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COLUMN

Colts' needs start with Luck protection

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Finding a way to solidify offensive line is essential

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 9:53 am

With the Super Bowl Harbaugh Family Reunion out of the way, we can get down to serious business. Where do the Indianapolis Colts need to upgrade for an encore?

This offseason will be considerably more subtle than last. The one major coaching change came with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton stepping in for new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. There are no top draft picks to debate.

In fact, barring a trade, the Colts have only one pick in the first two rounds – the No.24 overall pick – after dealing a second-rounder to Miami for Vontae Davis. People debated that move for weeks afterward. I'm calling it a success. Davis looked strong at the end.

At any rate, here are the areas of most need, ranked from biggest to smallest:

1. Offensive line

Andrew Luck can't be sacked 41 times next season. Maybe he won't simply because of the change in offense Hamilton will bring. One of Hamilton's initial comments was how he would install some West Coast offense philosophy, with more high-percentage passes. Presumably, that's less time holding the ball, less time for Luck to be shellacked. Completion percentage moving up.

But the offensive line needs some work. The Colts were rarely healthy across the board and some pieces didn't seem to fit.

Anthony Castonzo was solid at left tackle. You can put Joe Reitz almost anywhere and he'll thrive. Samson Satele was so-so. Winston Justice was decent, but often banged up.

If the Colts look for an offensive lineman with that lone high pick, the possibilities include Oklahoma's Lane Johnson (although most expect him to go higher) and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper.

2. Secondary

Davis is solid at corner. Antoine Bethea is getting older, but can still play at safety. Tom Zbikowski doesn't seem fast enough or consistent enough at safety to be a regular starter. Jerraud Powers is a free agent corner, but some question whether he fits the Colts' defensive changes.

If Colts general manager Ryan Grigson was to find an offensive lineman or two through free agency, etc., the Colts could opt for a defensive back with that first-round pick. They haven't traditionally found DBs high in the draft, other than Bob Sanders, but this could be the exception.

Studying various mock drafts and college player analysis, it seems like Dee Milliner of Alabama would be a steal if he drops that far in the draft. Other possibilities include Florida States' Xavier Rhodes and Washington's Desmond Trufant.

Some speculated the Colts could be interested in Ravens free agent safety Ed Reed, longtime friend and former teammate of Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Reed still has some game in him, but is he a bit old for the Colts' monster-building? Probably.

3. Nose tackle

A lot rides on whether second-year player Josh Chapman returns to full strength. He missed the entire season after offseason knee surgery. In occasional interview settings with Chapman – which is about all we have to go on for now – he seems determined to grab that starting spot. I'm willing to give University of Alabama products the benefit of the doubt.

A couple mock drafts speculate the Colts using their first-round pick on Alabama's Jesse Williams or Georgia's John Jenkins, but I don't see them using that pick for this spot.

4. Defensive end/outside linebacker

The chances of Dwight Freeney returning to the Colts seem to be about 10 percent on a good day. He's older, expensive and not necessarily the right fit for the Colts 3-4 defense.

Some fans have talked about the Colts pursuing the Ravens' Paul Kruger, who had a breakout season. But how expensive would he be, and is one good season worth gambling on a big contract?

Jerry Hughes has had more than a few chances to shine. He made more plays than he ever has last season. But, since he was on the field more, he missed more plays, too. Not sold on Hughes.

5. Wide receiver

Wayne will be back after drinking from the Fountain of Youth and giving Luck a tutorial in quarterback-receiver rapport.

T.Y. Hilton should be better, and he showed flashes of brilliance along with a few first-year drops. Donnie Avery made some plays, but had his share of drops, too. The verdict remains out on LaVon Brazill. He's got the speed if he develops the hands.

Maybe there's a late-round wide receiver diamond in the rough Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano can uncover. Luck can't have too many receivers, and a quality taller receiver would be a nice asset.

The top priority for the offseason has to be protecting the Colts' biggest asset in Luck. Give him more time and he'll figure out how to make the most of it.

For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1