By the end of the 1996 season, Jim Harbaugh's medical chart was
packed with so many scribbles, notes and numbers that it had
grown to resemble a textbook on sports injuries. Over the course
of the year, the Colts quarterback suffered a broken nose,
ligament damage in his left knee, numerous bruises from being
brutalized by the Bills in an overtime loss, a chipped tooth, a
deep gash in his mouth and a pinched nerve in his neck. Wile E.
Coyote never got pummeled this bad.
"I took way too many shots," says Harbaugh, who finished the
season with the worst passer rating in his three seasons with
Indianapolis. "Every week I was in the training room for
something. After a while it gets hard to go out there and do the
things you need to do."
So after the Colts lost to Pittsburgh 42-14 in the AFC wild-card
game, Harbaugh engaged director of football operations Bill
Tobin in a heart-to-heart. The 33-year-old QB made it clear that
the offensive line, which had surrendered 43 sacks, absolutely
had to be upgraded if Indy was to make the playoffs a third
straight time. Tobin apparently agreed, because in April's draft
the Colts used their first two selections on Tarik Glenn, a
335-pound left tackle from California, and Adam Meadows, a
292-pound guard from Georgia. Both should contribute quickly,
but Harbaugh shouldn't expect a pass-protection fortress to
magically appear. After all, the starters on the line still
include tackle Tony Mandarich, one of the most exquisite busts
of all time, and guard Eric Mahlum, who has missed 12 games to
injuries over the past two years.
"Our offensive line needs some time to play together and build
as a unit," says Tobin. "But we've got some talent there."
Nevertheless, the line looms as the Colts' biggest offensive
question mark. Though running back Marshall Faulk was dreadful
last season--his rushing total of 587 yards was less than half
that (1,282) of his rookie year, in 1994--there were simply no
holes for him to slip through. Faulk has fully recovered from a
toe injury he sustained in Week 2 against the Jets, and with
improvement on the line, there's no reason he can't again be one
of the top-five backs in the NFL.
Also assuming a greater role will be second-year receiver Marvin
Harrison, who in '96 became the first rookie to lead the Colts
in receptions and receiving yards since Matt Bouza did so in
1982. If Harrison continues to flower, he could be a Pro Bowler
for years to come.
A Pro Bowl player is something the Colts haven't had on defense
since Duane Bickett in 1987. Defensive end Tony Bennett played
Pro Bowl-caliber ball at times last season, but this year he may
have a tougher go of it because tackle Tony Siragusa, whose
interior penetration often freed up Bennett, signed with the
Ravens as a free agent.
The Colts will also miss Siragusa's leadership. Many of the
players believe that the defining moment in Indy's two-year run
as a playoff team came during the final regular-season game of
'95, in which the Colts needed a victory over New England to
make it into the postseason. At halftime, with Indy trailing
7-0, Siragusa knocked over tables, threw chairs and made such a
mess that the floor of the locker room looked like a Jackson
Pollock painting. But his tirade inspired his teammates, and
Indy rallied to win the game 10-7.
Siragusa isn't the only one gone. The defense will be without
linebacker Trev Alberts (who was likely to retire) and defensive
backs Ray Buchanan (free agency) and Eugene Daniel (retirement
or free agency). Bennett and fellow linebacker Quentin Coryatt
will have to do a better job of rushing the quarterback--in each
of the past three seasons the Colts have had just 29 sacks--to
take the pressure off cornerbacks Carlton Gray and Dedric
Mathis, who failed to intercept a single pass between them last
"It may sound corny," says second-year Indy coach Lindy Infante,
"but this team's strength is not so much located in one
individual position. Rather, in each of the last two years the
big things for us have been heart, character and work ethic.
This has been a group that works well against the odds."
Though 19 starters missed a total of 78 games in 1996 because of
injuries, the Colts still pieced together a playoff season.
Obviously, they are blessed with good karma. If it keeps up--and
if Harbaugh keeps staggering back to the huddle--another trip to
the postseason is within reach.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Harbaugh doesn't expect miracles from his new line, just more time afoot. [Jim Harbaugh in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 9-7 (third in AFC East)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 90.5 (28) 206.0 (16) 296.5 (25)
DEFENSE 110.0 (18) 227.7 (23) 337.7 (22)
In 1987 Bears VP of player personnel Bill Tobin used a
first-round draft choice to select a quarterback from Michigan,
a school that had previously produced only three players with as
many as 100 career NFL passes and no such players since the
early 1950s. Tobin, now with the Colts, is reaping the rewards
of that risk-taking, as Indy QB Jim Harbaugh tops a group of
three former Wolverines passers in the NFL.
NFL Players from Michigan with at Least 100 Career NFL Passes
NFL career Att. Comp. Pct. Yds. TDs Int. Rating
Jim 1987-present 2,680 1,580 59.0 18,212 89 78 78.5
Elvis 1993-present 430 284 66.0 3,098 18 16 85.6
Harry 1933-35 258 97 37.6 1,496 12 36 33.5
Benny 1927-34 167 70 41.9 929 10 19 60.2
Chuck 1951-52 154 61 39.6 744 3 14 23.8
Todd 1995-present 128 69 53.9 851 4 6 65.6
*Friedman's first NFL season was 1927, but the league did not
compile passing stats until 1932.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Since Bill Tobin left Chicago in 1994 to become Indy's director
of football operations, he has signed nine former Bears--the
latest being Al Fontenot, a fifth-year defensive end. With
Chicago in '96, Fontenot had career highs of 36 tackles and 41/2
sacks. The Colts hope he'll add fire to a D that lost its
emotional leader, Tony Siragusa, to free agency. Says Fontenot,
"I'm here to elevate my game and help this team get a championship."
PROJECTED LINEUP With 1996 Statistics
Head Coach: Lindy Infante
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Jim Harbaugh 41[*] 405 att. 232 comp. 57.3% 2,630 yds.
13 TDs 11 int. 76.3 rtg.
RB Marshall Faulk 62[*] 198 att. 587 yds. 3.0 avg.
56 rec. 428 yds. 7.6 avg. 7 TDs
FB Zack Crockett 295[*] 31 att. 164 yds. 5.3 avg. 11 rec.
96 yds. 8.7 avg. 1 TD
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Marvin Harrison 50[*] 64 rec. 836 yds. 8 TDs
WR Sean Dawkins 186[*] 54 rec. 751 yds. 1 TD
WR Aaron Bailey 282[*] 18 rec. 302 yds. 0 TDs
TE Ken Dilger 80[*] 42 rec. 503 yds. 4 TDs
PK Cary Blanchard 164[*] 27/27 XPs 36/40 FGs 135 pts.
KR Aaron Bailey 282[*] 43 ret. 24.2 avg. 1 TD
PR Marvin Harrison 50[*] 18 ret. 9.8 avg. 0 TDs
LG Doug Widell 6'4" 291 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LT Tarik Glenn (R)[A] 6'5" 354 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
C Jay Leeuwenburg 6'3" 297 lbs. 15 games 7 starts
RG Eric Mahlum 6'4" 289 lbs. 13 games 9 starts
RT Tony Mandarich 6'5" 317 lbs. 15 games 6 starts
LE Al Fontenot[A] 36 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
LT Tony McCoy 50 tackles 5 sacks
RT Bernard Whittington 66 tackles 3 sacks
RE Tony Bennett 65 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Stephen Grant 67 tackles 1 sack
MLB Jeff Herrod 72 tackles 1 int.
OLB Quentin Coryatt 40 tackles 0 sacks
CB Carlton Gray[A] 54 tackles 0 int.
SS Robert Blackmon[A] 102 tackles 3 int.
FS Jason Belser 96 tackles 4 int.
CB Dedric Mathis 51 tackles 0 int.
P Chris Gardocki 68 punts 45.7 avg.
[A] New Acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)
[*] *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 165)