This is part 2 of an interview with Coltzilla.com's Brett Mock, who I interviewed in anticipation of Friday's preseason game against Indianapolis. You can find Part 1, which focused largely on Peyton Manning, here.
Andy Tisdel: After two preseason games, which players have stood out to you? Who has underachieved?
Brett Mock: Drake Nevis could be the biggest addition to the team. He is very disruptive, strong, has a unrelenting motor, and is quick off of the snap. If he develops this year and sees the field a lot, and some speculate he could overtake former second round pick Fili Moala as a rookie starter (which is rare for defensive tackles in Indianapolis), he could have a big impact on the team. Delone Carter is a poor man's Maurice Jones-Drew in that he is a bowling ball, very strong, and should help the Colts short-yardage running game.
Otherwise, Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana could be big upgrades for the offensive line, at least by the end of the year. We have a lot of competition for the left guard position as well. The line will be a lot different and looks to be deep at most positions. All depends on rookie development.
Jerry Hughes and Curtis Painter will probably be the biggest whipping boys for Colts fans. Hughes was a 2010 first round pick who has not yet showed that he can be overly effective in any phase of the game. I recently wrote about how it is a bit unfair to expect him to be overly productive in the role he has been playing this preseason, though, which is an every-down defensive end (something he is not and if he ever is that it will take time to develop like it did for Robert Mathis). Add to that the Colts passiveness when it comes to preseason and the vanilla approach to both sides of the ball and it gives Hughes few "third and long" or true pass rush specialist opportunities to shine.
Painter has been a whipping boy since he was asked to come in to keep the Colts' perfect season alive in 2009. I thought much of the criticism was unfair because he came in against one of the league's top defenses in about the most stressful position he could. So far this year though, he has been outplayed by Dan Orlovsky. Some would argue he was outplayed last year too by Tom Brandstater.
AT: What would you say is the strongest position on the Colts’ roster? The weakest?
BM: The strongest position, other than quarterback for obvious reasons, is probably wide receiver. If this group can manage to stay healthy this year, the potential is asinine. Reggie Wayne is one of the most consistent receivers in the league. Pierre Garcon has all of the physical gifts anyone would ever want and if he could develop more consistent hands he'd be deadly. Austin Collie, in my opinion, is one of the league's most underrated receivers simply because he suffered his concussions last year and his stats and games missed did not reflect how good he is. Anthony Gonzalez was probably set to break 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career in 2009. Instead, he randomly suffers a season-ending knee injury going out on his first route of the regular season. I also think that Blair White has the potential to be a special possession receiver. He is a blue collar guy who will do whatever it takes to get better. I have zero concern if any of those players has to start during the season.
The weakest group right now is probably safety or cornerback. I'll go with safety for now because outside of Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea, Colts fans have no idea what to expect. Any of the other safeties will be either new to the team or not battle tested. Joe Lefeged, Al Afalava, and David Caldwell have all shown potential but Afalava has never played with the team, Lefeged is an undrafted rookie, and Caldwell is entering his first season in the NFL (last year he didn't get any preseason action because he suffered an injury and went to IR).
AT: The Houston Texans are getting their annual preseason hype this year as a possible challenger to the Colts. Do you see them, or anyone in the AFC South, breaking the Colts’ stranglehold on the division anytime soon?
BM: That evaluation is also difficult to make without a single game played during the regular season, but I will put it this way. Jacksonville and Tennessee both have new quarterbacks (if Matt Hasselbeck starts a majority of the games this year it will be pretty surprising - due to continual health issues), and both may end up starting a rookie quarterback for much of the year. I like the Colts' odds against those teams for the division.
Houston will have much the same offense (if Matt Schaub stays healthy) and has made a splash in free agency to improve their defense, so that would point to a potential to be a greater challenge for the AFC South throne, but they are also dealing with a major defensive overhaul and I am not entirely confident that the defensive scheme change will go off without a hitch. When Larry Coyer came to the Colts, for example, he made only minor changes to the Cover-2 scheme the Colts ran under Ron Meeks and Tony Dungy. It took a season or two for there to be even remotely consistent results that those changes were successful (primarily blitz packages). Some would say the blitzes still are not good in the Colts system, with their current personnel.
That said, all of those teams have been on a mission for over a decade trying to tailor themselves to beat the Colts. They will fight very hard and going undefeated in the AFC South would be a surprise to most Colts fans -- even if they don't want to admit it.
AT: Assuming Peyton Manning starts every game as usual, what are your predictions for the season?
BM: A 10-win repeat would be a severe disappointment. A 12-win season would be acceptable, and right in line to how fans in Indianapolis are used to performing. I think this team, health permitting, is fully capable of a 13 to 14 win season. On the optimistic side, I'll say 13-3 with one loss in the division, probably to Houston, and two outside of it.
AT: What will you be watching for, specifically, on Friday night?
BM: I want to see how the competition at safety develops. I want to see Ernie Sims take the field for the first time in a Colts uniform, if he is able to go. I would like to see Justin Tryon get more time at cornerback. I would also like to see how individual offensive linemen perform against the defending champs, particularly the rookies. I will not be looking at the scoreboard. If the Colts win... I will be shocked. Pleased, because who doesn't like to win? But shocked.
To read more of Brett and his staff's writing, go to Coltzilla.com, where you can also read my responses to Brett's questions about the Packers.