Ed Thompson, ColtPower.com: The only other significant offseason move for the Colts was the loss of strongside linebacker David Thornton. Dominic Rhodes and top draft pick Joseph Addai out of LSU will be splitting snaps at running back unless one really emerges as the logical starter during the season. Reserve weakside linebacker Gilbert Gardner, in his third-year with the Colts, is now the strongside starter. That was his natural position at Purdue, so he’s no stranger to the role. Out of last year’s starting 22 players, Thornton and James are the only two who aren’t back, so that consistency is going to be a huge help on both sides of the ball and should make the Colts stronger than last year, as long as the running game is reasonably close to what it was with James back there.
Replacing Edgerrin James won't be easy, but rookie Joseph Addai has the talent to do it. (AP Photo)
DF: How much of a difference will Adam Vinatieri really make?
ET: I think the biggest difference he will make is in clutch situations. Mike Vanderjagt’s an excellent kicker, but he let the Colts down in key moments to many times. Vinatieri is going to benefit from kicking indoors for at least 8 games a year. In the preseason opener against the Rams, he successfully converted an onsides kick, booted both of his other kickoff attempts into the end zone, and he nailed a 53-yard field goal.
DF: How would you rate Indy's 2006 draft? And is Joseph Addai really the back who can replace James?
ET: They selected some terrific talent with Addai and a couple of others who could be starters by next season. The only mistake I think they made was not grabbing another quality back in the second-half of the draft. But I do think Addai can replace James – and then some. In addition to Addai, I really like 3rd-round LB Freddie Keiaho out of San Diego State. He flies to the ball and is a real football player who just loves the game. He blocked four kicks in college and has already done it once in camp. Sixth-rounder Antoine Bethea, a safety out of Howard, led his team in tackles for three years and is the kind of physical safety the Colts like at that position. He could challenge Mike Doss next year. And seventh-rounder T.J. Rushing out of Stanford is expected to win the kickoff and punts returns specialist job. He returned a kickoff for 63 yards last week against the Rams.
DF: What aspect of James' game will the team miss the most, and what aspect is most easily replaceable?
ET: The team will miss James’ knowledge and experience the most, but may also miss his ability to be a punishing runner who wears defenses down. He’s a very physical back who just consistently grinds out 4 or 5 yards each time he touches the ball. Addai is more of a shifty runner who shoots through gaps using great vision. He does very well with pass blocking, a key for a Colts running back, and he has really good hands as a receiver. He’s rarely dropped a pass from Manning in camp. While he may not be as punishing as James, Addai actually has more explosion if he gets in the open than James has shown in recent years. It had become rare for James to get a run longer than 15 yards. Addai will break some big ones this season if he gets through the initially chaos at the line. He has the extra gear that James has seemingly lost.
DF: Last season, the offensive line was a key component in the team's success, but they seemed to fall apart in some key situations. Have there been additions to the line, or is the team happy with what they've got?
ET: The Colts stayed with their five starters from last season, although the Seahawks probably won’t see left guard Ryan Lilja due to a knee injury. Second-year reserve Dylan Gandy out of Texas Tech will take his place. The issue with the line isn’t talent – they proved that with stellar performances until the San Diego and Pittsburgh games. Both their offensive line coach and some of the players have gone on record saying they just weren’t sharp and didn’t make the right adjustments during those two games. After the starters left the game last week, the offensive line struggled against the Rams who blitzed frequently. And while Manning would have made them pay for that, backups Jim Sorgi and Shaun King were roughed up as the offensive linemen further down on the depth chart were too inexperienced to handle the blitz effectively
Stay tuned for tomorrow's conclusion of our Q & A with ColtPower.com's Ed Thompson!