Over the last two years, some of the free agent acquisitions and draft picks that the Indianapolis Colts have brought in have not lived up to their contracts or their placement in the draft. Some of those players aren’t crucial to the team’s success in 2014, but some of them have the pressure to succeed firmly on their shoulders.
Here are five players that need to bounce back from poor or inconsistent play from last year. The Colts need these players to turn it around and perform well in order for the team to have success in 2014.
Trent Richardson, Running Back
This selection goes without saying, but for a former No. 3 overall pick and someone who was later traded for another first-round pick, a career mark of 3.3 yards per carry isn’t going to cut it. The Trent Richardson subject is a repetitively beaten, dead horse, so I’ll keep this short.
The Colts could live without it, but otherwise they need Richardson to be effective because he is the only one of their top three running backs that stays relatively healthy. Ahmad Bradshaw has put together an impressive rap sheet of injuries in his career, and Vick Ballard, like Bradshaw, is coming off of a season-ending injury that barely allowed him to play at all in 2013.
Hugh Thornton, Offensive Guard
Early season-ending injuries to starting left guard Donald Thomas forced Hugh Thornton into the starting lineup before he was ready in 2013. It is no secret that second-year guard Hugh Thornton didn’t play well as a rookie, finishing as Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 69th-ranked offensive guard with a -15.3 grade.
The Colts spent their 2014 second-round draft pick on offensive lineman Jack Mewhort, but like Kyle Rodriguez of Bleacher Report alluded to, the intention likely isn’t for Mewhort to play right away, so that gives Thornton the green light to keep a starting spot on the line. With Thomas back on the left side, it will be up to Thornton to improve and fend off Mewhort and Lance Louis from taking the starting right guard spot. The best thing for the Colts would be for Thornton to show he can be a dependable starter on the line and prove their 2013 third-round pick was worth it.
D’Qwell Jackson, Inside Linebacker
D’Qwell Jackson has not had a chance to prove himself with the Colts yet, but he has room to bounce back after his 2013 performance with the Cleveland Browns. Many fans have dove head first into the optimism pool regarding Jackson, but there needs to be cautious optimism. Jackson has been a fantastic player throughout his career so he deserves the benefit of the doubt, but it is a glaring issue that he received a -11.6 grade from PFF, including a -11.3 grade against the run.
Something Jackson has going for him is that he will be putting together consecutive seasons in a hybrid 3-4 defense. He struggled becoming a 3-4 ILB last season, but now he is another year into the process. If he can absorb the system and perform as an above average linebacker then the Colts will be in fantastic shape, but they’ve seen their fair share of underwhelming play teamed up next to Jerrell Freeman.
Bjoern Werner, Outside Linebacker
Bjoern Werner’s 2013 season was thrown a bit off kilter with an early foot injury that caused him to miss some time. Who knows how much that really effected his ability to develop, but the 18 tackles, including just 2.5 sacks in thirteen games isn’t great. Even when Werner was productive, he didn’t have many flashes of greatness. That’s not to say he won’t develop into a very good player, but being a rookie, transitioning to a new position in a new defense and the injury may have put him in over his head.
With starting outside linebacker Robert Mathis suspended for the first four games of the regular season, Werner will be given every opportunity to take over. He is a student of the game, so if he remains healthy then there is no reason he should not be able to make an impact. With Mathis gone, the Colts desperately need someone to get to opposing quarterbacks. If Werner performs well enough in Mathis’ absence then he could even take over the other starting outside linebacker spot from Erik Walden when Mathis returns.
LaRon Landry, Safety
Last offseason, LaRon Landry signed a 4-year, $24 million free agent contract with the Colts to become Antoine Bethea’s running mate. After one lackluster season together Bethea signed with the San Francisco 49ers, leaving Landry as the top dog among the Colts safeties. Searching for Bethea’s replacement has been a tall task. Instead of addressing the position definitively, the Colts invested in several middle-of-the-road or unproven players to compete to start next to Landry. However, there are a couple of big issues.
First, Landry performed like a below average player down the stretch last season. This offseason Landry elected to continue his trend of not working out with the rest of the team during voluntary organized team activities rather than report to the team early and help make the search for the new starter easier. Instead, Landry waited until this week’s mandatory minicamp to report to the team and couldn’t practice due to a “lower body/soft tissue issue”.
The Colts arguably don’t need anything as much as they need for Landry to play well for them in 2014, which he is more than capable of doing. If he has as inconsistent of a season as he did in 2013 or cannot stay healthy then he will almost certainly receive a heavy dose of scrutiny. However, if he plays to the level that has been expected of him and leads the team’s secondary to a successful season then all will be forgotten. With how delicate of a state their secondary is in, the Colts need the latter.