INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July — and training camp — right around the corner, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the wide receiver position:
• Will Chester Rogers or Ryan Grant get a bulk of the receptions behind T.Y. Hilton?
There's no question about T.Y. Hilton's value to the team, not only as the Colts' bonafide No. 1 wide receiver going on several seasons now, but in his role as the receivers' veteran leader.
And with the departure of Donte Moncrief in free agency this offseason, the team looks to a couple young veterans to come in and show they can be a dependable second option when teams decide to throw lots of defensive resources at Hilton.
That was a major issue last season, as Hilton would oftentimes be blanketed in coverage by multiple defenders, but the Colts' offense struggled at times to make up for some potentially favorable matchups elsewhere. Despite all this, Hilton still was named to his fourth Pro Bowl, which is a remarkable feat.
Now, it's Chester Rogers and Ryan Grant's time to show what they can do to take that pressure off Hilton.
Rogers, in his third season, seemed to be rising up the ranks last offseason before suffering a hamstring injury during training camp that kept him out about two months. He finished the 2017 season with 23 receptions for 284 yards and a touchdown — his first-career score; a 61-yard bomb Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Then there's Grant, who was signed this offseason as a free agent after a career year with the Washington Redskins in which he caught 45 passes for 573 yards and four touchdowns. Entering his fifth NFL season in 2018, Grant spent the first couple years of his career learning under the likes of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon in D.C., but he has proven to be a dependable route runner and pass catcher when called upon.
So the Colts are counting on both Rogers and Grant to give them what they really haven't had behind Hilton the last few seasons: consistent production.
• How quickly can Reece Fountain and Deon Cain adjust to the professional game?
The Colts could have two wild cards at the wide receiver position this season in rookies Reece Fountain and Deon Cain.
Fountain, selected in the fifth round out of Northern Iowa, and Cain, selected in the sixth round out of Clemson, bring much-needed size (both are listed at 6-foot-2) to the wide receiver position, and obviously their standout college careers make them interesting prospects for head coach Frank Reich's offense.
The key now, of course, is to see how they continue developing and learning the professional game. A huge evaluation opportunity will start when the Colts begin padded practices at training camp. How will the rookies not only respond to the speed of the game, but can they play through the physicality of being jammed at the line? Can they win one-on-one jump ball battles against hungry and aggressive defensive backs?
If one or both of these first-year players can prove that they're up to the challenge, however, that would be a huge shot in the arm to this Colts' offense. It would give proper respect to what many outsiders have considered a not-so-deep wide receiver position heading into the season.
• Could a surprise player land on the Week 1 depth chart?
It seems like every training camp and preseason in recent years, some wide receiver is able to rise up from the bottom of the depth chart and make a serious push for a spot on the Week 1 roster. Will that be the case again in 2018?
There's certainly a ton of candidates.
The Colts currently have 13 wide receivers set to join them at training camp when the team reports to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., on July 25. Those not already named include Dres Anderson, K.J. Brent, Krishawn Hogan, Steve Ishmael, Seantavius Jones, Zach Pascal, Kasen Williams and James Wright.
Last year, JoJo "The Flea" Natson nearly grabbed hold of a spot on the Week 1 roster with his 180 receiving yards in the preseason, good enough for fifth in the NFL.
In 2016, Rogers did earn a spot on the 53-man roster with his 174 preseason yards.
So while Reich has promised a "vanilla"-looking offense for the Colts throughout the preseason, there's going to be a ton of snaps for the second- and third-team players throughout the four games who will be dead-set on proving their worth — if not to the Colts, then to the 31 other NFL teams.
It's definitely something to begin keeping an eye on next month.