As the Indianapolis Colts enter official offseason training time, they're no longer playing with house money.
Last year, just about any record would have been good enough. They were coming off a 2-14 season and closing the door on the Peyton Manning Era. Then, new coach Chuck Pagano was sidelined with his leukemia battle. After all that upheaval, any record would have been acceptable.
Then they went and won 11 games and made the playoffs.
Welcome to 2013, expectations in full force. Anything less than double-figure wins and a playoff berth will be a failure.
So it's a different start already. Here, then are the top questions to answer as the Colts start the road to the 2013 kickoff:
1. How will Pep do?
Pep Hamilton takes over as offensive coordinator after Bruce Arians left to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. This is an abrupt change, both in philosophy (Arians loves to stretch the field and take chances; Hamilton is more conservative) and in personal style. Arians' personality helped the Colts when he stepped in as interim head coach. He was confident and it rubbed off.
The good news is Hamilton worked with quarterback Andrew Luck for two years at Stanford, so they already have a relationship. But this offseason will be crucial for Hamilton to get his entire offense on the same page as far as knowing what his offense looks like, and how to implement it.
2. Can Darrius Heyward-Bey be a big-time receiver?
Heyward-Bey has a one-year deal. He has one year to show what he can do. The Colts allowed Donnie Avery to walk in free agency because, frankly, he was too inconsistent. They have Reggie Wayne and his magic hands along with T.Y. Hilton and his unlimited potential. Luck needs more and Heyward-Bey has a chance to be that extra target.
Heyward-Bey hasn't lived up to his first-round draft pick status – he's been solid, but not spectacular – but maybe he just needs an elite quarterback to make it happen.
3. Is the secondary fixed?
One would have to believe the addition of safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Greg Toler would boost a secondary that was shaky at best last season. The Colts also return some promising players in Darius Butler, Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy.
Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis are both All-Pro caliber players. Davis clicked late when he finally stayed on the field.
So it would be easy to presume the secondary is fixed. But until this group produces and stays healthy, the definitive answer must wait.
4. How will the injured players perform?
A handful of possible impact players should be ready to fight for playing time this season. They include former leading tackler Pat Angerer, running back Donald Brown, guard Ben Ijalana, defensive end Fili Moala and nose tackle Josh Chapman. You might even throw wide receiver Griff Whalen in there, too.
The pressure is on Angerer and Brown, two relative veterans who have to show they can thrive. Chapman remains an unknown, having missed the entire 2012 season. The defense is counting on Moala to return to form.
5. Who replaces Dwight Freeney?
Freeney was a good soldier last season, albeit a well-compensated good soldier. But he knew his days were numbered, even if it shocked him that the Colts didn't even make a low-ball offer to keep him around.
The Colts must fill his defensive role as a player feared by opponents and the target of game-plan preparation. They also need a pass rusher to team with the still-strong Robert Mathis. Will that be the perennial underachiever Jerry Hughes? Will it be free agent underachiever Erik Walden? Will the Colts draft a pass rusher? Wait, it appears the answer to this question is more questions.