On Sunday the Lions square off with the Indianapolis Colts, a rematch from last year’s season opener. This time, the stakes don’t matter! But let’s not let that get in the way; it’s the Detroit Lions taking the field for the first time in 2017 and the same can be said for the boys from Indianapolis. We reached out to Brett Mock of Stampede Blue, the Colts blog on the SB Nation family, to find out how things have been going.
For Chris Lemieux’s answers to Stampede Blue’s five questions, click here.
1. So...any progress on that offensive line?
As surprising as it might be, I actually think the unit has a chance to come together really well this year. Three rookies who were starting last season have benefited from that experience. Offensive line coach Joe Philbin is entering his second season installing a zone blocking scheme. Last year, the rookies really seemed to put it all together in the last four weeks.
With (Jack) Mewhort returning healthy to the lineup, this group should take a meaningful step forward. Of course, we need to stay healthy to do so and right now we're waiting on Ryan Kelly to recover from a foot injury he suffered on Thursday.
2. It seems like the biggest question posed (or not posed, depending who you ask I guess) but where are we at with Andrew Luck? Obviously the Colts will ride with him but is faith in the Stanford alum still at a high mark or are there some misgivings among the fans at his struggles and injuries?
Andrew Luck had the best statistical season of his career in 2016. It has been no secret that he has taken a beating early in his career and that his desire to extend plays can get him into trouble. But, assuming no setbacks from shoulder surgery, Luck is going to be in a great position.
There are very few quarterbacks in the NFL who offer a meaningful upgrade over Luck and he still has the highest ceiling of any young quarterback in the NFL. The Colts have an entirely underrated receiver corps, an overlooked tight end who soundly beat linebackers and corners in his routes last season (Erik Swoope #86), and an offensive line that may be turning a corner for the better. Maybe it is best to revisit at the end of this season but right now support for him is about is strong as it can get.
3. We're looking at a pretty overhaul for the Colts front seven. Who are the names we need to know right away that we'll see when the Colts lineup on defense? What's the one thing the defense hopes to improve on the most this season?
The starters right now are Johnathan Hankins (#95), Al Woods (#97), Henry Anderson (#96), John Simon (#51), Jon Bostic (#57), Antonio Morrison (#44), and Jabaal Sheard (#93). The defensive line in particular has been generating a lot of buzz in training camp.
Assuming these players will be very limited, keep your eye on rookie defensive lineman Grover Stewart (#68), defensive lineman T.Y. McGill (#99), defensive end Margus Hunt (#94), rookie pass rusher Tarell Basham (#58), rookie inside linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (#50), inside linebacker Sean Spence (#55), and outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (#52). If these players look really good, the defense might just be onto something.
The defense will have a primary objective this year at being more opportunistic. In particular, there is a focus on creating more turnover in the passing game by putting pressure on the quarterback and making athletic plays on the ball in the air.
4. Who is the one player from camp that has unexpectedly turned heads, and do you think his success will be limited to camp or can he produce in the regular season?
Second-year linebacker Antonio Morrison (#44) generated a lot of negative attention from fans after struggling in his rookie season. In particular, he looked slow and though he was strong against the run he was a liability against the pass. Many fans thought he wouldn't make the regular season roster.
He is currently slated as a starter with Bostic (#57) and has been the biggest defensive surprise of training camp. Although, I'm not surprised by this at all, as I wrote a story breaking down his game film and thought he was being overlooked. So long as he can stay healthy, things are coming together nicely and I expect that to translate to the regular season.
5. Just how "Irsay" will this season be for the Colts organization? Answer however you see fit.
I think that Jim Irsay is one of the best team owners in the NFL who really cares about his team. He has certainly had his bumps and bruises and mistakes away from the team and I think that has hurt his image, which allows the rest of the NFL and fans of other teams to overlook who he is when he's not getting negative headlines. When they learn more about who he is as an owner, I think they come away surprised.
I suspect the Colts will follow suit in 2017. They are being overlooked, are widely not seen as the best team in the AFC South by national talking heads, and will use the season to help the rest of the NFL see that the team is much more than what has been generating headlines this off-season.
I see them as entirely capable of 10 wins and winning the AFC South. I don't see them as likely players to make noise in the playoffs.