What a difference a year makes.
At this time 12 months ago, the Indianapolis Colts descended upon Anderson University for training camp breaking in a new quarterback, a new coaching staff and a new general manager.
After 2011 wrought a 2-14 record and a constant distraction in the What-Will-They-Do-With-Peyton hubbub, the 2012 team was too young to grasp its inexperience, leading to an 11-5 regular season mark and a playoff berth despite head coach Chuck Pagano missing 12 games recovering from leukemia.
Now, the core of an up-and-coming roster remains intact for 2013. Here are four position battles to watch:
Right guard: Mike McGlynn vs. Hugh Thornton
Anthony Castonzo and Donald Thomas will start at left tackle and left guard, Samson Satele is installed at center and Gosder Cherilus will be the right tackle.
The first-stringer at right guard isn’t as clear.
Last season, incumbent right guard McGlynn started all 16 games for the first time in his career. But that doesn’t mean they were productive snaps.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Colts’ 2012 offensive line as the second-worst in the NFL while dealing McGlynn a rating of -25.1.
Thornton is a rookie out of Illinois, and his journey is the very definition of personal tragedy. He was present when his mother and sister were murdered in Jamaica, and was also abused by his father.
Scouts claim the only thing holding Thornton back is consistent technique.
Projected starter: Thornton. It’ll be worth early headaches for quarterback Andrew Luck to have an eventual solid starter on the line instead of a clear backup netting major snaps.
No. 2 wide receiver: T.Y. Hilton vs. Darrius Heyward-Bey
It’s speed vs. speed in this tussle.
Though Hilton and Heyward-Bey will be on the field together quite a bit, the hiring of former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to the same position in Indy means more two-tight end and two-back sets, leaving less playing time for the No. 3 wideout.
Hilton caught 50 balls for 861 yards and seven scores as a third-round pick out of Florida International in 2012. He’s a budding star, and time will show he should’ve been a late first or second-round pick.
Heyward-Bey was the seventh overall pick in 2009 by Oakland, and his best season came in 2011 when he hauled in 64 receptions for 975 yards and four scores. The Maryland product has underperformed in relation to his draft position, but one has to factor in that Heyward-Bey had to catch passes from the likes of JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter, Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye with the Raiders.
Projected starter: Hilton. The second-year man has the edge because of his familiarity with Luck and his big-play potential.
Nose tackle: Josh Chapman vs. Aubrayo Franklin
It’s young vs. old on the defensive line, as the 2012 fifth-round pick out of Alabama takes on the 11-year pro now suiting up for his fifth different organization.
Chapman didn’t play a down last season recovering from a knee issue he suffered in college — the 24-year-old reportedly played on a torn ACL for most of his senior season in Tuscaloosa — but is healthy heading into camp.
Franklin has been a steady performer throughout his career — the Tennessee product has played in at least 12 games in seven of his previous 10 seasons — and the 32-year-old played for Indy defensive coordinator Greg Manusky in San Francisco from 2007-10.
The Colts need all the help they can get up front after ranking 29th against the run in 2012.
Projected starter: Franklin. The veteran and his experience win out for now, but Chapman has the talent and upside to unseat Franklin at some point in the season.
Left inside linebacker: Pat Angerer vs. Kelvin Sheppard
After breaking his right foot in the 2012 preseason opener, Angerer didn’t display the same form in 2012 that he did in 2011 when he racked up 148 combined tackles.
Sheppard arrived from Buffalo in an offseason in trade for former Indy first-round pick Jerry Hughes. The 25-year-old Sheppard racked up 150 tackles in two seasons with the Bills.
Angerer’s health will go a long way to determining this battle. He had another screw inserted into his right foot in January, and at 6-0, 236 pounds, Angerer is also two inches and 20 pounds lighter than Sheppard.
Projected starter: Sheppard. Angerer’s health is worrisome, and Sheppard will seize the opportunity.