Authored by Anthony Holds - 16th April, 2006 - 3:37 am
Some thoughts while pondering the fact that the Colts will spend nearly as much time in New York City as Indianapolis over the first month of the 2006 season:
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Things were looking a little bleak for the Colts after the smoke cleared from the opening salvos of the free agent signing period. Edgerrin James, the greatest back to wear a Colts uniform in the Indianapolis era, was headed to sunny Arizona. David Thornton, the 4th round pick made good and a leader on the revitalized defense of a year ago, was gone to the division rival Titans. Larry Tripplett had packed his bags and jetted north to ply his trade for the Bills.
And what were the Colts doing? As per usual this time of year, nothing.
But was this a bad thing? Not really. The Colts, under Bill Polian, have long utilized the strategy of building through the draft and largely staying out of the free agency fray. Drafted players are simply more affordable than free agents, and under the new CBA can be locked up for four to six years on their initial contracts. As Polian regularly explains in various interviews with the Indianapolis media, the often over-inflated costs and significant risks associated with the acquisition of high profile free agents simply don?t make them the best investments. And while it?s not a terrifically sexy plan for putting a team together, one is hard pressed to argue with the results under Polian?s leadership for the past nine years.
So as we lamented the fact that current NFL financial realities made it impossible to avoid losing several key players, the Colts just sat there, biding their time and studying their various pre-draft personnel breakdowns. Right?
Or not. Actually, just in time for the arrival of spring on March 21, we found that (Holy #*&@!) we?d acquired ADAM VINATIERI. Even as I write that name in all caps I feel a little bashful, because? well, you know? he?s a kicker. But we all know that the significance of this move far outweighs that normally associated with picking up a kicker in the offseason. This isn?t Jose Cortez or Dave Rayner. This is Adam Vinatieri: an absolute icon of the New England Patriots dynasty. After Tom Brady, one could make a case for him being THE icon of that dynasty. The guy?s kicked huge game-winning field goals in two Super Bowls and one snowy, unforgettable AFC Championship against the Raiders (and he forced overtime with one in that Raiders game, too). He?s regarded as the greatest clutch kicker of this era, and possibly of all time.
So how does that translate to wins for us this season? Well, first off, it?s a legitimate, if subtle, trade up in the kicker department in my opinion. Mike Vanderjagt has been unassailably good for oh, about 87.5 % of the kicks he?s been asked to make for the Colts. That?s not so shabby? good enough for best ever percentage in the history of the league.
But it had become clear over time that he didn?t necessarily have ice water in his veins when it came to the really big ones. Yeah, he hit a few biggies. But you remember his miss to lose the season opener against the Pats in 2004, right? You remember that he very nearly botched the Colts unforgettable comeback against Tampa Bay in 2003 by missing a 40-yarder, before being given a reprieve by a defensive penalty and bouncing the winner through off the right upright. You remember his miss to lose the playoff game against the Dolphins in 2001. And I don?t need to remind you of his latest, terrifically wide right, absolutely inexplicable miss in this year?s playoffs. Vinatieri may miss the odd 52-yarder in the first quarter of a game against the Texans sometime, but if he follows his pattern we?ll be able to count on him in the waning moments of close ballgames. That might be good enough for a trip to the Super Bowl (where, again, he?s known to, umm? win the game), and that?s all we ask. Oh -- that, and he consistently kicks off effectively, allowing us to open up another roster spot by not carrying a ?kickoff specialist?. And did we already mention that just sending Vinatieri onto the field against the Patriots (whom we will play, apparently in perpetuity, in prime time at Gillette Stadium every season? did you get that memo?) will cause pain, hand-wringing, and a general sense of indignation in the average Pats fan. That beautiful fact alone was worth the price of the acquisition. So sayonara, Vandy. It was a good run. Here?s hoping that you and T.O. can strike up a beautiful friendship down in Dallas.
So now we have our iconic, slap-in-the-face-for-the-Pats-every-single-time-we-face-them-from-now-on kicker. We?ve lost our featured running back and a starting outside linebacker. This brings us to the draft.
Tripplett, for as much promise as he showed (and had begun to cash in on in the latter half of last season), was a guy in a defensive line rotation that, even in his absence, remains pretty solid. With a re-dedicated Cory Simon, freshly re-signed impact starters Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock, Montae Reagor, and the most feared pass-rusher in the NFL in Dwight Freeney, the Colts? line looks good. Sure, they can use a little more depth at tackle, but they should be able to address that as the draft goes on without a huge problem. So clearly the most obvious needs in terms of replacing starters are at running back and outside linebacker. But we have to add guard and cornerback to that mix, too. At guard, Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott did workmanlike jobs last year, but they looked overmatched in the Divisional Playoffs, as the Steelers kept collapsing the interior of the line on their way to Manning like they were crushing soda cans to be recycled. A big, powerful presence in one of those spots could go a long way toward helping avoid a repeat of that phenomenon at any time this year. Taitusi Lutui, the USC guard, is one name that is being frequently tossed around these days by draft gurus as a possibility. A couple others that are considered top-notch are Max Jean-Gilles of Georgia and Oklahoma?s Davin Joseph. And none of those players is likely to go in the first round, so if the Colts chose to go guard in the second it?s probable that one would be there. At cornerback, the Colts drafted Marlin Jackson last year, of course. He had a solid rookie season as a nickel corner, but word on the street is that they may like him better at safety, as a possibility to replace Mike Doss in the starting lineup. If that happens, they?re left perilously thin at corner. Jason David is increasingly reliable, but Nick Harper is griping about his contract and one never knows when he may be stabbed at an inopportune time (sorry, had to go there). And after those two, depth is a problem. There are a number of reasonably good corner prospects in this draft, so we should be able to answer that in the first three or four rounds as well. Same with outside backer.
Which brings us back to the thing we?re all sweating? the replacement of Edgerrin James.
And there are really three possibilities with the 30th pick that keep popping up in conversations ? none of them a sure thing to be there when the Colts pick: DeAngelo Williams of Memphis, Laurence Maroney of Minnesota, and Joseph Addai of LSU. LenDale White of USC is also in the mix, but with his slightly embarrassing offseason of injury and underachievement at the combine and USC?s recent Pro Day, along with the fact that he doesn?t seem to fit exactly what it is the Colts do, he doesn?t seem a strong possibility. Various draft experts and publications have Williams and Maroney going anywhere from 10 to 32, with most of the latest prognostications placing them in the latter half of the first round. Several have one or the other falling to us at number thirty. Addai seems to be a safe bet to still be on the board at that point, but the conventional wisdom is that he?s a slight reach at the bottom of the first round. So if Williams and Maroney are gone, do the Colts make that slight reach and go for the LSU back with the solid receiving and blocking skills (a la Edge) or do they try to trade up a few spots to nab one of the aforementioned other two? We?ll see. I know this: After listening to Polian?s cryptic banter about finding Edge?s replacement on Colts Drive Time last week, I believe he has a very specific plan in place to make sure we don?t come away empty-handed. Could it even be a trade? For someone like a Domanick Davis? Regardless, don?t count on him tipping his hand. He even tore us all from our running back tunnel-vision this week by indicating that, you know, we might not even be looking to draft running back first. I don?t really believe that, but we have to support some subterfuge on the part of our boys. That?s the way it works. Any way you slice it, the next couple of weeks, and certainly April 28th and 29th, are going to be a wild ride. I, for one, plan to relish it.