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Why The Colts Will Improve In 2012

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Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck are on track to lead this squad on an outstanding sophomore campaign. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck are on track to lead this squad on an outstanding sophomore campaign. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No one could have legitimately predicted the 2012 Indianapolis Colts season. Coming off a disastrous 2-14 2011 campaign and undergoing humongous personnel changes in the front office, coaching staff and roster, the Colts satisfied even the most demanding of fans’ expectations with an 11-5 record and playoff appearance.

But now with the 2012 season over and preparation for 2013 beginning, the celebration is ending. Instead of lauding the young crew for its overachievement from a year ago, lofty expectations are already swirling around the Colts again after only a one-year hiatus.

It is reasonable to place high demands on this team when you combine its production from a year ago and the contributions it received from so many rookies and other youngsters.

Of course, the biggest expectations fall on the shoulders of Andrew Luck. The quarterback prodigy broke numerous NFL rookie records, including passing yards (4,374), attempts (627) and comeback wins (seven).

That final stat is the most impressive. With the league becoming more and more of a passing game, we’re seeing passing records going down left and right, but comebacks and wins are always constant. Despite being dealt an awful offensive line and a subpar running game and defense, Luck was still able to lead his team to victory in the final quarter or overtime seven times and single-handedly produced 11 victories for a franchise in the first year of rebuilding mode.

Luck will only continue to improve. He’s extremely smart, he has all the physical tools and his work ethic is through the roof. Usually the second season is where most players make the biggest leap. After a year of experiencing the NFL game to pick up the intricacies and feel the flow, Luck knows it’s time to go from being a great rookie quarterback to an elite franchise quarterback. There is no doubt he is well on his way to making that transition.

Luckily for the Colts, they also have four other skill players poised to make that second-year jump as well – tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, running back Vick Ballard and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.

Allen proved to be the most explosive rookie tight end last season, both as a receiver and blocker. Fleener was probably the second-best rookie at the position. Although he dealt with some minor injuries, he and Allen will be one of the league’s most feared tight end duos in the NFL beginning in 2013.

Everyone could tell T.Y. Hilton was a rookie in the first half of 2012. But in the second stanza, he became a whole new player, electrifying crowds with his big-play ability in both the receiving and returning games. His continued improvement will turn him into a dangerous weapon for Luck to utilize.

And although Ballard didn’t put up monster numbers, he proved he can be a workhorse back that gets better as the game goes on. That’s exactly what you want when you will be constantly trying to milk the clock to preserve your fourth-quarter leads.

On top of those guys, the Colts have 25-year-old cornerback Vontae Davis and 24-year-old left tackle Anthony Castonzo, both of whom were already good starters and will surely improve in 2013.

As if an exuberance of 25-and-under talent wasn’t enough, the Colts also brought in arguably the league’s best free agent class. None were big-time names, but the class as a whole will fill many needs.

Tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas will vastly improve a putrid offensive line. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey’s deep speed will complement possession receiver Reggie Wayne and slot specialist Hilton. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will be a great mentor and backup to Luck. Defensive line swingman Ricky Jean Francois will give the weak line a much needed legitimate starter, while nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin will provide solid depth. And while both have injury concerns, cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry, if healthy,  can turn the Colts’ secondary from a disadvantage into a strong point on the defense.

On paper, all the talent is there. The new Colts regime had an incredible initial season, and now it’s time to take the next step forward to compete for a division crown and possibly a first-round bye. The Colts rookie class from last season will make a giant jump to 2013, but don’t forget who also is entering a second year in Indianapolis – HC Chuck Pagano. With the difficult transition year from one coach to the next out of the way, Pagano’s leadership on this team should only improve.

Youth and inexperience are no longer excuses. It’s time to take the league by storm.