Indianapolis defensive coordinator Jim Johnson knows firsthand
the fan frenzy that surrounds a successful football team. He was
a tight end on the Bills' first playoff squad, in 1963. He
coached at Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish won the national
title in 1977. But even Johnson had a hard time comprehending
the euphoria the Colts generated last season. "We were in
Hawaii, coaching the Pro Bowl, and all the cabdrivers, waiters
and bellhops wanted to do was talk about the Colts," he says.
"Steve Young and Troy Aikman are there, but people stopped us to
talk Colts football. The Colts."
The team's surprising success in 1995 has bred increased
expectations for '96. Since the failed last-second Hail Mary
attempt in the AFC Championship Game, the eyes of Indiana have
been watching the Colts' every move. There has been plenty of
action to hold their attention. First, defensive coordinator
Vince Tobin, the younger brother of director of football
operations Bill Tobin, left the team to become the head man in
Arizona. Then, in February, Bill Tobin pulled a contract offer
to coach Ted Marchibroda off the table, putting an end to those
negotiations. Within a week, Tobin promoted offensive
coordinator Lindy Infante to head coach. "I know it seems like a
lot of turnover," Johnson says. "But we've promoted from within.
The schemes we run won't change all that much."
Despite the turmoil in the coaching ranks, the Colts treat the
concept of team chemistry with reverence. Chemistry, not
unquestioned talent, is what has taken this group of
overachievers so far. Of the defensive starters, only
three--linebacker Quentin Coryatt and defensive ends Tony
Bennett and Ellis Johnson--were first-round draft choices. The
rest of the defense is peppered with low-round picks (five
starters were drafted in the eighth round or lower) and an
undrafted free agent (defensive tackle Tony Siragusa).
Indianapolis has decided to build on the foundation laid by
Vince Tobin and not forge an entirely new framework. Last
season its defense ranked seventh in the league, sixth in
rushing yards allowed. "I like our team speed and pursuit," Jim
Johnson says. "But we need to improve on our pass rush and
turnovers, two things I think go hand in hand." Defensively, the
Colts were not a big-play team. In '95 Indianapolis forced a
paltry 26 turnovers (seventh worst in the NFL) and racked up
just 29 sacks. The offense, however, was the very definition of
big play. There's not a cheerleading squad in Indiana that
rallied its team to more victories than did the Colts' Jim
Harbaugh, a.k.a. Captain Comeback.
Harbaugh is the perfect guy to run Infante's wide-open offense.
The scheme requires as much improvisation and quick decision
making on the field--Harbaugh's strengths--as it does pinpoint
passing, which he admits is not his forte ("I've seen the films,
and I know I throw an ugly ball," says the quarterback).
The Colts ranked first in the NFL in yards per pass attempt
(7.77) last season and third in yards per completion (12.49).
This year those numbers could jump even higher. Long-ball
receiving specialist Flipper Anderson (who has a
20.1-yard-per-catch career average) will be back after missing
most of '95 with torn ligaments in his left knee. The team's
first-round pick in '96, Syracuse wideout Marvin Harrison,
happens to run a blazing 4.3 40.
But will Harbaugh have time to throw the ball downfield? The
blocking crew is a collection of castoffs and second-teamers.
Free-agent pickups Troy Auzenne, Jay Leeuwenburg and Doug Widell
will compete with Eric Mahlum and Jason Mathews for any and
every position on the line. "It's going to be very interesting,"
says offensive line coach Ron Blackledge. "Guys are excited
because they see a chance to start. Maybe we'll take a page out
of the Kentucky Wildcats' book and split the positions up,
playing everyone half the game. Like I said, it will be very
Yes, it will. And fans in Hawaii can't wait to see how it all
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO COVER [REGIONAL] Colt Commander Jim Harbaugh leads resurgent Indianapolis
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Will Coryatt (55) and the Colts be tackling another trip to the AFC championship come January? [Quentin Coryatt in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 115.9 (11) 191.5 (23) 307.4 (22)
DEFENSE 91.1 (6) 223.1 (20) 314.2 (7)
Jim Harbaugh led the NFL in passing efficiency last season,
which makes him the first Colts quarterback to do so since Earl
Morrall in 1968. In fashioning his NFL-best 100.7 pass rating,
Harbaugh led the league in a couple of categories that run
counter to the current trend of low-risk, shorter-gain passes.
Average yards per pass in '95 40-yard gains per 100
passes in '95
Jim Harbaugh, Colts 8.20 Jim Harbaugh, Colts 2.55
Brett Favre, Packers 7.74 Erik Kramer, Bears 2.49
Troy Aikman, Cowboys 7.65 Jim Kelly, Bills 2.40
Dan Marino, Dolphins 7.61 Gus Frerotte, Redskins 2.27
Scott Mitchell, Lions 7.44 Warren Moon, Vikings 1.98
PLAYER TO WATCH
Last year the Colts tried to pair Trev Alberts with Tony Bennett
at defensive end to form an unstoppable speed-rushing duo. But
after two games neither lineman had any sacks, and Alberts, the
fifth player chosen in the 1994 draft, was pulled from the
starting lineup. "I wasn't too worried about people saying I
hadn't lived up to expectations," he says of his demotion. "I
wasn't comfortable, and we weren't playing well. That's all
there was to it." This season the Colts will rush the 6'4",
245-pound Alberts from his more natural outside linebacking
position in the 3-4 pass defense. In four seasons at Nebraska,
Alberts rang up 29 1/2 sacks at that spot.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Lindy Infante
QB Jim Harbaugh 314 att. 200 comp. 63.7%
2,575 yds. 17 TDs 5 int. 100.7 rtg.
RB Marshall Faulk 289 att. 1,078 yds. 11 TDs
FB Zack Crockett 1 att. 0 yds. 0 TDs
TE Ken Dilger 42 rec. 635 yds. 4 TDs
WR Flipper Anderson 8 rec. 111 yds. 2 TDs
WR Sean Dawkins 52 rec. 784 yds. 3 TDs
WR Marvin Harrison (R)[*] 56 rec. 1,131 yds. 8TDs
LT Troy Auzenne[*] 6'7" 300 lbs.
LG Jay Leeuwenburg[*] 6'3" 297 lbs.
C Eric Mahlum 6'4" 289 lbs.
RG Doug Widell[*] 6'4" 291 lbs.
RT Jason Mathews 6'5" 290 lbs.
PK Cary Blanchard 25/25 XPs 19/24 FGs
LE Ellis Johnson 4 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
LT Tony McCoy 2 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RT Tony Siragusa 2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RE Tony Bennett 10 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB Stephen Grant 2 sacks 1 int.
MLB Jeff Herrod 0 sacks 0 int.
OLB Quentin Coryatt 2 1/2 sacks 1 int.
CB Ray Buchanan 2 int. 1 sack
SS David Tate 0 int. 0 sacks
FS Jason Belser 1 int. 0 sacks
CB Eugene Daniel 3 int. 0 sacks
P Chris Gardocki 63 punts 42.6 avg.
PR Marvin Harrison (R)[*] 22 ret. 16.8 avg.
KR Aaron Bailey 21 ret. 23.6 avg.
[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)