The Indianapolis Colts have been known for their passing attack and their ability to score points at will, but times are changing, kind of. The Colts still have Peyton Manning under center and Reggie Wayne still commands the outside, but with Marvin Harrison no longer sporting the blue and white, the offense will have a different feel to it. Different in the sense that it could mean more work for the running backs, which is a reason why the Colts used their first round pick in April to select Connecticut star Donald Brown, along with the onslaught of injuries starter Joseph Addai has experienced over the last couple of years,
After gaining over 1,000 yards in his first two years in the league, Addai has struggled staying healthy and has seen his YPC drop since his rookie year. The Colts are worried about Addai’s longevity and realize he doesn’t possess the same explosion he used to. Upgrading at the position was necessary this offseason and understanding that Addai may just be a complimentary back at this point in his career, Brown is the perfect fit for the Colts offense. Brown hasn’t played a down in the NFL yet, but the type of runner that he is, combined with the production and status he brings to the Colts attack, warrants the recognition of him being the top prospect in the organization.
At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, Brown is a strong, compact runner who’s tough between the tackles. He has the ability to get on the edge, but he’s at his best running North-South. He’s quick through the hole, shifty in the open field and has the elusiveness to break free for a long gain. He has great vision and balance and falls forward when being tackled. He has good hands out of the backfield, but has to work on his blocking. He’s a workhorse that leaves it all on the field. Brown left it on the field last year with the Huskies when he rushed for 2,083 yards on 367 carries and 18 touchdowns. The Colts don’t know what to expect from Addai or Brown this year, but they know if both of them are healthy that they can be one of the best rushing tandems in the NFL. And if Addai’s injury situation doesn’t get better this year and he’s out for a long period of time, the front office appears to be comfortable with Brown being the featured back. In this offense, with Manning always being a threat with his golden right arm, Brown will have a career similar to the one Edgerrin James enjoyed during his days in Indy.
When the Colts selected Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh in the second round of the 2007 draft, he was viewed as a raw, developmental tackle who could become a starter down the road. But when Tarik Glenn decided to retire prior to the ‘07 season, the Colts were put in a tough situation and had to start Ugoh at left tackle before he was ready. The No. 2 prospect in the organization was up to the challenge and performed well playing in 15 games, starting in 12 of them. But as much promise as Ugoh has shown in his young career, he’s battled numerous injuries, and those injuries have cost him nine starts. Ugoh was bothered by a groin injury last year and started just 11 games. This offseason, he had knee surgery, but is back at full health and will start the season at LT. Ugoh has to prove that he can be counted on and live up to his potential, because if he’s in and out of the lineup year after year, the Colts will have to look in another direction to protect Manning.
A player on offense that has to continue to develop and take the next step in his evolution is former first round pick, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez. With Harrison gone, the third rated prospect in the organization will take his spot on the outside after spending most of his time in the slot. An outstanding selection with the last pick in the opening frame of the ’07 draft, Gonzalez made an immediate contribution on offense and solidified himself as a quality weapon. As a rookie, he caught 37 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. Last season, Gonzalez improved and was a bigger part of the offense hauling in 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns in 16 games. At 6-foot, 193 pounds, Gonzalez fits best in the slot, but since there’s a gaping hole on the outside, he will lineup opposite Wayne. Even though the hookup between Manning and Harrison is legendary, Wayne has been Manning’s go-to-guy over the last few years. And with Wayne seeing his usual share of double teams, Gonzalez will be singled up and have plenty of opportunities to make plays. If Gonzalez stays healthy, expect him to have a breakout year and approximately total 75 receptions for 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.
From the offensive side of the ball to the defensive side, the Colts have a defense that’s predicated on speed and athleticism. And a linebacker that’s benefited from the Colts scheme has gone from being a fourth round selection in 2007 to the fourth rated prospect in the organization; Clint Session. At 6-foot, 235 pounds, Session, who spent his first year as a backup and a special teams player, has developed into a quality starter despite being a bit undersized. As a first year starter last season, Session performed well on the strong side and recorded 94 tackles. What’s missing from Session’s game is the impact plays. He makes plays behind the line of scrimmage, but hasn’t shown he’s an effective pass rusher and lacks ball skills. There’s talk that Session will move to the WILL position this year in hopes of him being more explosive and creating turnovers.
Speaking of creating turnovers, safety Melvin Bullitt led the Colts in interceptions last year with four, not bad for a former undrafted free agent. After a solid career at Texas A&M, Bullitt, the fifth rated prospect in the organization, signed with the Colts and worked his way on the roster and played 15 games on special teams and defense. He showed great promise as a rookie and got even more playing time last year. He played in 15 games in ’08, starting nine in place of an injured Bob Sanders. And in addition to his four interceptions, he registered 72 tackles and played well in coverage by defending nine passes. Bullitt will be a major contributor once again this year, but it will be in a backup role. The Colts have a solid safety unit and it will be hard for Bullitt to supplant Antoine Bethea as the starter at free safety. But if Sanders or Bethea go down with an unforeseeable injury, the coaching staff knows that they can rely on Bullitt.
The bottom half of the top 10 is ruled by second year players who are ready to take the next step in their progression, players like linebacker Philip Wheeler (No. 6), defensive end Marcus Howard (No. 7), offensive guard Mike Pollak (No. 8) and wide receiver Pierre Garcon (No. 10). Also featured in the bottom half is 2009 second round pick, defensive tackle Fili Moala.Wheeler and Howard saw limited action last year and showed enough promise to be considered key backups this year. Wheeler is an extremely instinctive, physical defender who played well on special teams and on defense. And Howard, in the nine games that he played, displayed his pass-rushing prowess that made him an intriguing pick in the fifth round. After being inactive for the first three games last year, Pollak started the remaining 13 games at right guard. A center at Arizona State, Pollak made the move to guard successfully and is now entrenched as the team’s starter for the foreseeable future. Moala adds great depth to the defensive line and has the versatility to play inside or outside. He plays with a great motor and was a highly touted prospect leading up to the ’08 college football season. He had a nice year as a senior with the Trojans, but the depth at other positions and the fact he was labeled as a tweener affected his draft status. The Colts got a nice talent who will eventually contend for a starting job. And Garcon, a receiver with great potential who will compete for the slot position this year, also serves as the team’s kick returner. He did a nice job as a rookie last year and the organization has high hopes from the wildcard from Mount Union.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.