The Colts have taken consistency to ridiculous levels: an NFL-record seven consecutive seasons with at least 12 wins and a league-best eight straight playoff appearances.
But the winds of change now threaten that run of excellence.
After coming up short against the Saints in Super Bowl 44, longtime offensive line coach Howard Mudd retired and veteran offensive coordinator Tom Moore assumed a senior consultant's role and was replaced by Clyde Christensen. Management released starting guard Ryan Lilja, versatile defensive lineman Raheem Brock and backup quarterback Jim Sorgi.
The changes were dramatic for an organization that spends the offseason tweaking, not overhauling. "To have some new blood, to be able to transition a little bit with some changes, is a good thing," owner James Irsay says. "It keeps things fresh and brings some newness to the table.
"Obviously, it needs to be good change. It's got the potential to be our best team."
Offense: The transition from to Christensen has been ongoing. Don't expect any dramatic changes in philosophy now that Christensen will wear the headset on game day and be in quarterback Peyton Manning's ear. Everything will continue to revolve around Manning and the passing game. The Colts pass to set up the run, even though they do the latter sparingly. The idea isn't to achieve balance; rather, it's to be able to run when necessary, particularly in short-yardage situations.
Because the running game ranked No. 31 and No. 32 the past two seasons, management is committed to fielding a bigger, stronger line. Left tackle Charlie Johnson, center Jeff Saturday and right tackle Ryan Diem enter training camp as starters, but the two guard spots are open. There are many options in the guard mix — and former tackle Tony Ugoh and 2008 second-rounder Mike Pollak are the front-runners for now.
Manning might need two footballs and five-quarter games to keep his receiving unit happy — especially with the return of Anthony Gonzalez, who missed virtually all of last season with a knee injury. There will be quality and quantity at Manning's disposal as he again will direct one of the league's premier passing attacks.
Defense: Pass-rush standouts Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis make this unit click, but they need help. That's why the personnel department delivered first-round pick Jerry Hughes, a 6-2, 255-pound speedster who produced 26 1/2 sacks in his final two seasons at TCU. Hughes should step in and provide quality support as a backup for Freeney or Mathis.
The secondary has a nice blend of veterans and young talent. The key is keeping everyone on the field. That's especially true with safety Bob Sanders, who has now missed more regular-season games (49) than he has appeared in (47). Sanders is a fierce hitter and playmaker, but he must stay healthy.
Donald Brown, RB. The 2009 first-round draft pick will again share time with veteran Joseph Addai, but he provides the big-play capabilities Addai lacks. Brown runs tough between the tackles, can shed the first defender and possesses breakaway speed.
"Last year, he was a pretty quick study, so you can imagine that he's taken another step forward, just in terms of understanding what is required of him, and he is much more comfortable." —coach Jim Caldwell
"I think they've been able to put things in place, much like the San Francisco 49ers had and the Steelers have been able to do. It's a situation where your faces change and sometimes the coaching changes, yet the system pretty much stays in place. The fundamentals are in place all the way down. …
"They've had revisions and things like that, but nothing drastic in how they approach things. That enables you that when you graduate a player based on age or whatever the reason, you plug in a new guy and you don't miss much. …
"But having said that, so much of it is tied to Peyton Manning. It's simple, but there's a degree of responsibility and accountability because he's the guy out in front. You can't urge somebody else to do what you won't do. When your best players are your best workers, it gives you a hell of a chance to be a good football team."
Despite the uncharacteristic changes, Indianapolis should remain a serious contender for a ninth straight playoff berth and another possible deep postseason run. Look no further than the presence of Manning, who remains one of the league's most influential players.
QB: Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter
RB: Joseph Addai, Donald Brown
WR: Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie
WR: Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon
TE: Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme
TE: Gijon Robinson, Brody Eldridge
LT: Charlie Johnson, Tony Ugoh
LG: Tony Ugoh, Andy Alleman
C: Jeff Saturday, Jamey Richard
RG: Mike Pollak, Kyle DeVan
RT: Ryan Diem, Adam Terry
LE: Robert Mathis, Keyunta Dawson
LT: Antonio Johnson, Eric Foster
RT:Dan Muir, Fili Moala
RE: Dwight Freeney, Jerry Hughes
SLB: Philip Wheeler, Cody Glenn
MLB: Gary Brackett, Pat Angerer
WLB: Clint Session, Ramon Humber
LCB: Kelvin Hayden, Jacob Lacey
SS: Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt
FS: Antoine Bethea, Jamie Silva
RCB: Jerraud Powers, Kevin Thomas
K: Adam Vinatieri
P: Pat McAfee
KR: Ray Fisher
PR: Ray Fisher
LS: Justin Snow
PFT: Tom Brady, who turns 36 in August, says he has "never felt better throwing the football" and his confidence is peaking.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Next step towards total dominance for NFL
ProFootballTalk: The NFL and the NFLPA are reportedly close to finalizing a new offseason schedule that would move the scouting combine, draft and OTAs up a month. Mike Florio thinks this will help further the NFL’s dominance over the other sports in the American landscape.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.