I am going to break down our starters first based on depth chart:
2013 First Stringers 2012 First Stringers Analysis
WR1 - R Wayne R Wayne Neutral -- Same player, some might say he is getting older but he sure looked
good in preseason, and hopefully with another year with Andrew, he will improve.
TE1 - D Allen D Allen Improved -- Same player, some injury concern in preseason.
New offense is more TE friendly, and a lot of players make big leaps from year 1 to 2.
LT - Costanzo Costanzo Neutral -- Same player, I think Costanzo will do a fine job and may benefit from new offense that seems to get the ball out of Andrews hand quicker.
LG -- D Thomas Reitz/Various Improved -- New player, IMO an improvement over anyone that we stuck at LG last year
C -- Satele Satele/Shipley Improved -- I think a healthy Satele is better than Shipley. If he stays healthy, I think
this is an improvement from last year. I think Holmes is our C for the future, and may
contend for some starts a little bit further into the season.
RG -- McGlynn McGlynn Neutral -- I think McGlynn is still our weak-link on OL -- hopefully Thornton takes this
spot over before long and turns it into improvement.
RT -- Cherilus W. Justice Improved -- I don't think I need to explain.
TE2 -- Fleener Fleener Improved -- Same player, but another year of NFL experience, a TE happy
passing attack, and his college coach calling the shots should see
Fleener thrive. The biggest challenge will be keeping him healthy
WR2 -- DHB D. Avery Improved -- DHB is bigger, just as fast, and a lot more physical than Avery.
His hands have been fine in games, so hopefully they will stay that way.
Either way, Avery had lots of drops, too -- I think DHB is a bigger deep threat
and will be better with YAC on shorter routes.
WR3 -- TY TY Improved -- I had to put WR3 and TE2 on the starting O, just because I think we
will see a good deal of 3 WR lineups. TY had a very solid rookie campaign, and
from the looks of it he has improved from last year. I also think this offense
will let TY thrive on both short and deep routes -- DHB should command more
attention than Avery did, and with a more balanced attack, TY should have more
chances of being given the ball in open space.
RB -- Committee Ballard/Brown Improved -- I am calling this a committee, because I don't think it is going to matter
who we start. Bradshaw should provide improvement, and a better line should
help all of our RBs. I expect that the killer B's (Ballard, Bradshaw, Brown) will
have relatively equal touches at season's end -- I think we'll see what the defense
is giving us and use our RBs to different extents each game, with a different guy
leading in touches from one week to the next. Health is the main issue here --
can Ballard withstand a 16 game season? Brown and Bradshaw have enough
injury issues already -- hopefully, a committee system will keep them all healthy.
A full back cannot hurt these guys either, I think Brown improves the most with that
addition, as he is our biggest threat if we can get him thru the hole and into the
secondary -- Havili will hopefully blow some LBs out of the hole and let Donnie run
FB -- Havili None Improved -- Havili looked to be a good blocker and pass catcher in preseason.
I think his addition is going to be very valuable to open up our run game, and help
in short-yardage situations and the red zone (I expect him to be up near the top
FBs when it comes to the pro-bowl selection)
QB -- Luck Luck Improved -- A more familiar offense, a year under his belt, a better OL, improved
running game and improved receiving threats look to keep Luck more upright and
the new offense should see increases in completion % and decrease in INTs.
So, for offense -- I have 10 improvements and 3 neutrals (all of which could be argued improvements due to a stronger supporting cast) -- yes, that is 13 offensive starters because I included FB, TE2 and WR3 on the list as I think we will do all we can to get TY on the field with DHB and Reggie on the outside, though I think our base packages will see either 2 TEs or a FB on the field. Our RB depth has improved, our OL depth has improved, our QB depth has improved, and I think our TE and WR depth are basically the same as last year.
Now, onto defense -- here I am just going to break down the secondary as I think we will rotate enough with the front 7.
Last year, our D had a few injuries to the DL -- Maoli looked to be showing improvement and was starting before he went down with an injury. He is listed as a back-up this year -- so that should be improvement at DT already. Redding will remain our motivator and provide leadership to this line. I am a little concerned about inside pass-rush without Nevis, but not that much. I think the combination of Chapman and Franklin at NT is hands-down better against the run than what we had last year, and I expect to see RJF provide some interior pass rush depending where he is lined up. If healthy, I think this line is hands-down better than last year's line -- RJF, Franklin, and Chapman should all be improvements to who we had last year. While I am still not overly impressed with Hughes as a football player yet, I do think he is a physical specimen and is not a downgrade from anyone on last year's line (maybe a healthy Nevis). Mathews was here last year, and hopefully improves with another year under his belt.
Now to LB -- Mathis is Mathis and has had a year of the 3-4 under his belt, so I look for him to improve. Freeney is just not made for a 3-4, so while it was sad to see him go, I think we got the best years out of him and don't think he will be sorely missed. Walden looks solid against the run so far and I'd say a more 'true 3-4 OLB' than Freeney, I will call this a neutral improvement for now mostly because I don't want to say Walden is better for our D than future HOFer Freeney without seeing him make it through a season. I think Werner is an upgrade at OLB depth, and like what I have read about Cam Johnson -- so I think our OLB depth has improved. At ILB, I expect Freeman to continue to be a tackling machine, I don't know that he will break his total from last season, but he should have a chance with Chapman and Franklin eating up blockers better than our NTs from last year. I hope Angerer stays healthy, I think he is a good fit in the 3-4 and can have a tremendous season. I am also very pleased with Conner, Harvey and to a lesser extent Sheppard as depth. I expect us to see a lot of crazy line-ups at LB across the board -- it seems like Conner is a very good run stopper, so I will not be surprised to see him replace Angerer/Freeman on short-yardage, and it seems like Harvey might be the best pass rusher out of the group, so I won't be shocked to see him in the line up on long-yardage situations. I also like the idea of getting Mathis, Werner, and Walden after the QB all at the same time, and expect us to almost switch to a 4-3 in some cases. Overall, I would say my biggest concern at LB is Angerer's ability to hold-up for the whole season -- but I think we have better depth than last year, and think we will see a lot of production from Mathis as a sack-artist this year with Walden containing the strong-side. I expect to see glimpses of excellence and awfulness from Werner as he learns the 3-4 and gets accustomed to the NFL, but think he will be solid overall. I would say we are slightly better at the LB position than last year, and depending on how fast Werner develops and how well Walden plays will determine if we become a much better LB corps as we get deeper into the season.
CB -- Vontae Davis is back -- he really came into his own as the season went on last year, I think he is top 5 talent in the NFL at CB and will continue to improve and continue where he left off.
CB -- Greg Toler looks to be a real ball hawk and physical. I think he is certainly an upgrade at CB2.
*Note, Vaughn looks better to me this preseason than all of last season, and I don't think he is a terrible #4 or #5 CB. I think Gordy is fine for a 4 or 5 as well. Butler, I think, is a very solid #3. If Davis and Toler stay healthy, I think we have a very, very good group of CBs. I won't panic if Butler gets some reps as #2, but I hope we never have to see him and Vaughn on the field together as starters. I think Mathis is going to be more of a pass-rush threat this year, so hopefully we will see the CBs making a lot of plays with pressure on the QB
SS -- Laron Landry -- huuuuuugggeeee improvement over Zbikowski (pretty sure Zbikowski got cut by the Bears and no-one picked him up). Landry will solidfy our run game, strike fear into opponents crossing the middle, and will make Bethea's life a lot better.
FS -- Antoine Bethea -- I think Bethea is set to return to his pro-bowl form -- last year he had to compensate so much because of a * surrounding cast -- with the additions of toler and Landry, I think Bethea can get back to playing a true FS position and think that is where he shines most.
*Note: I don't understand why our depth chart lists Landry as FS and Bethea at SS because it looks like Bethea is going to be playing deeper of the 2. Also, I was very impressed with what I have seen and read about Howell, and think Lefeged and Sergio are very solid back ups.
Overall, I think our secondary has the talent to be the top starting secondary in the league -- our front 7's ability to pressure the QB is going to determine if our DBs can live up to their potential.
P - McAffee -- IMO, best punter in league and right up their for kick-off man
K - Viniatieri -- still looks to be a solid K, though I won't be shocked if he retires or lands elsewhere of Indy after this season. Cannot argue that I would want anyone else kicking a FG in a clutch moment right now.
LS - Overton -- hopefully we don't hear much of his name, he was very solid last year and has an underrated job in terms of importance and responsibility
KR -- Vaughn/Reed
PR -- Hilton/Whalen
Coverage -- Lefeged and Brown I thought were very solid last year -- I think Howell will be fine, too. I have not seen Cam play any special teams, but it sounds like he has the size and speed to be strong there. Gordy should be able to make some ST tackles, and hopefully we can fill the rest of our coverage unit with deep LB depth.
Overall, ST is what worries me about this team the most -- I think we are very well off with Overton, Vinny, and Patty Mac. Vaughn showed glimpses of being an OK returner last year, and Reed seems like he'll be solid if healthy -- I won't be shocked to see Reed gone when Brazzill returns, and thought Brazzill showed some potential as a returner last year. TY is dynamic, but I always worry about him as a punt returner because of the risk of injury and his tremendous value to our offense. Whalen has good hands, I don't know that he could hold TY's jock in terms of play-making ability as a returnman, but I don't think he'll fumble or make any big mistakes back there. Our coverage units looked shaky in week 1 of preseason and at times last year -- they seemed a bit better after game 1 of preseason, so hopefully that trend continues.
For the synopsis of the team:
I think we have improved or remained the same on every position on offense. I think our only question to see if we have improved or not from last year on defense is OLB, I think we have, but time will tell. I think our DL is definitely improved and that our secondary might be the most improved unit on the squad. ST's we will see about our returners, but I don't think anyone can be unhappy that we've got Patty Mac and Vinny's legs and experience on our roster.
I say -- good job, Grigs and staff for fielding a team that has improved from last year's squad.