The Indianapolis Colts’ preseason is almost over. Their last game is this Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team has made strides since the start of minicamp. However, there are still areas of concern.
Some of those areas of concern have been present since the end of last season. Still, others are new and unexpected, possibly bringing back some haunting memories of seasons past. Let’s look at the four biggest areas of concern for the Colts in this upcoming season.
Do the Indianapolis Colts have enough at tight end?
Local boy Jack Doyle retired following the conclusion of the 2021 season. Thus leaving the Colts with Mo Alie-Cox (MAC) and Kylen Granson. The team drafted third-rounder Jelani Woods and sixth-rounder Andrew Ogletree. Unfortunately, just last week Ogletree tore his ACL and is already lost for the season.
It’s unfortunate news, as he was really making a strong impression in camp and was really looking like the better rookie tight end. Now that he is done for the year this gives general manager Chris Ballard a bit of a clearer picture of his 53-man roster. The choice of keeping four tight ends over another player at a different position is off the list.
The Colts’ tight ends have a combined 1,935 NFL snaps, with 1,707 of them coming from MAC. Another way to look at is 74 NFL games of experience, again with MAC having the bulk of that experience. This is a position that we’ve seen can be pretty dynamic and potent in the Frank Reich offense. Remember that one season Eric Ebron had? Yeah, that was nice.
Both Granson and Woods are pegged more as the receiving or move type of tight end. They’re not lauded for their blocking abilities. MAC is a good blocker and will be asked to continue that while also needing to show much more in the passing game. The Colts are going to be leaning heavily on him. They’ll also be asking both Granson and Woods to step up and produce more than their NFL experience would say they have.
Left tackle remains a big question mark
Former left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired on January 12, 2021. The previous season he openly stated that he was contemplating retirement but eventually returned. This gave both Ballard and the Colts plenty of notice that they were going to be needing a new starting left tackle of the future.
So, they didn’t draft anyone in 2021 and instead signed free agent Eric Fisher, who was coming off a torn Achilles. He returned for the second week of the season and his play wasn’t close to what it was in Kansas City. So, in this past free agency period, the team signed no clear upgrade and selected a left tackle in the third round of the draft.
The hope is that Bernhard Raimann, the aforementioned third-round draft pick, is the Colts’ starting left tackle of the future. However, he is needing some more coaching and seasoning. Right now, Matt Pryor is the starter and, well, so far his play has left a lot to be desired.
There are a couple of reasons for optimism. One, hopefully, Pryor is still working on things and getting more comfortable at his new position, and once the regular season starts, he’ll be ready to roll. The other is, the previously stated, Raimann continuing his progress and is able to take over the starting job of providing Matt Ryan’s blind side protection during the season.
Wide receiver depth is concerning
This one is obvious and has been obvious since Ballard took over as the team’s general manager. To be fair, Ballard has tried to address this issue. Zach Pascal developed into a nice reliable secondary receiver before leaving in free agency. Also, he spent a second-round pick on Parris Campbell. Unfortunately, Campbell’s NFL injury history has been the “highlight” of his career so far. Finally, Ballard spent another second-round pick on Michael Pittman Jr.
MPJ looks like the team’s number-one receiver and a hugely successful draft selection. However, the team has no reliable or established second receiving option behind Pittman. Campbell is still on the team and is having a good camp and preseason. So, hopefully, his health will cooperate. If it does, Campbell and Pittman could form one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL.
If that doesn’t work out, then maybe the team has struck gold again in yet another second-round wide receiver selection in rookie Alec Pierce. Pierce has been getting a baptism by fire in training camp by constantly going up against Stephon Gilmore. Pierce’s game is starting to show up even more in the preseason games.
The team also has seen a huge jump of improvement from mostly special teamer Ashton Dulin. For what it’s worth, Dulin is the team’s most expensive wide receiver. He is also another option for the team to be the number two pass catcher behind MPJ. However, just like the tight end group, most of the NFL snaps and experiences all come from Pittman.
There is no “veteran” wide receiver on the roster. There is still time for the team to sign one but at this point, it’s about a 50/50 guess as to whether they do or don’t. It would be cool to have T.Y. Hilton finish his career with the only team he’s ever known, as he remains a free agent.
Linebacker group looking a bit thin
As previously hinted at the beginning of this article, this position group is one that is a bit unexpected. All Colts defense everything, Shaquille Leonard is currently without a timetable to return from his back surgery he had this past June. This now marks back-to-back years of Leonard having summer surgeries. Last season it was ankle surgery.
As previously mentioned, there is no scheduled return date for him. Reich did come out and say that when Leonard returns he will have to learn how to play at less than 100%. This comment can insinuate that the team might be pushing him to return early. Earlier than when is the question.
This does make a “thin” linebacker room even thinner for the time being. The team only went four deep in regards to having NFL experience. Now, without Leonard, it’ll be down to three, and E.J. Speed will be asked to step up and produce in a major way.
Hopefully, this Leonard situation doesn’t follow the same route as Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck’s. When the team continuously downplayed the severity of the injury and insisted that said player will be playing for the team in the upcoming season. Only to see neither of them play because the injury was, in fact very severe.
The one unavoidable factor: Health
The main thing that all of these position groups have in common is overall depth. The team is very top-heavy in regards to NFL experience. Beyond that though, there is a lot of youth and inexperience. Good fortune in the health department for the team this upcoming season will be paramount. If it can’t happen, the youngsters will be asked to step up and hit the ground running as a seasoned vet. A toast to good health for the Indianapolis Colts.