Rebuilding. It’s a dreaded process in the NFL, though one every team must embark upon in some capacity over time. The most successful organizations typically find ways to retool rather than completely disassemble because they draft well and seemingly always have young talent waiting in the wings.
The Colts avoided the dreaded rebuilding process for over a decade, primarily because of the brilliance of one Peyton Manning, as well as the vision of future Hall of Fame front-office man Bill Polian.
Now, with Manning beginning a new chapter in the Rockies, and Polian trading in his GM hat for a very informative and insightful role on ESPN, rookie GM Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano are responsible for “building the monster,” the slogan painted on the walls of the Colts’ locker room.
Note the purposeful exclusion of “re.” The Colts have avoided uttering the term “rebuild” at all costs since the process of, well, rebuilding began after last season. That’s all fine and good, but the fact of the matter is that, of the 90 players currently on the Colts roster, 50 of them are new. And while the process of acquiring young talent — and continually replenishing the pipeline to avoid Grigson ever having 50 new players on his roster from one year to the next again — will be paramount in returning the Colts to greatness, I think the term reinventing is also apt for the 2012 Colts.
The idea of reinventing begins with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, arguably the most lethal DE pairing in the league over the past decade. Both are spending the offseason learning a new position — outside linebacker — after thriving as pass-rushing ends their whole careers. And while the end goal — putting the QB on his back as frequently as possible — remains the same, there are a lot of changes the perennial Pro Bowlers must make immediately for the Colts’ “D” to be the pressure unit Pagano envisions in 2012.
A slew of other defenders, including tackles-turned-ends Fili Moala and Drake Nevis, who could compete for the starting job opposite Ravens transplant Corey Redding, are also being asked to reinvent themselves as Pagano converts to a base 3-4 “D.” Of course, neither of these two have the résumé of Freeney or Mathis, but they figure to loom large in the Colts’ ability to stuff the run next season.
In the case of Moala, who has spent three mostly underachieving seasons with the club since being selected by Polian in the second round in 2009, change could be just what the doctor ordered. Viewed as a disruptive interior player coming out of USC, Moala has mustered just two career sacks and has yet to force a fumble in his NFL career. Perhaps a move to end and greater emphasis placed on strictly defending the run, rather than being asked to man the all-important under-tackle role and consistently wreak havoc in Indianapolis’ old cover-2 scheme, will be a good thing. For Nevis, it remains to be seen if a move to end will benefit him or the Colts. He was in the midst of a very impressive rookie season in ’11 (ignore the numbers — he was becoming more disruptive by the week before going down) before a back injury sent him to I.R. after Week Five.
The list of defensive players goes on, but it is not limited to that side of the ball.
ORT Winston Justice, acquired in a trade from the Eagles shortly after Grigson’s arrival, carries a similar underachiever label as Moala (I’m not intentionally picking on the Trojans, I swear). He has flashed the great athleticism and agility that made him an early second-rounder in ’06, but mainly we have seen inconsistency and a slow learning curve from a player with great talent, but also one who could rarely be counted on during his stint with the Eagles. Grigson saw enough of Justice when the two were together in Philly to believe there is untapped potential, however.
WRs Austin Collie and Donnie Avery both appeared to be on the fast track to stardom early in their careers. Multiple concussions sustained by Collie in ’10 and a devastating knee injury to Avery the same year have stunted their growth, however. Now, with top pick Andrew Luck targeting them and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians expected to employ a big-strike, vertical offense, both players have been given fresh starts to prove they can stay on the field and be productive. Collie managed to avoid injuries last season, but his production waned with a revolving door at QB. He is looking to silence the critics who believe his remarkable production in the first half of ’10 was a product of Manning. Avery was a nonfactor in Tennessee, but his dangerous speed has been on display in Naptown this offseason.
Conventional wisdom and nearly every national writer says patience is the key word for the rebuilding Colts. After all, not even the best GM and head coach — let alone Grigson and Pagano, both brand new to their posts — could fix this big of a mess in one offseason. I agree, it will be at least a few years before the Colts are ready to threaten for a playoff spot. That doesn’t mean they can’t improve from 2-14, though. Obviously, the growth of Luck will play as big a role as any in that potential improvement. Just don’t discount the importance of these veteran’s abilities and willingness to reinvent themselves, either.