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Colts Mailbag: Grover Stewart, Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce, plus Anthony Richardson's mobility

The Colts Mailbag is back for the 2023 season with questions on how Anthony Richardson's mobility will impact the offensive line, what to look for from the team's top returning wide receivers and more ahead of Sunday's season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for the next Colts Mailbag by clicking here. I'll also be checking the comments on our Official Colts Podcast YouTube page and will answer some listener questions in here, too.

Let's get after this week's questions:

@TonyRobertson2428 on YouTube: I think gus should let Grove in on passing downs because he's guaranteed to get in the back field fast.. I mean he in the running backs chest before he gets the ball most times y not let him sack the qb..nobody can stop grove.. . I think grove would easily get double digit sacks if he got that chance..

JJ Stankevitz: I replied to this in our podcast YouTube comments but wanted to explore it a little further.

Stewart, per Pro Football Focus, had the third-most pass rushing snaps (371) on the Colts in 2022, trailing only Yannick Ngakoue (408) and DeForest Buckner (490). He had four sacks and 17 total pressures on those snaps, but those raw numbers don't tell the full story – Stewart was on the field for 51 pass rushing snaps on third down, sixth on the Colts behind Buckner, Ngakoue, Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo and Tyquan Lewis. And more than half of those snaps (27) came on third and three or fewer, when the opposing defense could conceivably run the ball for a first down.

The problem Stewart faces when it comes to pass rushing stats is he's often double teamed. When he's not, his power shines through – on one pressure last year, for example, he quickly steered Denver Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry into the backfield when he got a one-on-one run at him.

The Colts have a handful of players whose pass rushing skillset makes them dangerous on third down, including Lewis and Odeyingbo, who frequently tagged in for Stewart on more obvious passing downs last season. But Stewart is one of the Colts' best, most established players on defense – so don't discount the team's willingness to get him on the field however they can.

Harold Miller, Bedford, Ind.: I see a big year for Alec Pierce and Michael Pittman as Richardson gets comfortable he will find them, what are your takes on this prediction?

JJ Stankevitz: I caught up with Pittman about this on Thursday – he said he wants to be "that guy" Richardson can trust on any play to take the pressure off the 2023 No. 4 overall pick.

We didn't totally get to see the Pittman/Pierce pairing's progress last year, since there weren't a ton of opportunities for Pierce down the field and Pittman averaged just 9.3 yards per reception (a three-yard drop from his first two years in the NFL).

One thing I think we might be losing sight of is Pittman's YAC ability. He averaged 4.9 yards after the catch over his first two seasons; that average dropped by about a yard and a half in 2022.

And Pierce showed an ability to win down the field last year – he was targeted 17 times on go balls and caught seven of those for 209 yards (29.9 yards/reception) with two touchdowns, per Pro Football Focus. Anthony Richardson's arm strength could help deliver more 50/50 balls to Pierce – which, in turn, could lead to more production for the second-year wideout.

Jim Sperandio, Indianapolis: Why are the Colts only carrying 4 receivers on the 53 man roster?

JJ Stankevitz: Just a quick reminder that the Colts can elevate players from their practice squad to the active roster for gameday – which means D.J. Montgomery, Amari Rodgers, Mike Strachan and/or Juwann Winfree could play on Sunday in addition to Pittman/Pierce/Josh Downs/Isaiah McKenzie. We'll see.

Trey Blanks, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Indy has never had a mobile quarterback and I am wondering how that will effect the offensive line which struggled at times last year and is still looking for continuity. Does it put more or less stress on the line knowing that your quarterback is capable of scrambling and has options to run the ball?

JJ Stankevitz: Good question here. First things first, I think the O-line has good continuity – the starting five of Bernhard Raimann, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Will Fries and Braden Smith practiced together for the majority of the preseason – and new position coach Tony Sparano Jr. seems to have had a positive impact on that group.

Richardson's mobility mostly takes pressure off the O-line to know they don't have to be perfect every time he drops back to pass. Of course, they're striving for perfection, but Richardson's pocket poise and feel for evading the rush – in addition to his strength and speed on the run outside the pocket – are assets that help him avoid taking sacks.

"We saw this in college and it was one of the things that I got excited about him, his poise and his feet in the pocket and how he kind of feels pressure and moves," assistant general manager Ed Dodds said in August. "That's that natural instinct that he has that some others don't. These offensive linemen see it when they're watching tape of practice and they know they don't have to be perfect all the time. Obviously, he's big, he's real big and he's real fast. I'm not talking about the running, but just the subtle movements in the pocket."

The flip side is offensive linemen will need to have a feel for when to disengage with a defensive player to avoid getting flagged for holding when Richardson gets outside the pocket. I chatted with Raimann about that in August – it's not easy, but it's something every offensive lineman who plays with a mobile quarterback has to deal with. And it's certainly not a bad problem to have.

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