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Indianapolis Colts: 2016 season preview

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

After Houston finished first ahead of the second place Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South last year, the Texans upped the ante by signing free-agent quarterback Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract.

Intent to retake the AFC South title, at least, the Colts signed their quarterback, Andrew Luck, to a six-year extension worth up to $140 million, including enough guaranteed money to help balance the national debt of some third-world countries.

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And that resets the tone for expectations with the Colts and fifth-year head coach Chuck Pagano as they open training camp July 26 with 17 returning starters, including Luck, whose physical health is a must if the team is to succeed.

Luck took the Colts to the playoffs each of his first three seasons with a regular-season record of 11-5 each time, but wound up on the sideline most of the 2015 season with injuries that included a lacerated kidney and bothersome shoulder. Indy finished out of the hunt at 8-8.

Luck (12) throws under pressure from the Denver Broncos' during the first half of play at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 8, 2015. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI
The Colts prefer to recall the ability they showed in a Week-9 game when they beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, 27-24. They point out that was the game in which they lost Luck for the season along with highly regarded rookie defensive tackle Henry Anderson (knee).
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After minicamp last month, owner Jim Irsay pointed to that game as an example of the Colts' ability before Luck was lost for the season. That overlooks the fact that the Colts were 3-5 going into that game and coming off consecutive losses to New England, New Orleans and Carolina and two of the three wins were with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback because Luck was already injured.

But now he is both healthy and wealthy and the Colts are literally banking on him.

Helping maintain Luck's health will be an offensive line that features left tackle Anthony Castonzo, although he struggled at times last year, left guard Jack Mewhort and rookie center Ryan Kelly (Round 1, No. 18 overall, Notre Dame), who has the ability to start and star for a long time.

But heading into camp, the offensive line's right side is not set in stone with Jonotthan Harrison starting at guard and Joe Reitz at tackle.

Luck will be without tight end Toby Fleener, a favorite target dating to their days together at Stanford. Fleener went to New Orleans in free agency ($36 million, five years). The Colts kept tight end Dwayne Allen from testing free agency by signing him to a $29.9 million deal over four years, with $16 million guaranteed.

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Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, the team's leading tackler since putting on a Colts uniform in 2012, went to the Chicago Bears in free agency ($12 million, three years, $6 million guaranteed). Sio Moore is expected to fill the void inside next to D'Qwell Jackson, who played well in 2015 but his age (32) is becoming a concern.

Here is a closer look at the newcomers and key players and how they should factor into the Colts' 2016 team:

{b: TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE}

SITE, LOCATION, ROOKIES, VETERANS

Anderson University, Anderson, IN, 7/26, 7/26

2015 RECORD: 8-8

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 4-2

COACH: Chuck Pagano

5th season as Colts/NFL head coach

44-26 overall; 3-3 postseason

STARTERS RETURNING:

17; 9 offense, 8 defense, kicker, punter

Ryan Kelly. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI
OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Center Ryan Kelly.

--The Colts' 2016 first-round draft choice from Alabama has proven to be as good as advertised. Expected to be a starter on the Indianapolis offensive line from the moment that he arrived at the team's practice facility, Kelly has not disappointed.

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Stepping into a starting job and learning an NFL offensive system in a few short weeks, he quickly developed a good working relationship and rapport with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. The pair plan to work out together often prior to the start of training camp on July 26.

NEWCOMERS

The draft -- A closer look at the Colts' picks (8):

--Round 1/18 - Ryan Kelly, C, 6-4, 311, Alabama.

Has proven to be as good as advertised. Solid offensive line addition who has already earned starting job as a rookie. Was the Colts' primary target with their first pick and officials were pleased that he was there for the 18th selection.

--Round 2/57 - T.J. Green, S, 6-3, 205, Clemson.

Colts coaches have come to love his combination of size, speed and athletic skills. Still a bit raw as a defensive back, but has a high upside. Green is expected to push for playing time on defense as a rookie. Will start out on special teams.

--Round 3/82 - Le'Raven Clark, T, 6-5, 316, Texas Tech

Big, mobile offensive line prospect who is slated to make a push for a starting job at right tackle. Can play both right or left tackle. Is also versatile enough to move inside.

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--Round 4/116 - Hassan Ridgeway, DT, 6-3, 314, Texas

The Colts wanted to get bigger and more physical along the interior defensive line. With the addition of Ridgeway, they may have done just that. The former Texas Longhorn has outstanding ability, but needs to become more consistent.

--Round 4/125 - Antonio Morrison, ILB, 6-1, 219, Florida

General manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano love the potential of the former Gator inside linebacker. Good athletic skills and is a hitter. Grigson and Pagano like his physicality at the point of attack.

--Round 5/155 - Joe Haeg, G/T, 6-6, 293, North Dakota State.

Former FCS standout who impressed general manager Ryan Grigson the last two seasons with his overall play and leadership. Big, moves well and can be physical as a run blocker. Saw plenty of work at guard during OTAs and minicamp.

--Round 7/239 - Trevor Bates, OLB, 6-2, 245, Maine.

Colts like his high motor and ability to be a potential playmaker. Showed great burst off the edge during offseason work. A bit raw, but is expected to begin the regular season on special teams in 2016.

--Round 7/248 - Austin Blythe, C/G, 6-3, 291, Iowa.

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Indy coaching staff loves his versatility. Will be a swing player who practiced at guard during offseason workouts. Was rated as one of the top five centers in the country prior to the draft. Colts were pleased that he was still available with their final pick of the draft.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--WR Josh Boyce: Backup receiver who will be fighting to earn roster spot during training camp.

--CB Patrick Robinson: Former Chargers corner who will be given an opportunity to start in Indy.

--RB Jordan Todman: Former Steelers backup who was added to the Colts roster in the offseason.

--QB Scott Tolzien: Ex-Packers backup should give Colts another solid No. 2 quarterback heading into the 2016 season.

--RB Robert Turbin: Ex-Seattle and Dallas running back who hopes to earn valuable backup role this year.

--WR Brian Tyms: Good-sized young receiver who will be trying to earn roster spot during training camp.

KEY LOSS: ILB Jerrell Freeman (13/13)*

--Freeman got a hefty pay raise after moving to the Bears in the offseason. The former Canadian Football League standout had been Indianapolis' leading tackler since joining the team as a free agent in 2012.

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OTHER LOSSES:

--S Colt Anderson (14/1), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (6/0), S Akeem Davis (6/0), TE Coby Fleener (16/11), QB Josh Freeman (1/1), QB Matt Hasselbeck (8/8), C Khaled Holmes (9/7), WR Andre Johnson (16/14), QB Ryan Lindley (1/0), G Lance Louis (11/3), S Dwight Lowery (16/16), LB Jonathan Newsome (14/2), LB Andy Studebaker (3/0), CB Greg Toler (10/10), LB Bjoern Werner (10/0), QB Charlie Whitehurst (4/0), DE Billy Winn (12/3)*

Total games played/started lost: 170/89

*Number in parentheses is games played/games started in 2015

-- Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX's network of NFL insiders provided information for this report.

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