Behind Enemy Lines: Colts changes

With a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator, the Indianapolis Colts are a team in transition, albeit still very talented. Tim Yotter of posed five questions to Eric Hartz of on the state of the franchise.

Tim Yotter: Sage Rosenfels said after he was traded to the Vikings that he was disappointed with his performance against the Colts last year and needed to make better decisions. We know what happened in that game with the fumble and other mistakes, but what was the perspective from Colts camps on that game?

Eric Hartz Colts fans are accustomed to crazy comebacks — Peyton Manning has led countless fourth-quarter comebacks during his 11-year career, but this one was particularly memorable, as the game seemed all but lost when the Colts trailed 27-10 with just over four minutes left. But three turnovers made the miracle comeback possible.

I think it showed Colts fans that despite the team's early struggles, they still had a lot of heart and desire to not give up on the season when it would have been very easy to do so. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and this stroke of luck — coupled with some heads-up defensive play — may have been a turning point in the season. The Colts routed Baltimore the next week, but then lost two straight games to Tennessee and Green Bay to drop to 3-4. A 2-5 mark might have been too big a margin to overcome to still make the playoffs.

TY: How much different do you expect things to be on defense with a new coordinator?

EH: Based on what I've seen at training camp the past couple of weeks, the Colts won't change too much from their base 4-3 Cover-2; however, fans will notice some different looks than in the past. The Colts under Tony Dungy and Ron Meeks nearly never blitzed, and that will change, as we've seen blitzes come from all three linebacker spots and even strong safety in practices.

Also, while the Colts would normally always line up the same way along the defensive line, they are experimenting with more movement and shifting. Hybrid lineman Raheem Brock has been one of the biggest movers, alternating between end, tackle and even a standup rusher, and Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have been on the move as well, and have also tried some rushing from two-point stance. One other thing I have noticed is the secondary is playing a little more man defense than they have in the past.

TY: The perception is that the weapons have been decreasing for Peyton Manning. Is that accurate, or how do you size up this offense this year?

EH: While many in the media and elsewhere seem to dismiss the loss of Marvin Harrison as minor, as he hadn't been himself the last two years, he still played a big part in the offense last season. Between Harrison and Dominic Rhodes, the Colts lost 105 receptions, nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns from last season's passing game. That's significant.

The Colts have gotten younger on offense and will turn to rookies Donald Brown, Austin Collie and second-year man Pierre Garcon to pick up the slack. But the fact remains that they are unknowns at this point, and Joseph Addai needs to get his career back on track after a disappointing season in 2008. Manning knows he can count on Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez; however, if this offense is going to be an elite one, he'll have to trust the new guys as well — and they'll have to produce.

TY: The Vikings would love to improve on their pass defense this year and were happy with how they did against Manning for three quarters last year. What sort of playing time do you envision for him and the first-team offense in the preseason opener?

EH: Not much. After a relatively quiet first week, the injury bug has hit the Colts pretty hard this week, and no less than 11 players will be held out of Friday's game. Among the names you won't see are the entire starting secondary (Bob Sanders, Antoine Bethea, Kelvin Hayden, and Marlin Jackson) and on offense, Clark and Gonzalez will also be out.

Manning usually plays one or two drives in the first preseason game, and this week should be no different. Backup QB Jim Sorgi is also out, so look for Purdue rookie Curtis Painter to spend the most time under center. My hunch is if Manning can lead the team on a solid drive the first time he gets the ball, that would be it. If it's a three-and-out, he might want a couple more chances.

TY: How much is Tony Dungy and his overall good-guy aura missed in Indianapolis? He is still thought of very highly here from his days with the Vikings, even though those were 15 years ago.

EH: Dungy always had positive things to say about his tenure in Minnesota under Dennis Green, as well. To be honest, I haven't noticed too much difference in the way the Colts go about their business. They have flip-flopped the practice routine — going with light practices in the morning and tougher ones in the afternoon — but other than that, things seem very similar. Jim Caldwell knows he's seen as a Dungy clone but to his credit, has not shied from that image. He's been gracious with his time with both fans and media, and in fact, may be a little more forthcoming in interviews.

That said, there's not a person around the organization that didn't feel Dungy's presence, or now, his absence. It's safe to say his influence is still being felt by the team. In addition to being a fine football coach, he was a caring man that did project a calm image that gave fans, coaches and players alike a sense of security about the team. With Caldwell, there is less security because he hasn't coached a game yet. I have a feeling that will change if the team continues its winning ways, however.

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