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Indianapolis Colts February Scouting Report
Welcome to 2023, Colts’ fans! While the NFL offseason is in full swing, there is much work to be done to build your dynasty and keeper leagues – and it is never too early to start looking ahead even if you are only playing in redrafter leagues. Right now teams are mostly assembling new staffs (if they were a losing team in 2022) or rebuilding staffs after losing top assistants (like most Superbowl and winning teams are).
The Colts are clearly in the first of those two camps, as they were needing a permanent solution to their coaching vacancy when it became obvious that interim coach Jeff Saturday was in over his head while plummeting to a 1-7 finish including several historic defeats. After a long search with more twists and turns than a Jim Irsay rant, the Colts finally settled on former Eagles offensive coordinator HC Shane Steichen to be the new head coach in the Circle City. There are a lot of ties to the recent regime here as he had worked with Reich and Sirianni in San Diego and went with Sirianni to be the OC for the last two seasons while building Jalen Hurts into a young leader at quarterback. He also had a role in the development of Justin Herbert as a rookie with the Chargers. Tight ends and downfield receivers have fared well in his offenses, so look for a possibly uptick in value for second year guys like WR Alec Pierce and TE Jelani Woods
The real plus here is that he seems to be a high-energy, no-nonsense guy that seems to command respect and affection from his players, so he should get the best out of what he has. The down side is that he simply does not have an athlete and leader of the caliber of Hurts to work with…and I don’t believe there to be one in this draft, either, but that is a story for subsequent monthly reports! In theory, he will have an above average line like the one that was key to the Eagles’ success over the last two years – but they did not play like it in 2022. He did say that "We are going to throw the ball to score points and run the ball to win games" so he seems to imply a more pass friendly system offensively than the desired conservative game plan of both Reich and Saturday in recent years. But whether or not he has the aerial horses to pull that off remains to be seen; this teamalso does not have the outside skill talent that Steichen had in Philly when he has demonstrated the ability to design and lead a very potent offense.
With any first-time head coach, the key will be the staff he assembles, especially the coordinators. At this time, only one staff member has been named as of Feb 18– former Giants running backs coach DeAndre Smith who worked with Steichen at UNLV years ago. He has a ton of experience at the collegiate level but little in the NFL until recently, but is highly respected. Its unusual that an assistant would be named before letting the new O.C. do it – with no one yet named though, there are some strong rumors flying which have promise. Jim Bob Cooter is supposedly the odds on favorite to be the offensive coordinator, although Streichen has already said he will call plays so I wonder if that will impact his ability to get an experienced guy like Cooter. But Cooter has a great track record, especially in getting the most out of quarterbacks. He worked with Jim Caldwell and Peyton here in Indy for a few seasons, then had tremendous success in leading Matt Stafford and the Lions to his best statistical seasons and the most team success of his career. Last year he coordinated the passing game in Jacksonville as Trevor Lawrence made a huge step forward to be an elite passer. Yet another former Volunteer quarterback is also on the short list as Ravens receivers coach Tee Martin could be a backup plan if Cooter balks at the lack of game-day playcalling. He is a lot greener, but is highly regarded around the league. He also was the offensive coordinator at USC when top WR Michael Pittman was starring there, as well as working with Juju Smith-Schuster and Amon-Ra St. Brown. A longer shot is a former Steichen coworker and former Colts’ offensive coach in the highly respected Pep Hamilton. Besides his chops with an offense, he has several times been involved in bringing a new quarterback up to speed and making him a success at the NFL level. I wouldn’t rule him out for just that reason as well, since the Colts are likely targeting a young franchise passer with their first selection in April.
The two best coaches on the roster were D.C. Gus Bradley and special teams coach Bubba Ventrone. Each are head coach candidates here or elsewhere and each did a tremendous job in coaching up their units last year. There have been no defensive interviews that the team has announced, nor have Bradley or Ventrone interviewed outside of the Colts either. However, I would have imagined that if Steichen was keeping these two, he would have already announced it – especially with the offensive coordinator role being less important than these two with his own input on offense. I hope I am worried about nothing, as it would be a very good decision to keep those two guys. They are each higher intensity guys like Steichen and they have similar beliefs in accountability for one’s actions on and off the field, so these seem like no-brainers to me with their success and familiarity with the roster. By this time next month the staff will be complete as free agency will be starting, but it is in a state of real flux right now.
As to the roster, there have been a few additions to reserve/futures contracts mostly. They signed 12 guys in January that are at best developmental candidates, and none really jump off the page to me right now. In the last week, they also signed PK Lucas Havrisik to a futures deal; he spent time on the practice squad with us last season. They did sign WR Kristian Wilkerson off waivers when he was released by the Patriots this week. Wilkerson had a great preseason in 2022 but then was lost to a season-ending injury and apparently several teams put in waiver claims for him. Finally, the team also claimed OC Dakoda Shepley off waivers from the Cowboys. This journeyman is a big guy for a center and has played with 5 teams over the last five seasons.
As to the veterans on the roster (or off the roster if they are free agents), there could be a lot of motion there. It seems unlikely that QB Matt Ryan will be back, but I am not ruling it out completely. All three of the high dollar guys along the O-line have been mentioned as trade bait or cap cuts, but I am not sure if they can really do that without carrying so much dead money so as to make 2023 a lost season – especially with a cap hit by cutting Ryan. Veterans like TE Mo Alie-Cox and CB Kenny Moore might also be cap casualties as they underperformed and can be adequately replaced by younger and cheaper options. They did already resign backups RB Deon Jackson and DL Chris Williams to 1-year extensions right after the season, it should be noted.
The big question will be what they do with the huge list of free agents. I think someone will offer WR Ashton Dulin more than we can afford to pay him for his special teams prowess and depth receiver value, so he likely is gone. Similarly, LB Bobby Okereke is likely going to similarly valued and will command good money on the national market, so he also might be priced out despite the strong desire to keep him – and to a lesser extent LB EJ Speed also will command strong interest elsewhere. The linebacking corps could go from a deep strength to a gaping hole in a hurry if they lose both of them. P Matt Haack had a nice season in a pinch but the return of P Rigoberto Sanchez likely makes him expendable.
The free agents that almost surely will be brought back are PK Chase McLaughlin and WR Parris Campbell, and I presume that they will try to retain OL Matt Pryor, OL Dennis Kelly, CB Brandon Facyson and FS Rodney McLeod on team-friendly deals to bolster much-needed depth. Snake bitten DE Tyquan Lewis has had consecutive season ending injuries but is a player of value on and off the field, and might be back at a veteran minimum to help the team and provide leadership. The leading sacker last year was new addition DE Yannick Ngakoue, and even with two young pass rushers among their top picks, losing a guy like him could really negatively impact the defense. The Colts wont have a huge cap space available, but signing him to a longer term deal and locking him up would be a great idea. The trouble is that there are a few teams in need of a pass rusher, and many are more flush with cap space that can make him cost-prohibitive offer. It unfortunately could all depend on how much Ngakoue wants to play with this team and this coaching staff once the dust settled in the next few weeks.
That is all for this month from the Crossroads of America. I will be back late next month with a closer look at the early stages of free agency and a more complete look at the coaching staff assembled by Shane Steichen, Until then friends….enjoy!
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