INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck has taken Indianapolis to the playoffs twice, won a division title and orchestrated the second-greatest postseason comeback in league history.
That’s no longer good enough for the Colts. They’re after a championship.
“That’s our goal. That’s our expectation,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said when asked about the Colts’ chances of winning the Super Bowl in 2014. “We set lofty goals, and I definitely think we can achieve them.”
In a conference rife with talent, getting there won’t be easy. Still, the Colts realize that with Luck, anything is possible.
He took over a 2-14 team and led it into the 2012 playoffs despite playing most of the season without his head coach, and in the shadow of the recently departed Peyton Manning.
Last year, after losing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to Arizona, learning the modified version of the Stanford offense and watching Reggie Wayne go down with a torn ACL in October, Luck improvised – and led Indy to an 11-5 record.
Then he rallied the Colts from a 28-point deficit against Kansas City to give Indy its first playoff win of the post-Manning era.
What can he do for an encore? Win more playoff games.
“You’re always trying to get better,” Luck said, reminding reporters that he threw seven interceptions in the playoffs. “I’d like to think we could be more efficient, more productive (offensively).”
If the Colts are healthy, Luck could be working with the best supporting cast of his pro career.
He has two Super Bowl-winning receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne, and T.Y. Hilton, one of the best young pass catchers in football. The return of Dwayne Allen also gives the Colts a chance to use their double-tight end formations more frequently.
And a year after injuries decimated the running game, the Colts are hoping a revived Trent Richardson and healthier colleagues in Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard can provide the horsepower for a postseason push.
Combined with a bigger, stronger defense that is in its third season in the system, coach Chuck Pagano and his players believe they have what it takes.
“We took a step last year, we need to take another one this year,” Pagano said.
Here are some things to watch at training camp:
Wayne has been Luck’s security blanket since 2012, but 35-year-old receivers aren’t supposed to come back from major knee injuries. Wayne intends to prove the doubters wrong. While coaches and teammates believe Wayne, he hasn’t been able to do much on the field yet. That makes training camp a crucial test.
When Indy traded a first-round pick to get Richardson, Colts fans thought they were getting a star. Instead, they got mostly a couple of yards and a cloud of dust. General manager Ryan Grigson and Richardson both say things will be different now that Richardson has had a full offseason to learn the offense and get his timing. A revamped line may help, too. If it does, this could be Richardson’s season of redemption.
Reigning sacks leader Robert Mathis will miss the first four games after league officials said he tested positive for a banned performance enhancer. Mathis’ argued he used the substance to help his wife get pregnant. League officials wouldn’t budge. That means part of camp will be spent trying to find a capable first-month replacement.
Safety and center. After the Colts’ two most experienced centers departed during the offseason and free-agent signee Phil Costa suddenly retired, the Colts are asking unproven second-year player Khaled Holmes to win the job. How much do the Colts believe in a player who participated in only 12 offensive plays last year? They didn’t draft a center.
The other big hole is at safety, where the competition to replace Antoine Bethea is likely to come down to youngster Delano Howell and veteran Mike Adams.
Some NFL players want to see commissioner Roger Goodell punish Colts owner Jim Irsay following a March traffic arrest.
He faces two misdemeanor charges for driving under the influence of prescription pills. But a decision may not come until the Colts return home from their Anderson training base. Irsay has a court hearing set for Monday and is not expected to be in court until Aug. 28.