By TOM JAMES
TERRE HAUTE TRIBUNE-STAR
As the Indianapolis Colts prepare for the start of training camp at Anderson University, there are plenty of questions facing a team that posted an 11-5 record, finished second in the AFC South and earned an AFC wild-card playoff spot.
Players and coaches are scheduled to report Saturday for the three-week workouts. The first public practice is set for 1:50 p.m. Sunday. There will be a closed session at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
As for the questions surrounding the Colts, how will the team perform with the return of head coach Chuck Pagano to full-time status this season. Pagano missed most of the 2012 campaign as he battled leukemia, although he was back on the sidelines for the final game of the regular season and for Indianapolis’ playoff game with eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore.
Pagano appears to be back on the road to recovery and was impressive during the team’s spring organized team activity workouts. Despite being away from the sidelines last year, he was able to stay involved in the team’s weekly game preparations. Make no mistake about it, this team is being molded to his style of play.
Added to that equation is the addition of former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as Indianapolis’ new offensive coordinator, taking over the helm from new Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.
Secondly, how quickly will the Colts’ long list of new players become acclimated with their new surroundings. Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson was quite busy during the offseason, adding several new potential starters.
Nearly two-thirds of the Indianapolis roster was turned over from a year ago. Defensive end Dwight Freeney, cornerback Jerraud Powers, wide receivers Austin Collie and Donnie Avery, and strong safety Tom Zbikowski are no longer with the team.
Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilis, offensive guard Donald Thomas, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, outside linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler and strong safety LaRon Landry all figure to start.
Cherilis and Thomas should help to solidify an inconsistent offensive line. Heyward-Bey is expected to give the Colts some much needed help as a deep threat in the pass game. Francois, Franklin, Walden, Toler and Landry are being counted on to give the Colts’ defense a much needed infusion of athletic ability and talent.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and outside linebacker Lawrence Sidbury will be valuable backups. Bradshaw, if fully recovered from offseason foot surgery, will most likely share the workload at running back with returnees Vick Ballard, Donald Brown and Delone Carter.
Thirdly, how will the first-year newcomers work themselves into key roles with the team? Nose tackle Josh Chapman, a 2012 draft pick, missed his entire rookie season as he recovered from knee surgery. And outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2013, will be in the mix for a starting role this year.
The expectations are high for the Colts in 2013. Indianapolis coaches and players want to prove that last year was no fluke and that the franchise is well on it ways towards re-establishing itself as one of the AFC’s best.
TRAINING CAMP: Camp will be on the Anderson University campus. It will wrap up on Friday, August 16 with a 10:30 a.m. practice. There will be only one public evening session on Tuesday, August 6 at 8:30 p.m.
Colts City will be open to fans during most of the training camp sessions.
With outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, the team’s top draft pick, signing with Indianapolis on Wednesday, all of the Colts drafty picks are in the fold and ready for the start of practice.
Werner inked a four-year deal worth $7.896 million. That includes a $4.122 million signing bonus. The first three years of his contract are fully guaranteed.
STRENGTHS: Talented play-making youth on offense. Starting with second-year quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts will be able to utilize talented players like wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, and running back Vick Ballard.
Luck had a very good rookie season, as did Hilton, Fleener, Allen and Ballard. But there is still plenty of room to improve.
There is a new offensive system, but its one in which Luck, Fleener and backup wide receiver Griff Whalen are all very familiar with. First-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton coached Luck, Fleener and Whalen two years ago at Stanford.
WEAKNESSES: The offensive line and special teams play. Three starters on the offensive line return -- center Samson Satele, offensive guard Mike McGlynn and offensive tackle Anthony Castanzo.
There will be two new starters in offensive guard Donald Thomas (New England) and offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (Detroit). There is also a new offensive line coach in Joe Gilbert, who was promoted from assistant offensive line coach in the offseason.
Indianapolis also brought in a new special teams coordinator in Tom McMahon, who previously led Kansas City’s special teams unit. There has to be steady improvement in kickoff and punt coverage as well as in kickoff and punt returns.
BIGGEST SURPRISE OF OFFSEASON: That the Colts were able to add a running back with the talents of Bradshaw so late in the process.
The former Giants workhorse was signed to the Indianapolis roster during the final week of OTA practices and did not take part in any workouts with the team. He underwent foot surgery in January and will not be ready to go for the start of training camp.
When he is completely healed, Bradshaw will be the most complete back and most likely the best pass blocker in the Colts’ offensive backfield. He will become part of a three-back rotation, along with Vick Ballard and Donald Brown.
ON THE HOT SEAT: Tight end Coby Fleener. Fleener was the Colts’ second-round draft pick in 2012, following the selection of his former Stanford teammate, quarterback Andrew Luck.
Considered the top tight end prospect available in last year’s draft, he was slowed during OTAs and training camp by minor injuries. Consequently, another tight end -- third-round pick Dwayne Allen -- got the bulk of the offseason and preseason work.
Allen showed that he is a pretty good tight end in his own right and proved to be a much better end-line blocker than some scouting reports may have suggested.
As for Fleener, he came on towards the middle portion of last season and finished the year on an up note. With former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton now running the Indianapolis offense, his overall production is expected to skyrocket.
QUESTION MARKS: Wide receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Wesleye Saunders have both been suspended by the NFL for violations of the league’s substance abuse policies.
Brazill will miss the first four games of the regular season while Saunders is out for the initial eight games.
Also, safety Joe Lefeged was arrested several weeks ago after an incident in Washington, D.C.
Before the end of the Colts’ OTA workouts, Pagano talked to the Colts’ players about making smart decisions this summer.
“So the big thing was number one, make great choices. This time off, spend time with family, recharge, do what you have to do mentally, physically, but make great choices,” he said.
“Don’t put yourself in a bad situation because really the only thing that will derail us from having a successful training camp and the start of a great season is a distraction, having something bad happen. We see it all the time, we read about it all the time, so those are the things we emphasized.”
The status of outside linebacker Josh McNary is also up in the air. McNary played at West Point and signed a free agent contract with the Colts this past spring.
He was scheduled to be released from his United States Army commitment in late May or early June. McNary had hoped to participate in a few days of OTA practices, but that didn’t happen.
It’s not know if he will be available to the Colts for the start of training camp.