Tonight's Rams-Colts game could be the last significant tune up for the starters. With the constant looming threat of injury hanging over every snap of the preseason, the fourth preseason game is the annual Roster Cut Bowl. So tonight could be the last we see of many of the most important Rams in the 2015 preseason.
Let's start on offense. Do you guys have enough around Andrew Luck this year to improve? If you're back in New England in mid-January 2016, are you more confident that the offense is going to be able to pull its weight and why or why not?
This offense should be significantly improved from last year's version. We all know about Andrew Luck and know that he hasn't really been the issue, but he's just entering his fourth year and could get even better. Surrounding him, however, is a very good cast of skill players. T.Y. Hilton had a Pro Bowl year last year, but he was really the only reliable weapon that they had. Now, they added veteran Andre Johnson in free agency and drafted Phillip Dorsett in the first round, giving them two more exciting receivers along with Donte Moncrief, who was drafted by the team last year and has talent. They signed veteran running back Frank Gore, who should have a good year (if only for the fact that he'll be facing less men in the box now with this passing offense). They have Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener at tight end, who when healthy make up one of the better tight end duos in the league. And then they have depth at a lot of those spots as well behind those players already mentioned. The one huge concern for the Colts offense is their offensive line, which hasn't looked too good yet this preseason. If that unit struggles it could limit the offense's effectiveness, but they still played well last year and still didn't have a good line, so I think that it should be something the Colts could overcome. So, to answer your question, yes, this offense should be improved and should be able to pull its weight no matter who they are playing (though the hope for them is that they won't have to be in New England in January but rather in Indianapolis).
Defensively, how are things coming together? Getting Robert Mathis back can't hurt. You guys were middle of the pack overall in 2014 in both the pass and the run. Is that the goal - to just shoot for defensive adequacy so your offense can win games? (P.S. I'm a Rams fan. What is offense? What are points?)
Well, the stated goal by the Colts is that they are aiming for and think they can be better than middle of the pack, but if we're looking at their actions and not their words, that does seem to be the idea. They are heavily investing in the offensive side of the football but haven't given the defense the talent that it really needs to excel. They have a standout player in cornerback Vontae Davis, and they are "adding" two proven, veteran pass rushers in Trent Cole (free agency) and Robert Mathis (returning from injury), while at the same time they added Kendall Langford along the defensive line (and are getting a healthy Arthur Jones back) to help the run defense. So, let's put it this way: there's reason to hope that the defense will be better in 2015, but it's a case of we'll believe it when we see it. Simply put, I don't think the Colts have enough talent to be a top defense, and they're not developing much younger talent either. This defense should, though, be much like last year - play very well against poor to average offenses but play awful against good offenses. The realistic goal for them this year? Play well against the bad/average teams and slow the good teams down just enough so that the offense can outscore them.
You guys put together a really interested draft class this year. How's Philip Dorsett looking so far? Are the defensive additions going to be in the starting mix for week one?
Most Colts fans really, really disliked the pick of Phillip Dorsett at the time because, as we all know, they need defensive help. Instead, they went for the highest player left on their board, which just happened to be a receiver. As time has gone on and we've moved on from the draft, however, this pick has become a lot more popular - mainly because, once the emotion of not drafting a defender wore off, it's easy to realize that Dorsett is a good player. He has impressed so far, showing off his great speed but also looking like a well-rounded player for a rookie. He is also the team's punt returner, and the Colts have been working on ways to get the ball in his hands to allow him to make plays. The draft picks on the defensive side of the football are perhaps even more interesting, however, and they could end up playing significant roles this year as well. Third round cornerback D'Joun Smith has had an up time as he adjusts to the NFL, but the Colts really like him and there's reason to. He should be in line to be the fourth or fifth cornerback on the roster this year. Third round defensive end Henry Anderson is a player who is a perfect fit in the Colts' system and should see some time in the rotation this year. Fourth round safety Clayton Geathers could be in for a big role, as he has been playing as an inside linebacker in their dime packages. The Colts struggled massively to cover the tight end last year (and D'Qwell Jackson was terrible in coverage), so it appears that in obvious passing situations when the Colts use the dime package, Geathers will come in as a linebacker for Jackson, as Geathers can both tackle and cover. At some point I'd expect him to get a shot at safety, but whether that's this year or not, he still should see some playing time. And then there's fifth round nose tackle David Parry, who has been earning some first team reps in preseason as the Colts are still looking for the answer at nose tackle in their 3-4 defense. Parry could wind up winning the starting job, but even if he doesn't, he will likely see a lot of playing time too.
Beyond the draftees, what other new Colts are standing out? Any UDFAs with a shot at the 53-man roster? How are the veteran free agent additions in Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans meshing this early?
I really want to say that there's an undrafted free agent who will make the team because, well, there always seem to be one or two of them every year. But at this point, I don't really see it - other than Duron Carter, the wide receiver the team signed out of the CFL before the draft (he's technically an undrafted rookie, I guess). Undrafted receiver Quan Bray had a great camp, but he has been nearly invisible in preseason. I liked outside linebacker Zack Hodges a lot coming into training camp, but he hasn't done nearly enough to earn a roster spot at this point. At this point, I'd have to say that a guy like cornerback Eric Patterson or inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre might stand the best chance of any of the undrafted free agents at making the roster, but I'm not sure if there are any right now that I see making the team.
The veteran additions for the Colts are the most notable ones, as Gore, Johnson, Cole, and Herremans have all produced at the NFL level and will all be starting for the team in 2015. Johnson will be the number two receiver and will have a big role, as he'll likely get a lot of passes thrown his way. Gore is the starting running back and could be the first Colt to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since 2007. Cole will absolutely be starting until Robert Mathis returns, and even after that point Cole will have a big role in pass rush, an area the Colts struggled at last year. And then Herremans is the team's starting right guard - he's had some struggles in preseason, but I don't see the team making a move anytime soon, nor do I think they should (the rest of the line has seemingly been just as bad).
What are the fan base's expectations this year? Obviously, they have to be high. You've got a phenomenal young franchise QB, and the team has climbed the ladder from Wild Card to Divisional Round to the AFC Conference Championship. Is anything short of a Super Bowl appearance this year a "failure?"
There's no doubt about it: the expectation for the Colts this year is the Super Bowl. This team has a lot of talent in some spots and a lot of question marks in others, but they have a great one at the most important position, as they have Andrew Luck at quarterback. The team's schedule is a very favorable one and it is entirely realistic that they could earn home field advantage for the playoffs. That's not easy, but it's possible for this team. That would allow them to avoid a January trip to New England, which would be big. Ultimately, there will be a lot of disappointment if this team falls short, but I wouldn't consider it a Super Bowl or bust season. And the main reason why is this: I absolutely think the Colts have a real shot to get to the Super Bowl, but I also realize that they have work to do. Andrew Luck has covered over a lot of flaws, and he will likely do that again this year. So while the expectations are massively high this year (and while some Colts fans will disagree with this), I wouldn't consider it a Super Bowl or bust year - though they can't afford a big postseason flop either.
Thanks to Josh for the time.