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Posted on Wed. Sep. 03, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Five pivotal players: Indianapolis Colts

Can LaRon Landry live up to expectations?

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As the Indianapolis Colts seek to take another step in their progression toward Super Bowl contention, they'll need big performances from these five players:

Andrew Luck, quarterback

Luck is obviously the one player the Colts cannot afford to lose. Could backup Matt Hasselbeck hold down the fort if Luck were out. For the short term, yes. But Lucks' combination of youth, athleticism and strong arm gives the Colts offense something that Hasselbeck would be hard-pressed to match this late in his career. Luck's knack for comeback wins is well-documented, so you know he can perform under pressure. He has more weapons this season than in his first two years, if everyone is healthy.

Hakeem Nicks, wide receiver

Nicks starts the season as the No.3 receiver behind Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, although Hilton made a point during preseason to say the Colts have three No.1 receivers. The importance of Nicks is not only as a security blanket if Wayne doesn't bounce back fully from knee surgery or Hilton has an injury, it's his ability to stretch the field and complement those two when they play together. The Colts needed a reliable third option and didn't find it last year with Darrius Heyward-Bey. Nicks has something to prove to those who have written him off. If he has reliable hands, he'll make life easier for Wayne and Hilton.

Josh Chapman, nose tackle

“Chapnado” has had a great preseason, showing the type of run-stuffing ability that attracted the Colts to draft him out of Alabama in 2012. Defensive end Cory Redding said during the preseason that there is no more important spot in the defense than nose tackle. It's an often overlooked position, but Chapman can set a tone for run defense, for toughness, even for pressure on the quarterback by leading a push in the middle. Chapman is an example of the Colts' desire to transform their defense to a bigger, more aggressive approach.

Arthur Jones, defensive tackle

Jones is another one of those former Baltimore Ravens that coach Chuck Pagano likes to collect. The great thing about Jones is that he's entering his prime (28 years old) and he has the rare combination of size and quickness to handle run defense and pass rush. The Colts are going to need some plays from him early in the season, especially with outside linebacker Robert Mathis suspended for four games. While four games doesn't make a season, a 1-3 or 0-4 mark in those games would be disastrous. At the very least, Jones has to find a way to help the Colts come out of the non-Mathis part of schedule with a 2-2 mark.

LaRon Landry, safety

No one walks around with a more muscular, sculpted physique than Landry. He marches to his own drum and doesn't spend any extra time in Indianapolis, preferring to train on his own in the offseason. Say what you will about that approach, the bottom line is whether he can stay healthy and deliver the kind of production the Colts anticipated when they signed him to a big contract. Landry must make his presence known not only in the passing game against some of the big tight ends in the league, but also as a force to shut down runs before big breakaways.

rhayes@news-sentinel.com


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