As Bob Sanders swarmed the line of scrimmage with the starting defense at camp Wednesday morning something became obvious – there’s no reason the Colts can’t improve in 2010.

If Bob Sanders could somehow, someway stay healthy in 2010, he could help take the Colts defense to the next level.

Improve is a tricky word when you’re talking about a 14-2 team that won the AFC Championship. Bettering that record won’t happen and winning a Super Bowl is certainly no guarantee. But it only took one hour, one training camp session, to realize that it’s possible.

Forget Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and crew for a minute, because defense wins championships – it’s a cliché that’s tired but true.

Right up until the Super Bowl, this defense was good. This year it should be better.

It begins with the pass rush and Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are back,

If first-round draft pick Jerry Hughes can be a decent pass rusher his rookie season it could mean a healthier Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney come playoff time.

healthy, and have help in first-round pick Jerry Hughes. The Colts believe will provide the third pass rushing threat they’ve lacked during the Mathis/Freeney Era.

Three-hundred pounders Daniel Muir (26) and Antonio Johnson (25) brought bulk, stability, and run-stopping ability to the defensive tackle position and return with another year under their belt.

The linebacking corps remains in tact. Big-hitter Clint Session, quick-thinker Gary Brackett, and quiet-producer Philip Wheeler make up a very sound unit.

If Sanders is healthy, you’d be hard pressed to find a better three-man safety rotation than he, Antoine Bethea, and Melvin Bullett.

Cornerback is the defense’s most glaring weakness. Kelvin Hayden is solid when healthy and Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey showed promise in their rookie seasons, but as a whole this is an unproven, pedestrian unit.

On offense what can you say? Peyton Manning is a machine equipped with some impressive weaponry.

Second-year man Pierre Garcon blossomed, Austin Collie looked nothing like

The return of Anthony Gonzalez gives Peyton Manning an extra weapon in the passing game this season.

a rookie, Anthony Gonzalez returns from injury, and Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are still two of league’s best at their positions.

Joseph Addai and Donald Brown provide a solid one-two punch in the backfield, but the elephant in the room is still the same: Can the Colts run the ball?

The Colts are consistently among the worst running teams in the NFL. Over the past three seasons the Colts have averaged 3.6 yards per carry.

Colts’ president Bill Polian ripped the offensive line after the Super Bowl (bad timing considering it was one of the unit’s better performances of the year), cut undersized guard Ryan Lilja, collected a few beasts on the offensive line, and drafted a huge run-blocking tight end in Brody Eldridge.

We’ll see if it makes a difference. It needs to. When the going gets tough, the Colts get one dimensional.

Aside from the miraculous turnaround in the 2006 postseason, it’s been an eternity since the run game could be counted on to get the tough yard. Trying to run in short-yardage situations on third and fourth down has very often resulted in disaster for the Colts over the years.

The great thing about the NFL is there is never a clear favorite. In other sports, it’s fairly easy to pinpoint the handful of teams that have a shot. But if I had to pick a team to get out of the AFC right now, the Colts would certainly be on my short list.

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