts' coaching staff. Other than Caldwell, Indianapolis has new defensive coordinator (Larry Coyer) and a new special teams coordinator (Ray Rychleski). Offensive gurus Tom Moore and Howard Mudd returned as the senior offensive coordinator and senior offensive line coach, respectively, but will handle the same duties they always have.
Under Dungy, the offense was largely the realm of Moore, Mudd and Peyton Manning, and Tony stayed relatively hands-off in that area. However, Dungy and former coordinator Ron Meeks (now with Carolina) shaped the defense, and I think that's where we'll see the biggest changes in 2009. Whereas Dungy's Tampa 2 was more of a line-up-and-let's-play-type defense, Coyer's approach will bring more movement before the snap and more blitzing after the snap. The team also seems to be moving slightly away from the Dungy philosophy of using small but fast players on defense. They have bulked up considerably on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps.
CB: Russ Parnell was the Colts special teams coordinator, now he holds the same position with the Jaguars. Jacksonville had one of the best coverage teams in the NFL last season, but we've already seen numerous breakdowns in coverage in the preseason. Why did the Colts not retain Parnell?
EH: For the exact reason you mentioned. The Colts' special teams under Parnell were at best mediocre and at worst atrocious. While the coverage units were decent in 2008, especially compared to the 2007 season, the return game has been a virtual non-factor the past several seasons as well. In fairness to Parnell, he wasn't given a lot to work with — the Colts' roster structure left little room for third-phase specialists — but the new coaching regime obviously felt a change was needed. Rychleski seems to be more aggressive and the team seems a bit more committed to special teams — they retained safety Jamie Silva almost exclusively for this purpose and just signed special-teams ace Aaron Francisco this week — but it remains to be seen if the results will be better.
CB: Is there anyone that you saw in preseason and in camp (aside from the obvious guys) that really stood out and could make an impact for Indy this season?
EH: For a perennial contender like Indianapolis, rookies getting a lot of playing time — let alone making a big impact — are rare, but there are three rookies that should see a lot of playing time this week and could have a role in the outcome in Sunday's game. One is first-round draft pick, RB Donald Brown, who has made a fast adjustment to the pro game and should share carries with Joseph Addai Sunday. The second is WR Austin Collie, who will see some snaps in the slot receiver position when Dallas Clark isn't there. He's still trying to gain Peyton Manning's confidence, but his work ethic in camp was impressive and he should get at least a couple of targets this week. The third rookie is cornerback Jerraud Powers, a third-round pick who made lots of plays in the preseason and could start the game, because of injuries to Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden.
One other player to keep an eye on is second-year tight end Jacob Tamme, who led the team in receiving for the second-straight preseason. He's a receiving tight end in the Clark mold and should see plenty of playing time in the Colts' two-tight end set.
CB: The Jaguars are likely going to start two rookie offensive tackles Sunday afternoon, how much of a mismatch is that on the fast track of Lucas Oil Stadium with Pro Bowl pass rushers such as Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis?
EH: I'm sure that Freeney and Mathis are chomping at the bit to get after the quarterback and welcome the rookies to the NFL. Freeney showed what he can do to inexperienced tackles during the preseason game against Philadelphia, when he pulled his signature spin move on the Eagles' King Dunlap, left the second-year tackle in his jetwash and sacked and stripped the ball from Donovan McNabb.
The best strategy for the Jaguars is to try to wear down the Colts' standout rushers by running the ball at them early. Freeney is a good run defender, but sometimes takes himself out of the play with his persistent push upfield. Mathis, though undersized, actually holds up very well against the run. But the Colts' third defensive end, Raheem Brock, who normally platoons with Mathis, is coming off a hand injury suffered in the first preseason game and may not be at full strength. If the Jags can wear down the Colts early, they may be able to keep David Garrard's jersey clean in crunch time.
CB: Do you believe the Colts will follow the rest of the league's blueprint to beating the Jaguars and load up against the run to stop Maurice Jones-Drew and force David Garrard to beat them with his arm?
EH: They will try, but the Colts haven't had much success "loading up" against any running team lately, and especially Jones-Drew and the Jaguars, who may have done more than any other player and team to hurt the team's run defense in recent years. Certainly, the Colts will have something to prove against Jacksonville after last year's display of poor tackling at Lucas Oil Stadium. If they can slow Jones-Drew, their opportunistic secondary — one of the best and deepest in the entire league — will happily take its chances with Garrard.
EH: What do the Colts need to do to knock off the Tennessee Titans and get back atop the AFC South?
EH: Last year, the Colts lost one divisional home game (to the Jaguars) and one divisional road game (to the Titans) to finish just a game behind Tennessee for the AFC South title. If the Colts can duplicate that 4-2 mark in the division, I like their chances to win the division this season. Of course, in the AFC South, that's easier said than done.
EH: Can Indy's league-record mark of 12 victories be duplicated again for the seventh consecutive season?
EH: A lot depends on the early going. If the Colts stumble in their opener, losing no more than three games through the rest of the schedule looks difficult. After hosting Jacksonville this week, the Colts travel to Miami and Arizona in back-to-back weeks for prime-time games. The team gets Seattle at home in Week Four, but travels to Tennessee the next week. Add in the rest of the AFC South slate, a home game against New England, a trip to Baltimore, and a bone-chilling road trip to Buffalo on Jan. 3, and it's not hard to see more than four losses on the table. Then again, it didn't look like the Colts would be able to reel off nine straight wins to achieve a 12-4 mark last season, but they managed to accomplish that.
EH: He's looked solid, although a drop in the preseason game against Detroit drew the attention of Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who was harsh in his criticism of Gonzalez. Apparently King didn't notice a couple of tough catches Gonzalez made in the game, and a pass interference penalty he drew that set up the Colts' first touchdown. Against Philadelphia, Gonzalez caught a touchdown pass and also broke up a pair of poorly-thrown balls — one from Peyton Manning — that were likely interceptions.
One thing Manning has talked about this camp and preseason is that with Marvin Harrison, he always knew where he would be on the field, so he could turn and throw to him at any time. Gonzalez has worked hard in the offseason to achieve that same rapport with Manning. he's not there yet, but it's coming. Gonzalez probably will never reach the level of Wayne or Harrison, but he has some underrated speed, he gets open, and he has the work ethic to keep up with Manning and earn his confidence.
CB: What is a perceived weak spot on the Colts defense in which the Jaguars may try to exploit?
EH: For all the talk about getting bigger and stouter on the interior of the defensive line, the Colts still have to answer the question of whether they can consistently take away the opponent's running game. They'll get their first and one of their best tests against the Jaguars, who should try to run, run and run some more on the Colts.
CB: What is your prediction for Sunday's game?
EH: The Colts started 0-2 in Lucas Oil Stadium last year, but I think they'll get off to a better start in 2009. No late field goal for the Jaguars this time — Colts win, 24-17.
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