INDIANAPOLIS -- They’re departing, in some fashion, one by one.
The Colts have to get younger and better on defense. There’s no denying that. But they’re also in a transition period in the leadership department. The departure of some of those players will leave a void in the Colts' locker room. You can add finding a vocal leader to a long offseason list that already features improvements on the defensive line, linebacker and in the secondary for Indianapolis.
Quarterback Andrew Luck has been and will continue to be the Colts’ best player. But ask anybody inside the locker room and they’ll tell you Mathis was the backbone and emotional leader of the team. He was the motivator.
Jackson, despite his four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, was looked up to by so many of the Colts' young players because, while he didn’t possess the same burst he had several years ago, his knowledge of the game was something many turned to him for. Coach Chuck Pagano often looked at Adams as another coach on the field. Adams also brought the ability to relate with so many of his teammates because he was undrafted but went on to play in the Super Bowl and make back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances.
The talent level is there on offense, but it’s uncertain who the vocal leader will be. As I noted in a mailbag answer Jan. 17, Luck doesn’t display the same demanding personality we've seen from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Luck is more of a lead-by-example player, and, with the likes of Mathis, Jackson and Reggie Wayne around to do the talking, didn't need to be as vocal. It’s uncertain if Luck can suddenly project that type of personality as he heads into his sixth NFL season. Make no mistake, though: His teammates will listen when he speaks.
Running back Frank Gore, who will be 34 in May, will likely be one of the elder statesmen next season. But like Luck, Gore is one who lets his practice habits, his workouts and how he performs in games do the talking. Gore takes losing very personally -- which is what many of teammates should do, too -- but he’s never been an outspoken leader.
Receiver T.Y. Hilton?
Hard to look at Hilton as a strong voice when he has a history of celebrating after scoring a touchdown when the Colts are getting blown out.
Tight end Dwayne Allen?
He has the capability to be a leader, but it’s difficult to lead if you can’t remain healthy.
General manager Chris Ballard has already said the Colts plan to be selective when it comes to signing outside free agents. Whoever they do sign, don’t expect any of the players to be over age 30 and on the decline. Ballard's preference is to improve the roster through the draft.
So just as they plan to develop their own players, the Colts might end up having to develop a new leader.