For the Indianapolis Colts, two facts are sadly true: the season is lost, and the team is in dire need of an extreme personnel makeover. The silver lining to the dark cloud that has been this season may end up being that sans Peyton Manning, the Colts organization has gotten a sobering look at what else they have on this football team.
As the Colts prepare to play their final six games of 2011, they have an opportunity to perform some real-time assessments of their current personnel that will better enable them to make the hard roster decisions that are going to have to be made between now and next season. Here are some areas the Colts might want to focus on as they evaluate the team over the final six games:
1. Quarterback. The Colts should play Dan Orlovsky over the final six games. It's not as if he gives them a worse chance at winning than Curtis Painter. We've seen what Painter can do. Not much. Regardless of Peyton Manning's long term health, the Colts are going to have some decisions to make at quarterback. Whether or not Orlovsky is worth keeping is one of them. Let him have a spin running this offense over the final six games and see how the team responds. As for Manning, Chris Mortensen suggested yesterday that the team might use him in predetermined situations such as red zone possessions. Last I checked, defenses can still blitz and hit the quarterback in the red zone, so I don't see how that makes Manning less vulnerable than if he played an entire game. The doctors will let the Colts and Manning know if he's healthy and practice should suffice to evaluate his relative ability to make throws. Game situations won't do anything except put him at further risk.
2. Running back. We'll see if Joseph Addai's hamstring healed over the bye week, but Indianapolis has some decisions to make here too. Donald Brown has gotten several starts, and while he's not turned any heads, he's performed solidly. This is a great opportunity to get Delone Carter some carries. At worst, the Colts will confirm he's not an every down back and has issues with ball security. At best, they see a possible power back option or even get some good film of a possible piece of trade bait.
3. Wide receiver. Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon are both free agents after this season. One will most likely be re-signed. What about Anthony Gonzalez? All accounts indicate he's healthy, yet he's not seeing the field. Have the Colts already decided he'll be jettisoned after this season? If so, why hasn't he been waived and given an opportunity to hook on with another team? Could Gonzalez return to anywhere near his previous form? We'll never know until he sees the field. Now would be an opportune time to let Gonzo get some snaps and see if he adds any spark to an anemic offense.
4. Defense/Special Teams. The defensive personnel are less of a mystery. Because of injuries, the Colts have gotten enough snaps to evaluate pretty much everyone. One exception is Jerry Hughes. It's time for the Colts to fish or cut bait with their former first round pick. These next six games need to be Hughes' last tryout with the team. With Robert Mathis a free agent, the team needs to know what options they have at defensive end. With special teams, players need to be reminded that their play on this unit might be the difference as to whether or not they keep their jobs. Outside of the kickers themselves, special teams play has been pretty awful. If players like AJ Edds want to continue drawing checks after this season is up, they need to step up the effort.
The message needs to come down from on high (that's you Mr. Irsay) that everyone is being evaluated over the next six weeks, from front office personnel to trainers. Will the players continue to respond to these coaches? Which players will still be giving it their all when there's nothing to play for? These are all unique situations that offer a laboratory for which the Colts to make some major personnel decisions that will affect this team in 2012 and beyond.
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