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Colts needs: Upgrades on O-line, run-stuffers on defense


 (US Presswire)  

If you didn't have an updated game program each week, you were in trouble figuring out who was on the field for the Indianapolis Colts for much of the 2010 season.

The one constant, as it has been for the past decade, was quarterback Peyton Manning. But aside from Manning, it was tough trying to figure out the other players on the field for the Colts each Sunday.

The Colts lost 72 starts by projected starters by the time the regular season was concluded.

Among those who missed games were tight end Dallas Clark (10 games), wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez (14 games) and Austin Collie (nine games), running back Joseph Addai (nine games), linebacker Clint Session (11 games), safety Bob Sanders (15 games) and corners Kelvin Hayden (five games) and Jerraud Powers (six games).

It's amazing the Colts found a way to win the division title and came within a last-second field goal of beating the New York Jets to get to the divisional round of the playoffs.

Manning had a rough go at times during the season, but he was trying to do too much. It's amazing he even had the season he had without Clark and his receivers.

Five possibilities: Colts
Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida: The Colts need to improve the offensive line and this kid could play guard or center.
Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: The left tackle position has been a trouble spot for a while. Carimi could step in and fix it.
Derek Sherrod, OG, Mississippi State: He's another pick that would fill a need. He might be better in pass protection than Carimi, which would make him better suited for the Colts.
Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois: The tackles played well last season, but there is no great player. This kid has a chance.
Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State: If they go defense in the first round, they can come back and get a lineman like Hudson in the second. He is a smaller guard, but that's OK in the Colts' system.
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Some of the guys he was throwing to didn't even belong on the roster. Manning got hot late, and the team found a way to rally to make the playoffs.

It would be wrong to assume the Colts were in decline heading into 2011. Assuming they get back players like Clark, Powers and Hayden next season, plus one or both of the receivers, the Colts will be a strong playoff team again.

They do have to upgrade the offensive line, which is a position that talent decision-maker Bill Polian has not done a good job of stocking. Polian, who I consider the best talent evaluator in the league, hasn't drafted a lineman in the first round during his time with the team.

Now might be the time.

He missed on tackle Tony Ugoh -- trading a 2008 first-round pick to take him in the second round in 2007 -- and guard Mike Pollak, a second-round pick in 2008, also hasn't worked out.

Manning has covered for the so-so line play with his quick release and awareness in the pocket, but it's time Polian got him some help. He is still on top of his game, but he needs to be protected better.

Look for that to be a focus in this year's draft.

If it is, and the players can help, you can bet the Colts will once again be around during playoff time next season.

QB: Manning remains one of the NFL's best and he simply does not miss plays. He continues to play at a high level, but he did press at times last season because of injuries to his pass catchers. He threw 11 interceptions in a three-game span, but bounced back to play well down the stretch. It's scary to think what this team would be without him. Curtis Painter is the backup, but does it matter? As long as Manning is on the field, the Colts have no worries here.

RB: Addai is a key part of the offense and that showed up big when he didn't play for a time last season. He is perfect for what the Colts do. He can block, run and catch. Donald Brown has been a disappointment. He is a faster back, but doesn't block as well and isn't as good in the passing game. Javarris James took over when Addai and Brown were hurt and scored six touchdowns. The key here is Addai. It's a different offense without him.

WR: This was supposed to be a team strength, but injuries crippled this unit. Gonzalez and Collie missed a ton of time. Without them, the offense wasn't the same. Collie did catch 56 passes in his time on the field, but he has concussion issues. Pierre Garcon is the speed player, but he is too inconsistent. Reggie Wayne continues to be the No. 1 guy, but there is some thinking that he is slowing down. They need to get Gonzalez on the field, and keep him there.

TE: When Clark went down with a wrist injury early in the season, the offense lost a key part of the passing game. It was clear that Manning wasn't the same without Clark, his security blanket. Jacob Tamme did a decent job for Clark, but he's not in the same class. Rookie Brody Eldridge came on as the season went along.

OL: This is an area that has been ignored far too long. They have to improve this group. Left tackle Charles Johnson should be a backup, but he starts. Right tackle Ryan Diem is just a guy. Jeff Saturday is getting up in the years at center and the guards are a revolving door. They have to get better players in front of Manning. He's covered a lot of weaknesses up here for a long time.

DL: Ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis remain among the best speed rushers in the league. They can be disruptive when it counts, especially with the lead in the fourth quarter. Freeney is the better of the two. He and Manning are the two who have to be on the field for the Colts to have a Super Bowl chance. Jerry Hughes, a first-round pick last year, didn't do a thing. Polian admitted he was a mistake last season, but it's too early for that. The inside people played as well as a group as they have in a long time. Daniel Muir, Antonio Johnson, Fili Moala and Eric Foster put together a good season as a group. But the Colts were still 25th against the run. That could mean help comes at tackle in the draft.

LB: The Colts were hit by injuries here as well, with Session missing most of the season. But the injuries let rookies Pat Angerer and Kevell Conner get playing time and they made the most of it. They will both push for starting jobs this season. Gary Brackett remains the starter in the middle, but he's getting up in the years and battled a turf toe injury last season. Phillip Wheeler offers competition and has started at times.

DB: This might have been the group hit most by injuries. The only player who made it through the season was free safety Antoine Bethea. He played well, but he didn't have much help around him. Bob Sanders is gone to San Diego, which means Melvin Bullitt will be the starter next to Bethea and Bullitt is coming off an injury-shortened season. Both starting corners -- Jerraud Powers and Kelvin Hayden -- finished the season on IR. Jacob Lacey and Justin Tryon both got valuable playing time without them in the lineup. Tryon showed well.

Photo by US Presswire

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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