This article is part of our Team Previews series.
While the Colts missed the playoffs in 2015 for the second time in 14 years, both the team's head coach and GM ended up being retained. A new offensive coordinator in Rob Chudzinski, a focus on improving the team's offensive line and keeping QB Andrew Luck healthy key hopes for a postseason return for Indy.
THREE KEY STORY LINES
UPGRADING THE OFFENSIVE LINE
No NFL signal-caller has absorbed more hits over the past four seasons than Andrew Luck, as the Colts' offensive line consistency struggled to excel in pass protection during that span. After seeing Luck's 2015 season come to a close after just seven starts, protecting the player who graced the cover of RotoWire's magazine last year became a clear offseason priority for the team. To that end, the Colts tabbed C Ryan Kelly in the first round of the NFL Draft and then added OT Le'Raven Clark in round three, OT Joe Haeg in the fifth round and C/G Austin Blythe 248th overall. Prior to this year's draft class, GM Ryan Grigson had tabbed six offensive linemen since 2012, though only one, G Jack Mewhort, has developed into a consistent starter. Bringing former Miami head coach Joe Philbin on board to coach the unit should assist in the development of the quartet of young newcomers. Since the Colts didn't make any major investments in the line during free agency, the team will look to see improvements from second-year player Denzelle Good, who could end up starting at right tackle, with Clark a candidate to man the left side.
CAN LUCK STAY HEALTHY?
Despite enduring spotty pass protection over his first three NFL campaigns, franchise QB Andrew Luck was a pillar of health during that span. Approaching the 2015 season, management elected to focus on stockpiling more offensive weapons for Luck, rather than fixing holes in the team's offensive line. That approach backfired, as Luck was hit hard and often last season, which resulted in him missing two games due to shoulder and ankle issues before suffering a season-ending lacerated kidney and partially-torn abdomen in Week 9. After a full offseason to recover from the beating that his body took last year, Luck participated in the Colts' spring practices without any limitations and looks healthy in advance of training camp. With an eye toward limiting the punishment he takes, there's talk that the Colts may try to convince Luck – who averaged 63 rushes per season between 2012 and 2014 – to limit his scrambling. While that may keep him on the field longer, it could reduce the fantasy value Luck has added in the past with his adept rushing skills. To date, he has 12 rushing TDs over his first 55 contests with Indy.
CAN GORE HOLD UP?
No NFL running back older than 32 has rushed for more than 1,000 yards since 1984, but Frank Gore will try to buck that trend. Though folks have seemingly been waiting for years for his production to fall off, Gore turned in yet another workmanlike campaign in 2015. While recording 260 carries, he fell just 33 yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard plateau for the fifth time in a row. Moreover, Gore – who turned 33 in May – continued to hold up physically, with his last missed game dating back to 2010. Having elected to pass on adding backfield depth in the draft, free agent acquisitions Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman will provide insurance behind Gore, with Ahmad Bradshaw, Josh Robinson, Dan Herron and Zurlon Tipton no longer in the mix. Digging deeper, the Colts could turn to undrafted free agent Josh Ferguson or late-season signing Trey Williams if Gore finally slows down, or his journeymen backups falter. Ferguson, in particular, could surprise if given an opportunity since he had 5.5 yards per carry as a senior at Illinois and was active in the team's passing game (37 catches in nine games).
KEY JOB BATTLE
Most of the Indianapolis depth chart on offense is set except for the backup running back position. Frank Gore will get the vast majority of snaps and his understudy may not be much of a factor if Gore is healthy. However, Gore will be 33 this season and eventually Father Time is going to catch up to him. The backup role could thus have significant upside if Gore is hurt, with Indianapolis expected to have an above average offense. Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman, Trey Williams, Tyler Varga and rookie Josh Ferguson will compete for the role. Ferguson, a prolific pass-catcher in college, could end up being the upside play here.
The Colts' failure to improve their O-line in advance of last season led to Luck continuing to take as much pounding as any NFL QB. He missed nine games due to injury and wasn't in top form even when healthy. To return to the playoffs, the Colts need Luck to stay on the field and in the process approach the lofty production he attained in 2014.
RISING: Donte Moncrief
In the wake of the departure of Andre Johnson, Moncrief becomes the Colts' clear No. 2 wideout behind T.Y. Hilton. Andrew Luck's return to health further buoys Moncrief's 2016 prospects.
FALLING: Frank Gore
Gore continues to keep on ticking, but the veteran back is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-low 3.7 yards per carry. He hasn't missed a game in five seasons, but the mileage is piling up.
SLEEPER: Dwayne Allen
With Coby Fleener gone, Allen – who hauled in eight TDs in 2014 – will serve as the team's primary TE. While he had just 16 catches and one score last year, he's set to reclaim his standing as a key red-zone target.
THE INJURY FRONT
Donte Moncrief, WR – Moncrief played with a toe injury the final month of last season and aggravated it in the last game. He ended up having surgery in the offseason and missed Indy's spring practices. However, he recently began running routes and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
Andrew Luck, QB – Luck's 2015 season was marked by shoulder and ankle injuries before suffering a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdomen on Nov. 10, which ultimately ended his season. Luck participated in Indy''s spring practices without any limitations and is expected to be good to go for the start of training camp.
Tyler Varga, RB – Varga missed most of last season with a concussion he suffered in Week 3 and struggled with post-concussion symptoms for several months. He has been cleared for football activities and intends to play in 2016. However, he faces an uphill battle for a roster spot against Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman, Trey Williams and rookie Josh Ferguson for a role behind the incumbent starter, Frank Gore.
Vontae Davis, CB - Last season, Davis tied a career-high with four interceptions to go along with 48 tackles, his highest total since 2012. Year in and year out Davis has been regarded as one of best coverage defenders in the league and he'll look to continue the trend in 2016. The eight-year veteran underwent minor foot surgery in the offseason, but appears to be on track for a healthy return during training camp.
D'Qwell Jackson, LB - Knock on wood, but Jackson has played five 16-game seasons in a row since the pectoral tears that wiped out most of his 2009 season and all of 2010. So long as he's healthy, there is no doubt that Jackson ranks among the top IDPs at linebacker. All but one of Jackson's six 16-game seasons resulted in at least 140 tackles, and even his "off year" was a 119-tackle, 3.5-sack campaign. With Jerrell Freeman leaving for Chicago in free agency, Jackson should get all the snaps he can handle in 2016. Another 140-tackle season is certainly within reach.
Mike Adams, S - Adams followed up his first ever Pro Bowl season in 2014-15 with another solid campaign, leading the Colts' secondary with 75 tackles, five interceptions, and three forced fumbles to go along with six pass deflections, one sack, and one touchdown in only 13 games. The 35-year-old shows no signs of slowing down in his 13th season and is a solid option for any IDP leagues.
Jordan Todman – RB (from Steelers)
Additional depth at RB, can help in return game as well.
PATRICK ROBINSON – CB (from Chargers)
Fills an obvious need opposite standout corner Vontae Davis.
Ryan Kelly – C (Rd. 1, No. 18 – Alabama)
Stability sought after starting five different centers in four years.
LE'RAVEN CLARK – OT (Rd. 3, No. 82 – Texas Tech)
One of four offensive linemen added in draft to restock the line.
Andre Johnson – WR (FA)
Could end up retiring after uninspiring season in Indy.
MATT HASSELBECK – QB (retired)
Drew eight starts at age 40 filling in for Andrew Luck.