The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 24 for rookies, July 29 for veterans
Where: Indianapolis, Indiana
1. Is Andrew Luck healthy, and if so, can he stay that way?
The Colts’ fate rests heavily on their 27-year-old quarterback, Andrew Luck. Luck, who was sidelined for the entirety of OTAs and minicamp, will begin training camp on the PUP list as he rehabs from surgery on his right shoulder in January. While it has been assumed he will be ready to start Week 1, Luck’s health remains a concern. And his health will continue to be a concern due to Indy’s porous offensive line. Last year, the Colts ranked 28th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. Not much was done to improve the line and we can expect Luck to be under plenty more duress this season. Nobody will question Luck’s toughness, but he has missed 10 games over the past two seasons after not having missed one during his first three years. If he has the time to manage his progressions and step up in the pocket, few people in the world can deliver a football with better precision. However, turnovers have become an issue with the protection breakdowns. Despite playing just 22 games the past two seasons, he has amassed 25 interceptions and 31 total turnovers. Make no mistake though: Luck has plenty of weapons. T.Y. Hilton is one of the trickiest covers in pro football, having earned three straight Pro Bowl selections. And don’t sleep on fourth-year man and target monster Donte Moncrief. He’s in line for a breakout year, now healthy and having trimmed down.
2. What about the defense?
The good news is it can’t get much worse defensively in Indianapolis. Last season, the Colts ranked 30th in total defense, including 27th in passing yards allowed. In fact, since 2012, the Colts have managed to rank better than 25th in turnover margin just once. Indy’s most gaping hole during the Chuck Pagano era has been a lackluster defensive line. Expect that to change. There is a youth movement, thanks to shrewd, aggressive moves by new general manager Chris Ballard. Free agent acquisitions Jonathan Hankins and pass rusher Jabaal Sheard will immediately make a difference. Another key issue under Pagano has been poor play at linebacker. Indy has been too slow in space, so it made several crucial additions. Barkevious Mingo, Sean Spence and Jon Bostic are all on board — but the real prize was outside linebacker John Simon, who has quietly developed into a very solid player. It’s early, but Pagano seems happy.
“We’ve gotten younger, and we’ve gotten healthier,” he said, according to the Indianapolis Star.
One question mark that hasn’t been quelled, however, is the health of safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers. Hooker, the 15th overall pick in the draft, has an assortment of hamstring issues and — like Luck — is on the PUP list. He is a major playmaker (seven interceptions at Ohio State last year), but he needs to get healthy before he can get up to speed in camp. Geathers, who had neck surgery in March, will miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. He is a physically imposing safety and Indy needs him on the field.
[Pressing Questions: Fantasy outlook on the Colts]
3. How much more quality football does Frank Gore have left?
Betting against Frank Gore has yielded few returns, as popular as that has been. At 34 years old, he is the oldest starting running back in the league. And yet, Gore remains steady, if not spectacular. Last year, the five-time Pro Bowler toppled the 1,000-yard mark on a 3.9-yard per carry average. Moving forward, it’s not unreasonable to expect more of the same. Indy’s line — which has struggled to protect Luck — actually ranked third in run-blocking last year, per Football Outsiders. A revamped defense and ideally a healthy Luck will help Gore. The fact that he continues to be a plus in the passing game — both in the screen game and as a pass protector — will keep him in the field per usual. Maybe he’s not Frank Gore circa 2011, but he’s still a fine football player.
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