INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s been five months of serious roster renovation. Not tweaking or minor adjusting. Serious renovation.
Half of the Colts’ 90-player offseason roster is composed of players who’ve never been an Indianapolis Colt. Even in the nomadic NFL, that level of season-to-season fluidity is rare.
One more example of the overall newness of this roster: the only players still around from the 2014 AFC Championship game – 2014, for cryin’ out loud – are Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle, Anthony Castonzo, Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, Adam Vinatieri, Donte Moncrief and Jack Mewhort. Erik Swoope was on the practice squad.
That’s nine. Plus one.
That’s our long-winded way of getting to the point, which is helping fill the NFL’s quieter time by projecting the Colts’ 53-man roster. As we’ve mentioned before when offering similar guesstimates, we do so using a pencil, not a pen. So much can happen between now and the one preseason cut, which occurs following the final preseason game.
After watching his handiwork on the field over the last two months, Ballard probably has a pretty good idea of whom he expects to start where at most positions when September rolls around. But he’s keeping an open mind. And for good reason.
“I’m really careful this time of year because I think teams get a really false impression of their teams in OTAs and in shorts,’’ Ballard told Colts.com. “I mean, this game’s played in pads and it’s a tough, physical game.
“The real competition begins in camp.’’
Players report for training camp July 29, and the first preseason game is Aug. 13 against the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Since we’re impatient, here’s our latest 53-player projection:
OFFENSE (23) (* – denotes rookie)
- Quarterbacks (2): Andrew Luck, Scott Tolzien.
Comment: We’re taking a leap of faith that Luck will be ready for the Sept. 10 season opener. If that’s the case, there’s no need to take up a third spot on the active roster with another QB.
- Running backs (4): Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Marlon Mack*, Josh Ferguson.
Comment: Gore is near the end of a Hall of Fame-caliber career and remains the feature back as he heads into the final year of his contract. But we expect more of a backs-by-committee approach this season. Turbin has earned a heavier workload. Mack might offer big-play potential.
- Wide receivers (5): T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Kamar Aiken, Chester Rogers.
Comment: This appears to be a deep, dangerous group. It’s a contract year for Moncrief, so it’s imperative he stays on the field and asserts himself. We actually debated keeping Dorsett. The 2015 first-round draft pick has yet to emerge, and it’s worth remembering Ballard didn’t draft him. Rogers seemed more reliable than Dorsett last season, and Aiken was a quiet-but-smart offseason acquisition. The 6-2, 215-pouner had 75 catches, 944 yards and 5 TDs for Baltimore in 2015.
- Tight ends (3): Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope, Brandon Williams.
Comment: Doyle is going to find out it’s a different ballgame when you’re the guy rather than the backup. And we’re all interested to find out what’s next with Swoope. As we’ve said, he reminds us of Marcus Pollard, who was pretty darned good.
- Offensive line (9): Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Ryan Kelly, Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark, Denzelle Good, Brian Schwenke, Zach Banner*, Jeremy Vujnovich.
Comment: We’re onboard with the projected starting unit being the best Luck has played behind, but let’s keep in mind that’s a low bar. Two issues to resolve: Has Mewhort fully recovered from knee surgery, and who replaces retired Joe Reitz as the invaluable moving part?
- Defensive line: (6): Kendall Langford, Henry Anderson, Hassan Ridgeway, Johnathan Hankins, Al Woods, Grover Stewart*.
Comment: We’re not the least bit confident with this rotation. Maybe David Parry holds off Woods as Hankins’ backup. Maybe T.Y. McGill forces Stewart to spend his first NFL season on the practice squad. Maybe Margus Hunt’s value on special teams earns him a roster spot.
- Inside linebackers (5): Jon Bostic, Sean Spence, Anthony Walker*, Antonio Morrison, Luke Rhodes.
Comment: Coordinator Ted Monachino has spoken highly of Bostic and Spence, and don’t be surprised if Walker sees extensive playing time as a rookie. We flipped a coin on the final spot, and kept Rhodes over Edwin Jackson.
- Outside linebackers (6): Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Tarell Basham*, Lavar Edwards, Akeem Ayers, Barkevious Mingo.
Comment: Sheard and Simon must establish themselves as front-line players after handling complementary roles with the Patriots and Texans, respectively. They no longer are surrounded by top talent. We’re interested to see how Monachino utilizes Basham’s pass-rush skills.
- Cornerbacks (5): Vontae Davis, Quincy Wilson*, Rashaan Melvin, Nate Hairston*, Daryl Morris.
Comment: Everyone is expecting a career season from Davis, the unquestioned leader of the position. Unrestricted free agency looms. More pressure, though, might rest with Wilson. The second-round pick needs to mature quickly and contribute immediately.
- Safeties (5): Clayton Geathers, Darius Butler, T.J. Green, Malik Hooker*, Matthias Farley.
Comment: We’re not the least bit confident Geathers (neck surgery) will be ready for the start of the season. It’s also fair to wonder whether Green will take the necessary step in year 2. Hooker should succeed Mike Adams as the secondary’s playmaker while Butler’s flexibility allows the coaching staff to keep an extra safety and one less corner. Farley is coming off a strong offseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
- Placekicker (1): Adam Vinatieti
Comment: Yes, he’s 44. Yes, at some point the Colts must find his replacement. We’ll worry about that in a few years. A reminder: Over the last four seasons, Vinny has knocked down 117-of-129 attempts (90.7 percent), including 18-of-23 (78.3) on attempts of at least 50 yards.
- Punter (1): Jeff Locke
Comment: He’s got monster shoes to fill. Pat McAfee was an elite punter, kickoff specialist and holder on placements.
- Long-snapper (1): Thomas Hennessy*.
Comment: Matt Overton set a high bar for the undrafted rookie.