Experience Gained by Young Players Could Help Colts in 2011
INDIANAPOLIS – The faces were new; the names, unfamiliar.
As right tackle Ryan Diem and a whole lot of players around the Colts this past season saw it, that was true not just of one or two positions, but pretty much everywhere around the roster.
In 2010, not much came easy.
But while the Colts players, coaches and personnel officials who spent the season overcoming adversity, injury and roster change after roster change will tell you that was true in 2010, they'll also tell you this much is true:
The challenges of this season?
The young players who played throughout the season?
A lot of those players could return next season, and when they do, veterans on the Colts said following a playoff loss to the New York Jets, those young players won't quite be so young.
They'll almost certainly be better.
And Diem said that means the Colts could be, too.
"You look at this year as a year where a lot of guys got experience," Diem said recently in the wake of a 17-16 loss to the New York Jets in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis this past weekend.
"Hopefully, we built some depth on our team across the board."
The Colts, after slipping to 6-6 in early December, won their final four regular-season games to clinch a seventh AFC South title in the last eight seasons, and an NFL-record tying ninth consecutive post-season appearance.
But while the season was historic, it was never simple.
The Colts lost two of their first four games, and after improving to 5-2 near the season's midway point, they lost four of five games before finishing the season with their longest winning streak of the season.
At nearly every point of the season, there was adversity.
Two-time Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year, missed the last 15 games after sustaining a biceps injury in the regular-season opener, and soon thereafter, his backup – reliable, consistent Melvin Bullitt – was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
In all, 18 players were placed on injured reserve, including not only Bullitt and Sanders, but starting cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Kelvin Hayden, wide receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez and Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark.
Running backs Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Mike Hart also missed extensive time, as did defensive tackles Antonio Johnson and Dan Muir, middle linebacker Gary Brackett and outside linebacker Clint Session, who played through an elbow injury in a victory over Houston November 1, but didn't play again.
Gary Brackett, the Colts' starting middle linebacker and defensive captain, said the linebacking position exemplified the trend. With Session missing extensive time – and with Brackett missing four games – Angerer and Conner developed into solid players and started a combined 20 games.
"We really identified some players," Brackett said. "You look at our room alone. Pat and Kavell, those guys stepped up big and were really playing some good football. It's always interesting to see how guys develop in their second year.
"You can say that about a lot of guys who got some quality time out there. Heading into next year, they'll have some confidence that they'll know what it takes to go out there and play an NFL game. They'll know how to train and prepare themselves for next year."
Said Diem, "A lot of guys got a lot of experience. Our depth is better for that. It will definitely help us down the road, whether those guys turn into starters the next few years, or if they're just good, solid backups. Who knows? But we know we can count on them."