Team Needs: Indianapolis Colts

When looking at the Indianapolis Colts, you see explosiveness.

Quarterback Peyton Manning, the leader of the league's second-ranked offense, threw 49 touchdown passes to break Dan Marino's regular-season record, and wide receivers Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley all enjoyed 1,000-yard seasons. Running back Edgerrin James, almost two years removed from a serious knee injury, rushed for 1,548 yards in what has been labeled a passing offense.

Despite scoring the most points in the NFL, though, the Colts were again unable to win a championship. While the offense has led Indianapolis to three straight playoff appearances, an inconsistent defense has prevented the Colts from becoming a balanced team.

LOOKING AHEAD

The Colts could have a new look heading into the 2005 season.

The status of James remains the biggest question. The Colts placed the franchise tag on the standout back and have notified him they may not be able to negotiate a long-term contract. The team is exploring potential trades and if James is dealt, Dominic Rhodes would take over as the new starting running back.

Offensive lineman Rick DeMulling is a free agent and could leave a void at left guard. Jake Scott started nine games and Ryan Lilja started six games at the guard positions last season, but the drop-off in experience and familiarity would be vast if DeMulling left.

The secondary is one area where the Colts need an influx of talent. Starting cornerback Nick Harper will be replaced by one of the young players on the roster (Donald Strickland, Jason David, Von Hutchins or Joseph Jefferson) or by a prospect in the draft. At safety, Idrees Bashir isn't expected to return, making way for Bob Sanders and Mike Doss in the starting lineup.

The release of defensive tackle Brad Scioli and the lack of interest in re-signing linebacker Rob Morris is noteworthy. In order for the Colts to improve their rush defense, they must replace some of the critical players that haven't been productive. While Scioli and Morris were serviceable, they were not top-tier talents.

SALARY CAP STATUS

The Colts have approximately $1 million under the league-mandated 2005 salary cap.

TEAM NEEDS

Linebacker – The overall talent and depth at the middle and outside linebacker positions is critical. The Colts' linebacking corps possesses average speed and quickness. Starting middle linebacker Rob Morris is a free agent, and outside linebacker Davis Thornton is a restricted free agent. Thornton, however, is expected to return.

Cornerback – The Colts lack a true cover corner. With the expected departure of Nick Harper in free agency, the defensive backfield will be relatively young and inexperienced. First-year players Jason David and Von Hutchings saw a lot of playing time last year, and that experience should only enhance their ability. Neither appears to possess shutdown cornerback qualities, though. Without the salary-cap space to be an active participant in free agency, the Colts will have to look towards the draft for depth. They also have an interest in Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain, who is available.

Defensive line – A big, athletic interior defensive lineman is a necessity. The Colts surrender large amounts of yardage up the middle of their defense, and a nose/defensive tackle will be an immediate improvement. Also, depth at the defensive end position should be improved, as Raheen Brock is a free agent and remains questionable if he will re-sign with the team.

FREE AGENCY AND OFFSEASON

KEY ACQUISITIONS: None.

KEY DEPARTURES: TE Marcus Pollard (Detroit), DT Brad Sciloi (released).

FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Edgerrin James. UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FS Idrees Bashir, SS Cory Bird, QB Travis Brown, OG Rick DeMulling, PK Martin Gramatica, CB Nick Harper, LB Rob Morris, LB Jim Nelson, OT Patrick Venzke, WR Troy Walters.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Raheem Brock, CB Joseph Jefferson, RB James Mungro, OG Tupe Peko, LB Nick Rogers, LB David Thornton.


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