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2016 #ColtsCamp Q&A: Jason La Canfora

Intro: CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora stopped by Colts training camp this week to get a sense of where the franchise is headed into 2016 and beyond. He chatted with about a variety of topics, including the team’s offense and defense, Frank Gore and Andrew Luck’s new contract.


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2016 #ColtsCamp Q&A: Michael, what brings you to training camp? I know you've been traveling around, going to a few teams and you have a few more planned, but what brings you here to Colts camp? What's the story you're chasing?**

La Canfora:"Well, I generally end up here most years than not. They've been a pretty interesting team, they've obviously won a lot of games, and then the Andrew Luck factor is pretty compelling and continuing to chronicle his development. But, I mean, obviously 2015 was a rough season on a lot of levels, and I almost kind of feel like they were set up to sort of fail by the way the offseason was handled — and, really, from the ownership on down. So, you know, they obviously found a way to have a 'Kumbaya' moment and kind of keep the band together, and I think, for good reason — they've done a lot of things here, and I think sometimes the narrative has to shift a little bit from … you can't kill them for 2015 forever. And there were three years of winning before that, and you've gotta remember who Ryan Grigson was four years ago when he got here. He was not an established general manager, right? He was a pretty green guy; basically a scout. And Chuck Pagano, what, one year as an NFL coordinator and had been a position coach his whole life, but wasn't a guy who necessarily people were saying was the next 'It' head coach. They did a lot of things and overcame a lot of adversity through three years — I wish the owner had sort of rewarded them one year before he did — but I think it was wise to keep them together, and I think it would not be surprising to me at all if they got back to the perch that we're used to seeing them in, which is tops in their division." So what's kind of the shape of this franchise heading into 2016? I mean, you kind of mentioned last year, some Super Bowl aspirations maybe placed upon them; this year, the division's better, the team went out and spent four draft picks on offensive linemen, obviously addressing a need instead of … a lot of times, it's, 'We're going to get the best player.' Well, there's an obvious…La Canfora:"… Well, when you pay your quarterback $25 million a year, you better have invested in what's around him, as well. I mean, you can look at Seattle and say they're not paying anybody, really, on their offensive line. And, you know, (Russell Wilson's) been really healthy, but that's really the exception than the rule. Look, a lot of times the best moves you make are who you keep, and getting Andrew Luck taken care of, you know, keeping (Anthony) Castonzo and getting him signed long-term. I think they made the right choice at tight end — you know, Dwayne Allen over (Coby) Fleener…" seems solid all-around: blocking, catching…

La Canfora:"…That's the thing. He's a tight end. The other guy is a receiver. And for what they're trying to do, and as much as I think they're going to want to run the ball out of (offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski), you know, with Chud's fingerprints all over this offense now, I think you're going to see a team that believe that they're going to be able to beat you up more at the line of scrimmage and establish the run, and then get chunk plays over the top with their quarterback, you know? You look at Chudzinski's lineage and it kind of goes back to Joe Gibbs football and (Don) Coryell football and what those early 80s Redskins and Chargers teams were like. People forget: (former Chargers running back) Chuck Muncie ran the ball a whole lot too; they didn't just throw it. And in Washington, they always had a successful run game. So I think that's what they're looking to do, and I think Allen fits that mold. And, again, I know there's a hype train going on with this division now, right? And everybody's looking looking at the Jags and all these teams, and the Texans, and saying, you know, they're the next 'It' team. That's not me. Color me a skeptic on that. So I think the Colts are positioned to win a lot of games in their division and get back to the playoffs." you talked about the running game. They've got Frank Gore coming back for another season. What do you think are his prospects? Everyone's talking, 'He didn't get to 1,000 yards last year; his yards-per-carry was 3.7.' There were a lot of other factors, I guess, contributing to that, but do you think he can get it back going, get the numbers that can help the team?La Canfora:"Yeah, look, I don't think you're going to get 2010 Frank Gore. You know, I don't think he's turning back the clock to when he's going neck-and-neck with Adrian Peterson for rushing titles in the NFC. Can he be a little more productive than last year? Sure. I mean, look what they were doing at the quarterback position last year. When you don't know who your starting quarterback's going to be on a Thursday of Week 15 in a game with playoff ramifications, I got news for you: the other team ain't worry about whichever guy you put there, and you're going to have trouble running the ball — because you're going to have trouble being balanced because you had a humongous drop-off at the quarterback position. So Andrew Luck's health alone — Andrew Luck's maturity alone — and some of the upgrades of the offensive line bode well for improvements. Do I think they're going to be a Top 5 running team? Probably not, but I think with that sort of volume, there will be some big plays in there as well."'ve talked a lot of offense — what about defensively? There's a lot of older, more established leaders; maybe the depth is still what's being worked out. What do you see defensively?La Canfora:"I think it's still a work in progress, you know? I know that they've made, what, 12 changes to the staff in general, I think, overall? I think that's pretty key, you know, and being willing to say, 'Not everything we were trying here was working.' Getting some different voices in the room. I know back in Baltimore, where I live and you hear a lot of what's going on down there, they love (defensive coordinator Ted Monachino). I know he hasn't called a lot of plays before, or whatever, since high school, but being around Pagano that much, and those two kind of seeing the game the same way, I think there is a lot that will come from that, and just him having been in that same scheme in Baltimore. But do I think that they have all the horses yet? No, I don't. You can't address everything. As you said, they put a lot in the offensive line. Well you're not going to put a lot into offensive line and a lot into defensive line. You know, and then the whole Arthur Jones thing is another — they control that, and that's a blow. So, yeah, I think they're still a work in progress defensively. In this league; in this salary cap era where the competitive balance is so tight, there aren't many complete teams — you know what I'm saying? There aren't too many complete teams. Like there really aren't." then finally, you knew the Luck deal was going to happen. It was just a manner of when, a matter of numbers. What did you think of the deal, and what can he do with this opportunity? Obviously last year was a struggle — injuries and other issues. But what can he do with this opportunity?La Canfora:"Well I think, and I hope — as bright as he is, as cerebral as he is, as deep-thinking as he is — that by watching others struggle, and by watching his own struggles last year, (it) probably let him sort of pause and catch his breath. I think he will learn from that, whether he's even trying to or not. You know, he almost looked to me like back in September, even before he got hurt, he was like — and I don't know if he would admit it or if he would say it or not — but I almost feel like because of the 'Super Bowl or bust' thing was put on their shoulders, it was like he was trying to win every game with every throw. It was like he was trying to win the Super Bowl in September…" he was doing more thinking than just playing?La Canfora:** "…I just think that expectation of, 'Man, I really got to be good,' and, 'They didn't give me the contract last year…' Now, I don't know that he was even (thinking that) consciously, but as a human being, all those factors, it'd be hard for you to convince me that subconsciously that doesn't enter in somewhere. And the team's not going well and other guys are getting hurt and then he gets hurt; I mean, it's like that snowball effect. He'll be stronger and smarter and better for it. He's got to … I remember being here last year at camp and talking to him for a good four or five minutes just about his health and staying healthy and avoiding certain hits, and he was kind of vowing to do it then, but then, you know, in the heat of battle, he's still going for that extra yard on the sidelines instead of just getting out of bounds. I think he's learned that the hard way. He knows now. You know, it's like that little kid — you can keep telling him not to touch that hot plate, but maybe until they really get their fingertip on it and feel it do they now, cognitively, do they know. So I think he'll be his own better advocate for himself on the field; I think they'll protect him a little bit better. Part of that is just simply running the football, number of attempts being down for him, taking fewer kill shots. So, yeah, I mean, in terms of the contract, he was going to get $25 million a year. That contract is $75 million for three years, and then, if he's who he is, then they're back at the negotiating table — and if he's who he was last September, they're back at the negotiating table. So, you know, all of these deals are basically three-year deals at their max, and Irsay was comfortable paying it, and I get it."

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