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32 in 32: Are Indianapolis Colts primed for step back?

"NFL Total Access" has launched its "32 in 32" series, breaking down the biggest subplots of every NFL team as the 2013 season approaches. Around The League will follow along and offer our own take. Up next: The Indianapolis Colts.

  1. The Colts were a nice story last season, but getting back to the playoffs won't come easy. Andrew Luck must be better protected. He faced a perpetually collapsing pocket as a rookie, and only three signal-callers were sacked more last season. Signing Gosder Cherilus helps. The former Detroit Lions lineman is an upgrade at right tackle. If Anthony Castonzo matures at left tackle and free-agent signee Donald Thomas can hold down the fort at guard, Luck can do the rest.
  1. Bruce Arians, however, will be missed. But the switch to new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is no reason for panic. Jim Harbaugh's former protégé told the National Football Post that "being efficient and controlling the football" won't get in the way of "making big plays down the field in the passing game." Luck attempted more throws of 20-plus yards than any quarterback last season, per Hamilton won't neuter that gutsy approach. The longtime West Coast disciple vowed that Luck will lead an attack better named the "No Coast." We like it.
  1. Sidenote: Watching a bunch of Colts tape, Luck has crept into my "Top 5 Loudest Quarterbacks at the Line of Scrimmage." The man barks out orders like he's encountered a house fire.
  1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rebuilt secondary gets all the golden press, but Indy might have the most improved defensive backfield in the AFC. Safety LaRon Landry is a major upgrade over Tom Zbikowski, and I'm a big believer in cornerback Greg Toler, signed as a potential starter across from Vontae Davis. Toler put on a show during organized team activities, but he also missed time with a sore foot. Durability is an issue for Toler, but he graded out as the NFL's 15th-best cover corner during his 12 appearances with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. The league's 21st-ranked pass defense should be stingier come September.
  1. It was a feat to go 11-5 with the putrid run defense the Colts produced in 2012. Indy allowed 100-plus yards in six of their final seven games, including 352 yards to the wayward Kansas City Chiefs and -- alarmingly -- 252 to the New York Jets. Landry's a hammer against the run, which should help. So should the signing of Aubrayo Franklin and the drafting of Montori Hughes. Teams will test Indy early to find out.

Our takeaway: Colts fans might go three decades without the pain of subpar quarterback play, but the Colts still are building around Luck. There's solid coaching here and plenty of hope for tomorrow, but I struggle to predict back-to-back playoff campaigns. Of course, these Colts have proven me wrong before.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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