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Colts roster looks solid heading to regular season

Reggie Wayne makes the Colts receiving corps one of its best units. (Photo by the Associated Press)
Reggie Wayne makes the Colts receiving corps one of its best units. (Photo by the Associated Press)

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Depth and talent stronger on paper than a year ago

Monday, September 02, 2013 12:01 am
There's no question the Indianapolis Colts roster looks stronger than a year ago.The upgrade on defense is obvious, with the additions of cornerback Greg Toler, safety LaRon Landry, nose tackle Josh Chapman (who missed his rookie season with injury) and defensive linemen Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin.

But bringing in wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and running back Ahmad Bradshaw boosts the offense, too.

The Colts trimmed their roster to 53 players on Saturday and continue to tweak it. Here's how I rank the various units of the Colts in their initial makeup, from most to least reliable, as they head into Sunday's regular-season home opener against the Oakland Raiders:Luck seems considerably more comfortable, both in his leadership role (it helps that “vice president” Reggie Wayne sets some tone) and in his running of the offense. Luck has more of the confident but not cocky swagger he showed as a college player at Stanford. Hasselbeck might be the best Colts backup in 20 years.Wayne is getting older, but you can't tell. He continues to be one of the best, and most underrated receivers in the game. Heyward-Bey gives Luck a speedy deep threat, as does Hilton. Hilton should be better after a year in the league. This is a very good unit. After four games, the Colts will likely activate LaVon Brazill, which could mean Whalen losing a roster spot, or they could carry another receiver.The secondary will improve more than any other unit from a year ago, if all things go as planned. Toler has already displayed his big-play ability as a corner. Landry gives the Colts a hard-hitting Bob Sanders-style safety. Davis and Bethea can be among the league's best, too. Butler has some skills if injuries hit.Every team wants this unit to be reliable, and the Colts are better than reliable. Vinatieri has shown he still has power in his leg, and age should not be an issue since McAfee handles kickoff duties. McAfee could be in his last year with the Colts (he was franchised) and he could be the best punter in the game. Overton would garner votes as the nicest guy on the team, and he does his job well.Allen and Fleener give the Colts a young 1-2 punch that could eventually be the league's best. Fleener has taken criticism in the preseason, but his potential remains high because of his size and speed. Doyle was just picked up from Titans' waivers. Cunningham, this year's Mr. Irrelevant, remains on the shaky end of the roster.Now that Rayford has made the roster, can he earn significant playing time? It's hard to reach the NFL in an unconventional way, but he's done it so far. There's a chance he could be the unexpected superstar. Mathis, Walden and Werner need to bring some improved pass rush because the Colts have a much stronger secondary to take advantage of hurried throws.Ballard should be better than a year ago with experience and Bradshaw has a history of success. Brown has a few big runs left in his legs. I was sorry to see Kerwynn Williams waived on Sunday. I like his mixture of power, speed and ability on kick returns.The line should be better than a year ago, but injuries always skew things. If Thornton is healthy, he could claim a starting spot as a rookie. Castonzo is expected back to open the season and Cherilus and Thomas know what it takes to succeed in the league.It'll be great to see Chapman perform if he stays healthy. He could be something special, worthy of the training-camp nickname “Chapnado.” Redding is a vocal leader still capable of making plays. Moala needs to deliver this season after dealing with injury. It's a bigger defensive line. The question is whether it's better at stopping the run.

The Colts roster won't be the same in another month. Injuries and performances will lead to changes. But it looks, at first glance, like a solid place to start.

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

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