Behind Enemy Lines: With Kyle from the Coltsider
SOTT Questions to Coltsider
pds- Which Colts rookie is primed to make the biggest impact for the Colts on Sunday?
kr- Anthony Castonzo will likely make the most initial impact. He is the only rookie slated to start for this week’s game, and is playing at left tackle, arguably the most important player on the line behind the center. Castonzo is already looking like an improvement over Charlie Johnson from last year, but will definitely have his rookie moments. Having the first game against the Texans and Mario Williams will be a good test for the first round draft pick. Delone Carter and Drake Nevis will be guys to watch throughout the season, and have been very impressive so far, but I doubt they’ll make much impact on Sunday.
pds- What does it mean for the Colts without for Peyton Manning?
kr- It means the sky is falling. The Colts are built around Peyton Manning, and have been for a long time. Without him, the entire framework of the team is shattered. That being said, we haven’t given up on this team. If Kerry Collins can hold it together for a few games, then a Peyton Manning return would make a playoff run possible. For Week One though, it will likely be a rough game for the offense. I’ll be rooting for them, and hoping for some encouraging signs, but I’m not expecting much.
pds- The biggest Texans killers have to be Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, what can we expect from them on Sunday?
kr- Well they haven’t lost a step, especially Dwight Freeney. He destroyed the Packers Pro-Bowl LT in the third preseason game, with a combination of bull rushes, speed rushes, and his patented spin move. Both ends were impressive throughout the preseason, and will need to continue that in the games that matter. The defense relies on the abilities of these two to get to the quarterback, without the pass rush from the front line, the Cover-2 falls apart. Freeney and Mathis know this, and I have no doubt that they’ll be tough to handle during the opener.
pds- Does Kerry Collins give the Colts a chance to make the playoffs?
kr- No. Not if he is the starter for the season. Collins may be able to pilot this team to a few wins, but the Colts are tailor-made for Manning. Without him, the machine sputters. Collins is a decent quarterback, but he doesn’t have Manning’s abilities, especially his pocket presence. With the Colts’ questionable offensive line, Collins is going to get to know the turf pretty well if he’s slow moving in the pocket. If Peyton can comeback by Week Six or Seven, then yes, Collins gives them a shot at the playoffs. Collins is a player that may be able to hold the fort for Manning for a few games, but if he’s meant to be the starter all season, the Colts’ are in a world of trouble.
pds- How important is the return of Melvin Bullitt to the secondary?
kr- Not as important as one may think. Bullitt is a huge upgrade over Aaron Fransisco, and immediately improves the defensive backfield. However, his value isn’t as high as it’s been touted. Bullitt is a very good backup, but a below-average starter. The Colts have several young promising safeties in Joe Lefeged and David Caldwell who may eventually take that spot, but need Bullitt’s leadership in the secondary. Bullitt is incredibly important as a leader on the team, but as a player, his return may be overvalued. Bottom line, Bullitt is a huge upgrade over last year’s SS, but his return alone won’t fix the Colts’ questionable defense.
pds- Who are the three top players to watch on Sunday against the Texans not named Freeney, Mathis or Wayne?
kr- Austin Collie is a big one for me. Last season, Collie was the best wide receiver in football for the first six games of the season, and was on pace for 117 catches for over 1300 yards and 16 touchdowns. After the concussion problems however, Collie needs to be watched carefully this season. He hasn’t shown any signs of head injury thus far (knock on wood), but has struggled with a foot injury this preseason. Another one to watch is rookie Delone Carter. He’s overtaken 2009 first round pick Donald Brown as the second back on the depth chart, and looks to be a steal for the Colts. Brown was seen as merely a short yardage back in April, but once he was given the ball in the games, he showed an all around skill that has Colts’ fans excited. He can move the pile if need be, but he also has the ability to bounce it outside and put a move or two on people. My final player is actually a whole position: Defensive Tackle. The position has been a weakness for the Colts for years, but has looked promising in the preseason. Fili Moala, Antonio Johnson, and Drake Nevis all were impressive in the preseason, and the defensive line as a whole was one of the few bright spots during games. The position is thin however, currently only having four players (fourth is Eric Foster, a DE/DT tweener).
pds- How does Manning not around effect Reggie Wayne, Dwight Clark and Pierre Garçon?
kr- It certainly will bring down their production, especially if you’re talking fantasy production. Manning was asked (or decided) to throw more than any other quarterback in 2010, and the sheer volume will drop off tremendously with Kerry Collins throwing the ball, not to mention the disparity between Collins’ abilities and Manning’s. Wayne and Clark can still get open, but all of the receiver’s production should fall dramatically.
pds-Is there enough star power for the Colts to weather this week one distraction and be the Colts of old?
kr- It’s not the star power that worries me, it’s the cog players that need to step up. The offensive line needs to learn how to run the ball, as well as protect the quarterback. The linebackers need to stick to their gaps and tackle well. The corners need to play tighter, and the defensive tackles need to occupy linemen. The stars will be fine, assuming Manning eventually returns. The difference between a good team and a Super Bowl contender however, will lie in the core players. Of course, all bets are off if Manning is out for the season.
Coltsider Questions to the SOTT
kr- How is Arian Foster’s hamstring? There’s been a lot of rumors circulating about the severity of it, along with the Twitter photo. What’s your take on the photo, and the chances that he plays on Sunday?
pds- According to Arian and Head Coach Gary Kubiak the hamstring is coming around slowly. During camp Foster was hampered with the injury, but he was working on the back practices fields running full speed and cutting, while he was “supposed” to be injured. Foster is a fast healer and has already been running just not practicing. Just like you, it remains a real mystery how injured he is, but it may be an issue for the Texans during the course of the season.
kr- It seems like this question is asked every single year, but it needs to be asked. Is this finally Gary Kubiak’s make or break year?
pds- To me this is the year for the Kubiak Regime. Owner Bob McNair opened his pocket book and signed Johnathan Joseph and brought it a “real” defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips. Kubiak has everything he needs to succeed, and it is apparent that talent is not an issue for the Texans, it was coaching. If he wins and makes the playoffs he stays and get an extension, if he doesn’t he is going to pack his bags, with Phllips moving to the Head Coach of the Texans.
kr- How is Mario Williams adjusting to being a 3-4 linebacker? Is Wade Phillips’ defense going to work for Williams?
pds- Let me be the first to say there is no other Texans player under the microscope more that Mario Williams with the fan base. Right now Williams can’t do right in the fan base’s eyes, but he has slowly progressed in the position since the beginning of camp. Williams really looked good in the third preseason game against San Francisco, but what he does doesn’t show up on the “stat sheet” which clouds people’s minds. 31 other teams would welcome Williams to their roster with open arms so Texan fans better be careful what they ask for. He is athletic enough to make the transistion, and will be rushing the quarterback probably 90% of the time. I think as the season goes on,because of his play, Williams will be getting a contract extension to keep him here as a Texan.
kr- Speaking of the defense, how are the new additions, along with Wade Phillips, going to affect the league’s worst defense from 2010? Can the Texans defense be an above average unit in 2011?
pds- We are going to get better by default, but I think the jump as a unit could be scary. When I was at camp there was a different vibe with the defense, Wade Phillips and new linbacker coach Reggie Herring and new secondary coach Vance Joseph have put their stamp on the team immediatley. The Texans look like they know what they are doing defensively and have made the defense fun to watch. New cornerback Johnathan Joseph has been limited with a groin injury during the preseason, but looked good during camp and has the capability to shut down a half of the field. Safety Danieal Manning finally gives the Texans a free safety that can run and tackle and also the threat he poses returning kicks makes him a valuable player. The Texans have the chance to be an above average defense, with an improved pass rush the Texans secondary will look much better than the 2010 version.
kr- What are the weak areas of the team after watching the preseason and training camp? Is there any positions that still need addressing?
pds- The biggest issues have to be the nose tackle position, inside linebackers and offensive line depth. The Texans say they are happy with the NT rotation with Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell but their lack of body makes it easy for opponents to double team them and move them with ease. The New Orleans Saints gashed the Texans in the preseason up the middle and marched right down the field, and really showed a big hole in the Texans defense. It’s not scheme, but personnel in my opinion. As for the inside linebacker, DeMeco Ryans need to prove he can overcome his achilles injury that put him out for majority of the 2010 season and Brian Cushing needs to bounce back after having a terrible 2010 season that included a 4-game suspension and an offseason knee surgery that limited his camp and preseaosn. Both are gifted as players but overall health is what makes the inside linebackers question marks. The offensive line’s major concern is depth, their starters are as good as anoyone in the league, but the Texans lost two backups for the season, and they signed a few players off the street to fill their spots. The Texans offensive line is close to having some issues if one of the starters go down.
kr-Which player was the most surprising during training camp/preseason? Will he make a difference in the opener?
pds- I may get disowned by some of my fellow readers, but cornerback Kareem Jackson, to me, has made a dramatic improvement as a player and is showing some confidence. During the preseason he had some passes completed on him, but none for touchdowns and really played some solid technique this year compared to 2010. Jackson’s major growth period was during camp when early in camp he was getting abused by Andre Johnson during team drills, but as camp went on Jackson was standing toe to toe with Johnson and breaking up passes. Jackson has showed some fight in him being able to overcome one of the most disappointing rookie seasons in Texans history, but majority of Jackson’s short comings fall onto last years coaching staff not putting him into positions to succeed. This year the Texans are being careful with Jackson and putting him in situations that he can be successful in, and he will make a nice tandem with Joseph on the other side.
kr-All four of the top four picks in the 2011 draft were defensive players. Will they get a crack at the starting jobs this season? I know J.J. Watt likely will, but how about LB Brooks Reed, or cornerbacks Brandon Harris and Roc Carmichael?
pds-For Roc Carmichael he was injured in camp with a shoulder injury that limited him to a handful of practices and he played in no preseason games, but still made the 53 man roster. That to me shows what the Texans think of him as a player. Brandon Harris (cornerback) is currently sitting 6th on the depth chart, but will be playing on majority of the special teams units. I was an advocate for the Texans on day two of the NFL draft to draft Brooks Reed and it happen. Reed was making a position change during camp and was struggling mightily, but then somewhere in the middle of camp it was like a light switched on and he has shown why he was such a commodity during the draft. Reed makes the Texans deeper at OLB and shows he can get to the quarterback and devastate opposing blockers at the point of attack. As for J.J. Watt, many Texans fans were convinced they dropped the ball again in the draft, but Watt is better than advertised. He has made an impact on the football field but more importantly with the community. Watt’s presence on the starting defensive line has made other players like Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin better because the ability for all three players to play one on one with opposing offenses. Teams are going to have to decide who they are going to have to double team and this is all caused by the presence of J.J. Watt. This draft class has the chance to rival the 2006 draft class that included Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Owen Daniels, Eric Winston, David Anderson and Charles Spencer.
kr- The big one: Is this finally the Texans year?
pds- One would think that this is the year, but there is always a chance for something disastrous to happen. Maybe a last second loss or a batted Hail Mary play, but the Texans fan base are ready for a playoff team. I’m not being greedy we just need a taste of the playoffs, because the Texans are going to have to prove they can handle success if they start winning games. With all of that said, this will be the year the Texans finally break though to the playoffs and with all of the uncertainty in the AFC South, if they do not do it, you can expect some changes on the sideline.