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COLUMN

Colts roster looks solid heading to regular season

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

Depth and talent stronger on paper than a year ago

Monday, September 2, 2013 - 12:27 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:

Quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck

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.

Wide receivers: Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, David Reed, Griff Whalen

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.

Secondary: Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, Darius Butler, Josh Gordy, Cassius Vaughn, Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry, Sergio Brown, Delano Howell, Joe Lefeged

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.

Specialists: Pat McAfee, Adam Vinatieri, Matt Overton

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.

Tight ends: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Justice Cunningham, Jack Doyle

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.

Linebackers: Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner, Jerrell Freeman, Mario Harvey, Caesar Rayford, Kelvin Sheppard, Robert Mathis, Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner

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.

Running backs: Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Donald Brown, Stanley Havili

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.

Offensive line: Anthony Castonzo, Gosder Cherilus, Jeff Linkenbach, Khaled Holmes, Mike McGlynn, Joe Reitz, Donald Thomas, Hugh Thornton, Samson Satele

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.

Defensive line: Montori Hughes, Ricky Jean Francois, Ricardo Mathews, Josh Chapman, Aubrayo Franklin, Cory Redding, Fili Moala

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.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.