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Colts Over The Hill Gang Lured By Chance For A Ring

The Indianapolis Colts signed several aging veterans. If they say it wasn’t about the money, well, this time it wasn’t!

Pat Donovan

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The Indianapolis Colts were 11-5 in 2014, finishing just a game short of Super Bowl XLIX, but they knew they still had a long way to go after losing the AFC Championship game to the New England Patriots, 45-7.

The Colts knew some things needed to change this offseason, and they had the cap space to do it. A couple of weeks into the new league year, it’s clear there’s one thing that the 2015 Colts won’t be missing, and that’s experience, as Indianapolis signed several players heading into the twilight of their careers. The question will be if this group of aging vets will have enough to help Andrew Luck raise his first Lombardi trophy.

The Colts strengths are clear. In Luck, the Colts have one of the great young quarterbacks the game has ever seen, and their offense can score at an alarming rate. However, as good as the offense was a year ago, the Colts ranked just 22nd in rushing, and lacked the kind of ground game to grind teams out late in games. It was clear Indianapolis needed a power back as it became clear that the Colts were going to be the second team to learn Trent Richardson wasn’t an answer.

Defensively, the Colts were even worse than the numbers looked. On paper the Indianapolis defense looked average to below average, but when you take into account that the team played the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins, and that a quarter of their schedule was against Jacksonville and Tennessee, the picture becomes a little more clear. It was clear during the regular season in 2014, that the Colts lacked the pass rush to contend for a title. The Colts losses to Denver and Pittsburgh, and both of their losses to the Patriots illustrated just how far this team has to go defensively.

Indianapolis has not addressed the defense as aggressively as some might have expected, but they’ve added depth at defensive end, including signing former St. Louis Ram and Miami Dolphin Kendall Langford, and they’ve added pass rushing linebacker Trent Cole from the Philadelphia Eagles. Langford has played inside at tackle the last couple of seasons in St. Louis, but played as a 3-4 end for four years in Miami. At 29, Langford is the youngest of the Colts key free agent signings so far this offseason. Some saw it as a big surprise that Trent Cole signed with the Colts who play a 3-4 defense, as Cole appears to be a better fit in a 4-3. Cole clearly saw Indianapolis as an opportunity to be a main contributor on a team with a chance to win. Getting a motivated pass rusher like Cole could result in big returns.

“I knew I was coming to a team that had an opportunity to go to the big one,” Cole told Colts.com. I heard a lot of great things about this organization, and then coming here and meeting everybody I could see it was true what they say.”

The question is, “have they done enough to address the defensive side of the ball?”

The answer is no.

Langford will provide some depth on the line, and Cole is a nice pass rusher, but that side of the ball really needs some more fire power. A year ago we saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft offensive players with every one of their picks. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Indianapolis do the same thing on the defensive side of the ball if they can’t find a premiere interior lineman.

Regardless of the deficiencies on defense, this group of veterans clearly landed with Indianapolis because they believe Luck and the Colts give them a great opportunity to be champions. Even though the Colts offense was already very good, they have become a more well-rounded offense in the last couple of weeks. The additions began with another former Eagle, guard Todd Herremans, who is going to add depth and experience to an offense line that could use both.

The Colts then added a couple of aging veterans entering the final years of their careers in Frank Gore and Andre Johnson, who clearly welcomed the opportunity to play together as they did in college at Miami.

I know that at this point in my career, I wanted to be with a team who got a shot to get the trophy,” Gore told Colts.com. “When you play this game, you know, when you’re done, you want to be able to hold the trophy.”

The theme with the Colts new additions has been consistent. Each of them have expressed that the chance to play for a Lombardi is the biggest reason they chose Indianapolis. Andre Johnson, was no different.

“That was the number one goal,” Johnson told Colts.com “Nothing else really matters. You know that was the biggest thing. You know I felt like for me to accomplish that, this was the place that I could get it done. I’ve been in the league a long time. I still have a few good years left, and I want to use those few good years chasing a ring.”

While Gore and Johnson might not be the players they used to be, they are actually perfect complements to the Colts offense. T.Y. Hilton is a fantastic young receiver, and he and Donte Moncrief are exciting young players, but Johnson adds a powerful, possession receiver that is going to be a great asset for Luck on third down. Johnson doesn’t need to be the downfield threat he once was for the Colts to get the most out of him. Johnson will make the occasional big play, but he’s going to mean the most to the Colts in short yardage situations. Even at the age of 33, Johnson will make Luck better.

The story will be similar for Gore and his effect on the Colts run game. Gore doesn’t have to be the workhorse he was in San Francisco to have an impact in Indianapolis. Despite their age difference, Gore will be the physical thumper of a back, who’s perfect for short yardage, and to grind out games late, that the Colts prayed Trent Richardson would be when they traded a first-round draft pick for him. To finally have some ability to utilize a power running game will only add another layer to the already explosive Indianapolis offense.

Will these additions be enough to land the Colts at Levis Stadium in February? The eye ball test says they still need to sure up the defense, but the offseason is far from over. There’s still the NFL draft and the second wave of free agency that happens as teams start to shape their rosters. If the Colts can continue to add talent and depth on defense, you’d have to argue they’ve got a very good shot in an AFC that features Denver and New England teams that have both suffered key losses to their roster. One thing is certain, if the Colts do lift the Lombardi next winter, their over-the-hill gang, will be a big part of getting them over-the-hump.

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.

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