Question: Which position did the Colts spend $40 million on
during the off-season to solve problems in an area that new club
president Bill Polian considers vital to the team's success?
That's right. We said cornerback, not quarterback. While rookie
signal-caller Peyton Manning was the big off-season pickup,
signing a six-year deal that will likely be worth a minimum of
$38 million, Polian bought himself security at a spot he
considers, along with an outside pass rusher, the toughest
position to fill on a defense. In mid-February, on the second
day of free agency, Polian picked up the phone and did a sales
job on Jeff Burris, late of the Bills, and persuaded him to sign
a five-year, $20 million deal before Burris had the opportunity
to make a single recruiting trip. Then, as training camp dawned,
Polian ponied up a second-round 1999 draft choice to the
Panthers for cornerback Tyrone Poole, who had been on the
trading block since March; Polian followed with a stunner,
tearing up Poole's contract and rewarding him with a five-year,
$20 million deal.
Two corners. Zero Pro Bowls between them. Dallas pays one of the
best cornerback tandems in the game, Deion Sanders and Kevin
Smith, an average of $6.893 million a year. Indianapolis will
pay its starting corners--assuming Poole beats out incumbent
Carlton Gray--an average of $8 million over the next five years.
"When I got here, I saw a defense without much at cornerback in
the way of coverage ability," says Polian, who, having had
successful runs with the Bills and the Panthers, is with his
third team in five years. "And we're in a division with Yatil
Green [Dolphins], Keyshawn Johnson [Jets], Terry Glenn
[Patriots] and Andre Reed [Bills]. We needed two cover corners,
and we went out and got them."
Both new cornerbacks are 26 and former first-round draft
selections. Burris, quick enough at 6'0" and 204 pounds, was a
logical buy. But Poole? He's 5'8". He gives up seven inches to
Johnson, six inches to Green. Polian, however, insists Poole can
play bigger than he is. "Carolina got down on him because
they're infatuated with big," says Polian. "I feel the game is
more speed than big. Time will tell if I'm right."
In training camp Burris and Poole have taken their share of
razzing. "On one of my first days in the cafeteria," Burris
says, "one of the guys said to me, 'The executive suite is to
your right, Governor.'" Burris and Poole will have to play like
big-timers for Indianapolis to have a chance to see .500. While
Manning struggles to get acclimated, the defense and special
teams are going to have to keep the Colts in games. "In
practice, we talk about creating opportunities for the offense
all the time," says Burris. "We want to be impact players." Adds
free safety Jason Belser, "We recognize the defense is going to
have to win a few games for this team to get where we want to be."
But even an optimist like Polian sees the holes. There's not an
impact linebacker. The best of the bunch is outside backer
Quentin Coryatt. Big things were expected of Coryatt when he was
taken with the second pick of the '92 draft. Plagued by injuries
throughout his career, however, he has accumulated just 8 1/2
sacks in his first six seasons. Last season's leading sacker,
defensive end Dan Footman (with 10 1/2) has 19 1/2 career sacks
in 66 games. "Our defense is not nearly good enough," Polian
says with a sigh, thinking back to his days with the talent-rich
Bills. "We don't have a Bruce Smith or a Cornelius Bennett. We
don't even have a Shane Conlan. But Rome wasn't built in a day."
Supervising the on-field reconstruction is a 63-year-old
reclamation project. When last we saw Jim Mora in the NFL, as
the Saints' coach in mid-1996, he was blowing a gasket in a
profanity-laced diatribe directed at his team after a loss to
Carolina. "Losing it like I did bothers the hell out of me, and
it'll bother me for the rest of my life," says Mora, who won 93
games in 10-plus seasons in New Orleans. "But I'm a different
coach now. I've got a fresh outlook. And I'm working with a
great guy in Bill Polian, a football purist who knows what it
takes to win."
In Indianapolis, the first thing it will take to win is
patience. The second is a handful of front-seven players, but
Polian won't be able to mine those until after this season.
Watch out for this team in 1999, when Manning has a year under
his belt and the defense has more depth. Until then, Burris and
Poole are going to feel as much pressure as any pair of
cornerbacks in the league. --P.K.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER HOT CORNERS While Manning learns the ropes, the pressure is on pricey pickups Poole (38) and Burris to keep opponents in check. [Tyrone Poole in game]
B/W PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG Leeuwenburg [Jay Leeuwenburg]
Sept. 6 MIAMI
13 at New England
20 at N.Y. Jets
27 NEW ORLEANS
Oct. 4 SAN DIEGO
18 at San Francisco
25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 NEW ENGLAND
8 at Miami
15 N.Y. JETS
22 at Buffalo
29 at Baltimore
Dec. 6 at Atlanta
20 at Seattle
1997 Record 3-13 (5th in AFC East) NFL rank (rush/pass/total):
offense 17/19/19; defense 26/4/10
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 15 (tie) Opponents' 1997
winning percentage: .494 Games against playoff teams: 5
New Kids on the Block
The Colts and the Oilers were the only teams to start the same
five players on the offensive line for every regular-season game
last year. Included in Indianapolis's quintet were rookies Tarik
Glenn, a first-round selection, and Adam Meadows, a second-round
pick. They became the first pair of rookie offensive-line
teammates to start every game of a 16-game NFL regular season,
and only the fifth rookie pair to start every game of any season
since the inception of the AFL-NFL draft in 1967.
Team Rookie offensive linemen W-L Coach
1997 Colts Tarik Glenn, Adam Meadows 3-13 Lindy Infante
1982 Cardinals Tootie Robbins, Luis Sharpe 5-4* Jim Hanifan
1982 Saints Brad Edelman, Louis Oubre 4-5* Bum Phillips
1977 Falcons Warren Bryant, R.C. Thielemann 7-7 Leeman Bennett
1968 Bengals Howard Fest, Bob Johnson 3-11 Paul Brown
*Season shortened due to players' strike 1/2
The offensive line, which surrendered an AFC-high 62 sacks last
season, returns virtually intact, but it will have a new look.
Only center Jay Leeuwenburg will stay put. Tarik Glenn moves
from right guard to left tackle; Adam Meadows shifts from left
tackle to right tackle; and Tony Mandarich goes from right
tackle to right guard. Tom Myslinski, who started seven games
with the Steelers in '97, is the left guard, replacing the
departed Doug Widell.... Marshall Faulk's days as a part-time
wide receiver are apparently over. Faulk has averaged almost 53
receptions over his first four years, but new offensive
coordinator Tom Moore wants to get the running back more carries.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Jim Mora
First season with Colts (93-74 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Peyton Manning (R)[N] 72[PVR*] 477 att. 287 comp.
60.2% 3,819 yds. 36 TDs 11 int. 147.7 rtg.
RB Marshall Faulk 21[PVR*] 264 att. 1,054 yds.
4.0 avg. 47 rec. 471 yds. 10.0 avg. 8 TDs
FB Zack Crockett 308[PVR*] 95 att. 300 yds. 3.2
avg. 15 rec. 112 yds. 7.5 avg. 1 TD
RB Lamont Warren 272[PVR*] 28 att. 80 yds. 2.9
avg. 20 rec. 192 yds. 9.6 avg. 2 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Marvin Harrison 42[PVR*] 73 rec. 866 yds. 6 TDs
WR Aaron Bailey 146[PVR*] 26 rec. 329 yds. 3 TDs
WR Torrance Small[N] 230[PVR*] 32 rec. 488 yds. 1 TD
TE Ken Dilger 188[PVR*] 27 rec. 380 yds. 3 TDs
K Cary Blanchard 179[PVR*] 21/21 XPs 32/41 FGs 117 pts.
PR Jerome Pathon (R)[N] 296[PVR*] 19 ret. 11.0 avg. 0 TDs
KR Aaron Bailey 146[PVR*] 55 ret. 21.9 avg. 0 TDs
LT Tarik Glenn 6'5" 335 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Tom Myslinski[N] 6'3" 293 lbs. 16 games 7 starts
C Jay Leeuwenburg 6'3" 290 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Tony Mandarich 6'5" 324 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Adam Meadows 6'5" 299 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Al Fontenot 46 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
LT Bernard Whittington 45 tackles 0 sacks
RT Ellis Johnson 56 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RE Dan Footman 44 tackles 10 1/2 sacks
OLB Steve Morrison 39 tackles 1 sack
MLB Jeff Herrod[N] 7 tackles 0 sacks
OLB Quentin Coryatt 80 tackles 2 sacks
CB Jeff Burris[N] 45 tackles 2 int.
SS Ray McElroy 33 tackles 0 int.
FS Jason Belser 94 tackles 2 int.
CB Tyrone Poole[N] 52 tackles 2 int.
P Chris Gardocki 67 punts 45.3 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)