KRAVITZ: Sorry, not drinking the Kool-Aid; the 2018-19 Colts are going to struggle this season

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich watches as the team practiced at the NFL football team's practice facility in Indianapolis, Friday, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Bob Kravitz

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WTHR) - I want to be Mr. Positive, or at least Mr. Hopeful. I want to tell you that the Indianapolis Colts, who opened training camp here Thursday, are going to be a massively improved bunch, that they're going to be the where-did-they-come-from surprise of the upcoming NFL season.

And look, I'm not going to lie, watching Andrew Luck throw a regulation football to regulation players on a regulation field is enough to make even the most casual fan downright giddy with anticipation.

I want to be Mr. Positive/Hopeful…lly I do.

But I can't.

Now before I continue on, let me concede, I've been wrong before (OK, maybe once, twice tops).

I thought the rebuilt 2012 Colts would be a dumpster fire with a rookie general manager, a rookie head coach, a rookie quarterback and rookies all across the roster…and they finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs, thanks in large part to the aforementioned Luck.

I thought the Indiana Pacers, who must of us believed were fleeced in the Paul George trade, would be one of the most nondescript teams in the NBA and would win around 36 games. Instead, they won 48 games, took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs and now are poised to win 50-plus and make some noise in the postseason.

So I might be wrong about the local football team. I hope I'm wrong because from a purely selfish standpoint; chronicling the ups and downs (and downs, and more downs) of a 4-12 outfit is pure drudgery. Watching Scott Tolzien play in the opener against the Rams took at least three years off my life expectancy. I know this: They'll be better. They've got to be better. Certainly, if Luck remains healthy, they should win at least six games by simply showing up.

But I don't know how you can look at this half-formed team, how you can look at all the questions at running back, wide receiver, the secondary, the coaching staff and all three linebacker spots and stretch for the conclusion that the Colts will be better than anyone could have imagined.

What We Know:

The Colts are set at kicker (Adam Vinatieri) and punter (Rigoberto Sanchez). The Colts are set (fingers crossed) at quarterback.

The Colts are fine at tight end with Jack Doyle and, we think, Eric Ebron. And…that's it.

What We Think We Know:

We think this offensive line should be the best ever to play in front of Luck, or anybody else who's been conscripted to play behind this group since 2012. Quenton Nelson is a plug-and-play guard (at least he'd better be, having been chosen with the sixth pick). Braden Smith, Matt Slauson and others give them depth they haven't enjoyed since Luck came in the league. This group, which used to distribute rose petals on the path to the quarterback, should be bigger, meaner, faster and more talented – no small issue given Luck's return from shoulder surgery.

We think the defensive line should be improved. Jabaal Sheard is an underrated player, Al Woods is better than solid and second-year player Tarell Basham should have a breakout season as the Colts move to a 4-3 defensive alignment. There's still some question what kind of pass rush they can produce, and in a 4-3, it's incumbent upon the front four to get some pressure, but in terms of raw talent, they should be much better than they've been in the past. Theoretically, anyway.

What We Don't Know:

Oh, boy. Hang on; this is going to take some time.

We don't know about the running back situation. Marlon Mack revealed Wednesday that he played all of the 2017 season with an injured shoulder and there's no question he flashed, especially when he bounced runs to the outside. But is he your primary guy given his difficulties running between the tackles and in pass protection? Some of the rookies, notably Nyheim Hines, are intriguing prospects, but like I said…rookies. Lots of them. And losing Robert Turbin to a 4-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use is a big hit, especially for a team that has gone 2-10 the first four games of the past three seasons.

We don't know about the linebackers. I mean, we know nothing. Lots of youth. Lots of guys we don't yet know. There's John Simon and there's…who knows? The coaches like to talk a lot about the competition at a given position, and that's all well and good, but when you talk about competition, this is what I hear: "We have no standouts.''

We don't know about the secondary. The Colts' two best athletes on defense are Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker, and both are starting camp on the PUP list. Geathers should be back sometime in camp, but there's no way of knowing Hooker's prognosis after a serious knee injury last season. Who are the corners? Brilliant question. There's Quincy Wilson, who looked like a player late last year, but spent most of his rookie season in the coaches' doghouse. There's Pierre Desir, who has bounced around. There's Kenny Moore II, another guy who's shown some promise but hasn't done it over the long haul.

We don't know about the wide receivers. There's T.Y. Hilton and there's a bunch of question marks. Ryan Grant? Chester Rogers? The rookies, Deon Cain and Reece Fountain? It's reached the point that sports-talk Indianapolis is debating the merits of signing Dez Bryant. There is no certainty there, very little experience and zero depth.

We don't know about the coaching staff. Everybody is assuming the new staff will look like Bill Walsh's 49ers staffs compared to Chuck Pagano and his group. Well, how do you know? People act like noting the fact that Frank Reich was Plan B, or Plan E, is somehow rude or impertinent. Well…he was. He wasn't even on Ballard's wish list after the Josh McDaniels' fiasco. As for the assistants, there are a lot of gentlemen who've never been in the positions they currently occupy. Remember, too, that because of the McDaniels' mess, Ballard had to wait before he filled out his coaching staff, so he was left with The Best of the Rest after the top assistants were picked clean by other teams.

There's something else that makes me queasy: Reich's decision to call the plays while managing the full scope of the game. It's worked elsewhere and obviously, it worked well for Doug Pederson in Philadelphia, but Reich is a first-year coach with a lot of game-day responsibilities. Mark my words: At some point this season, his decision to call the plays AND manage the game will become an issue.

What I'm saying is, there's a reason, a lot of reasons, why Football America is down on the Colts this season. They won't be 2-14 awful; Luck's presence alone will be good for at least 6-7 victories. But they aren't going to compete with Jacksonville, Tennessee and Houston in a much-improved AFC South. This is a last-place team in the division. Gun to head, they win seven games.

I could be wrong.

Probably not, though.

"You all sat here…in 2012 and the outside expectations then were probably as low as any team ever in the league,'' Luck said Wednesday when asked about the general view that the Colts are going to struggle. "It doesn't matter…''

Of course it doesn't matter. We know it doesn't matter. But that's why we love sports, to debate and discuss, prognosticate and eat crow.

Reich said he would think of mentioning the minimal expectations to his team; that's straight from the coach's motivational playbook.

I hope he uses this piece. I can always use the readers.

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