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2011 Indianapolis Colts preseason preview

by | Special to CBSSports.com

If Peyton Manning can rebound from his offseason neck surgery, the Colts should once again prosper. (AP)  
If Peyton Manning can rebound from his offseason neck surgery, the Colts should once again prosper. (AP)  

2010 RECORD: 10-6 (1st, AFC South)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to New York Jets, 17-16, in AFC Divisional Playoff)

COACH (RECORD): Jim Caldwell (24-8 in two seasons with Colts, 24-8 overall)



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OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS 2010 (NFL): 29th rushing, 1st passing, 4th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS 2010 (NFL): 25th rushing, 13th passing, 1st scoring

KEY ADDITIONS: OT Anthony Castanzo (1st Round, Boston College), T/G Ben Ijalana (2nd Round, Villanova), DT Drake Nevis (3rd Round, LSU), DT Tommie Harris (free agent), DE/DT Jamaal Anderson (free agent), LB Ernie Sims (free agent), RB Delone Carter (4th Round, Syracuse), CB Chris Rucker (5th round, Michigan State), DT DeMario Pressley (waivers from Texans)

KEY DEPARTURES: CB Kelvin Hayden (released), S Bob Sanders (released), LB Clint Session (not tendered), OT Charlie Johnson (not tendered), DT Dan Muir (not tendered)

THROW ME THE BALL: Given enough time, Peyton Manning should have plenty of targets to throw the ball to this season. The Colts return WR Reggie Wayne (111 receptions, 6 TD), WR Pierre Garcon (67 receptions, 6 TD), TE Jacob Tamme (67 receptions, 4 TD), WR Austin Collie (58 receptions, 8 TD), TE Dallas Clark (37 receptions, 3 TD) and WR Blair White (36 receptions, 3 TD). Collie's statistics are all the more impressive considering that he played in just nine games in 2010. He was inactive for five games and was placed on injured reserve for the final two games of the season after suffering a pair of concussions. Clark, meanwhile, played in just six games after incurring a wrist/hand injury. Indianapolis also returns WR Anthony Gonzalez, who was inactive for five games and on injured reserve for the final nine weeks of the regular season with a knee injury. White was an undrafted free agent who was pressed into service due to Collie's injury.

LINE ME UP: Indianapolis' offensive line had issues with consistency in 2010, but that was to be expected considering the rash of injuries that kept things on an uneven keel. Putting together a cohesive unit will be the task of second-year offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars. Center Jeff Saturday and right tackle Ryan Diem are the anchors. Saturday, though, was nicked up a bit last season, although he started all 16 games. Diem, meanwhile, had an inconsistent year and came close to not returning for the 2011 season. He took a pay cut to remain with the Colts. Charlie Johnson started 27 games at left tackle the last two seasons but was not re-signed. He has since moved on to Minnesota. First-round draft pick Anthony Castonzo is expected to move in at left tackle. There remain question marks at the two offensive guard positions. Though 2010 starters Kyle DeVan and Mike Pollak are back, Jacques McClendon, Jamey Richard and second-round draft pick Ben Ijalana could make inroads there.

NO RUNNING HERE: The Colts' defense continues to have major issues stopping the run on a regular basis. Defensive coordinators change but Indianapolis defenders have problems slowing opposing offenses on the ground. Things may be beginning to change for the better, however. The Colts added former LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis in the third round of last spring's draft and then signed former Chicago Bears DT Tommie Harris (27 career sacks) during the first week of training camp. Indianapolis also added ex-Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jamaal Anderson, who can swing inside to tackle if needed. Harris is a three-time Pro Bowl performer who should add strength and size to a largely undersized defensive line unit. Anderson is being compared to former Colts defensive end Raheem Brock in his ability to play two positions. The Indianapolis coaching staff likes Nevis' chances of adding much needed bulk and athletic ability to the defensive line rotation. The Colts hope that the addition of Harris, Anderson and Nevis helps to shore up the run defense.

THEY NEED TO PLAY: Running back Donald Brown and defensive end Jerry Hughes need to break through in 2011. Brown and Hughes have both been enigmas since joining the Colts as first-round draft picks the last two seasons. Brown has struggled at times to be a consistent pass blocker. And that's the key as to whether he will have success or not. If a running back can't pass block and protect quarterback Peyton Manning, his chances of seeing a lot of playing time drop considerably. Hughes, meanwhile, rarely got on the field defensively and saw spot duty on special teams. And when he was used on kickoff coverage, such as in the home playoff loss to the Jets, he allowed New York's Antonio Cromartie to break contain and have a big return that set up the game-winning field goal. Both should get a chance to make major contributions this season. The Colts certainly hope they deliver.

FINAL WORD: Injuries very nearly ravaged the Colts a year ago. Despite that, Indianapolis posted its ninth straight season with 10 or more victories in 2010. The Colts also registered their seventh divisional championship and ninth consecutive playoff appearance. If Manning can rebound from his offseason neck surgery, the offense can prosper. And recent additions to the defense (Harris, Anderson, weak side linebacker Ernie Sims) could be difference makers. Indianapolis certainly has all the tools necessary for another extended journey into the postseason this year. The ability to play for Super Bowl XLVI, within the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, is the goal to be reached.


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