INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here.
Let’s jump right into this week’s questions:
» Joshua H. (Poplar Grove, Ill.): “Does T.Y plan on staying in Indianapolis for the rest of his career?? Couldn’t imagine seeing him on any other team. Wanna win multiple Super Bowls with him as the number 1!”
Walker: While I can’t speak directly for T.Y. Hilton about his plans for the rest of his career, I do know he is very comfortable in Indianapolis. But I agree with you that it’d be odd to see him in another team’s uniform. And the thing about Hilton is, sure, we all see the production week in and week out, but what we don’t see is how he truly battles through some serious bumps and bruises throughout each season, yet is available to play just about every single week. The fact he missed about 2 1/2 games early on due to chest/hamstring issues tells you about everything you need to know about how serious that situation was, and then down the stretch, he battled through a low and high ankle sprain for more than a month, yet knew how important it was for him to be out on the field during such a critical stretch for his team — and he still produced like a No. 1 wide receiver. Hilton is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season; he’ll be in his age-31 season by 2021. So there’s still a little bit of time before the Colts have to address Hilton’s future.
» Adam M. (Alliance, Ohio): “Is there a growing feeling that there is something special happening in Indy?”
Walker: Without a doubt, Adam. Going from 4-12 to 10-6 and a playoff appearance (and earning a postseason win, too) is one thing, but I think what’s clear is that the Colts are actually building something here. Chris Ballard clearly has a plan and is now entering Year 3 with a foundation built of what he wants not only on the roster and in the locker room, but he’s also had buy-in from team owner Jim Irsay to improve a ton of crucial areas around the team facility (training, nutrition, recovery, etc.) and at training camp (moving to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind.). Then there’s head coach Frank Reich and his staff, which led an aggressive attack on the offensive side of the ball, and saw a massive improvement with a completely new scheme on the defensive side of the ball. Then there’s all the key players and building blocks for the future — we all know the names. So while some teams have an impressive single-season turnaround and it ends up looking more like a fluke down the road, there’s certainly no indication that will be the case for this Colts’ team moving forward. Perhaps Ballard said it best at his end-of-the-season press conference, however: the Colts are a good team; it’s on them now to go from good to great. And I believe they have the pieces in place, as well as the future resources needed, to do just that.
» John P. (Muncie, Ind.): “My question is will Vinatieri return to the Colts next year”
Walker: John, your question is a very good question. I think it’s fair to say that by the time the season came to an end, Adam Vinatieri was very much hinting at the fact that he’d like to return to Indy in 2019 for his 24th NFL season, but he was going to take a little bit of time to think it through. I also think it’s fair to say that the Colts have at least discussed with Vinatieri the possibility of bringing him back. So now we’re in a wait-and-see mode, which is perfectly fine at this early point of the offseason. Vinatieri officially signed his one-year deal to play for the 2018 season last year on Feb. 22, so if nothing has happened by that point this year, and we’re starting to get into the possibility that free agency will begin March 13 and the Colts don’t yet have a kicker on their roster, then I think it’s fair to start digging in a little more on this topic.
» Justin I. (Orlando, Fla.): “Andrew, How good of friends are you and T.Y? Because you guys are my favorite duo to watch in the NFL”
Walker: I had a friend whose kid trick-or-treated at T.Y.’s house this past Halloween — does that count?
Oh, you mean Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton. That duo.
Very close in the team facility and on the field. Couldn’t tell you how much they hang out off the field, though.
» Mark J. (Noblesville, Ind.): “Will colts shove Braden Smith to guard? We chipped him on passing olays. Can you justify a 2nd round pick if you nu have ro chip every play?”
Walker: Mark, I’d say Braden Smith is officially the Colts’ starting right tackle moving forward. And to your point about “chipping” — I guess I don’t follow. I mean, obviously you’re insinuating that Smith frequently had to chip the defender across from him on passing plays, which isn’t something I can really confirm. All I know is Smith is landing on pretty much all the various publications’ NFL All-Rookie Teams, and he graded out well on the season according to Pro Football Focus. That, combined with the clear approval of his head coach and general manager make it seem like Smith is on the right track at right tackle.
» John B. (Boynton Beach, Fla.): “Love the mailbag. Can't get enough info on the Colts in Fla. One question, why didn't we use Hines more ie… swing, screens vs. K.C. Thanks for bringing mb. back.”
Walker: John, as much as you love the Mailbag, I love your questions even more. So keep ‘em coming. And great point about Nyheim Hines and his role during that loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. I actually came into the game thinking Hines would be a huge part of the gameplan after his role had been somewhat diminished the last couple games of the regular season, as well as in the team’s Wild Card Round game against the Houston Texans. I thought that maybe, like the team had done with Jordan Wilkins at times, Frank Reich would hope that teams wouldn’t really account for Hines as much if he didn’t appear on recent game film, and then Reich could exploit that by utilizing Hines’ talents out in space over and over again, if needed, against Kansas City. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Colts simply never really had the chance to showcase their actual gameplan against the Chiefs. When you go three-and-out so frequently, and then you see the opposing team getting to the end zone on their offensive drives, you oftentimes have to scrap what you wanted to do in favor of what you believe can get you back into the game as quickly as possible. So maybe the swing plays and screens to Hines were at one time part of the gameplan, but Frank Reich had to mostly ditch that plan after he found himself down 17-0? It’s a moot point now, but a good question nonetheless.
» Jeff W. (Kokomo, Ind.): “Congratulations and thank you”
» James S. (Carmel, Ind.): “None for now”
Walker: Thanks James.
» John N. (Philadelphia): “We need to avenge our lose to kc next season and destroy the pats”
Walker: Well, John, that’s certainly the plan when it comes to the Chiefs. As we know by now, the Colts will play another game at Arrowhead Stadium sometime during the 2019 regular season. So that should be a good one.
» Joe A. (North Vernon, Ind.): “Hey Andrew! Always enjoy your writing ( and your contributions on the audio side ). Could you give us your thoughts on the players who finished the season on I R and what it will mean to the Colts to have them back?”
Walker: That means a lot to hear you say, Joe. Thanks. Here are some of the players who ended the season on injured reserve for the Colts who aren’t set to become potential free agents this offseason who could play a role in 2019:
» Wide receiver Deon Cain: If he can get all the way back from tearing his ACL in the Colts’ preseason opener in early-August, Cain could very well develop into the big-play receiver fans have been wanting opposite T.Y. Hilton for a while. But let’s see him back and healthy first, and then go from there.
» Tight end Jack Doyle: Scary, scary moment when we learned Doyle had been hospitalized and underwent surgery on his kidney after a big hit Week 12 against the Miami Dolphins. But we’ve been told all along Doyle’s long-term prognosis is good, and Doyle himself told reporters this week that he should be good to go for 2019. It’s actually a nagging hip injury — the same one that caused him to miss five games earlier in the season — that could end up being a bigger issue, so keep an eye on that.
» Linebacker Skai Moore: The undrafted rookie played in nine games with one start for the Colts in 2018, logging four tackles (all solo stops). He was a stat sheet stuffer at South Carolina, where he was a tackling machine but also tied the school record for interceptions (14), so we’ll see if Moore can continue to develop at this level and start to provide similar results.
» Defensive tackle Jihad Ward: When Chris Ballard talked about the transition to the 4-3 defense and how the front was going to keep coming at you with fresh bodies, Ward ended up playing that role perfectly until he was placed on IR after Week 7. In six games, Ward collected 3.0 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. So look for Ward to get an opportunity to do the same in 2019.
» William W. (Rockport, Ind.): “In your opinion, what will the colts do in the upcoming draft? Will they draft the best available player, or the best available player at a position of need? What position do you believe is the greatest need for the team? will the Colts be able to solve the penchant that Ebron has for dropped passes?”
Walker: So I’ve talked about the Colts’ approach to the draft on here before, but they will continue taking the best player on their board that’s available, but if there’s a position of need and two players are close on the board but one addresses that need, then they’ll go in that direction. As for a position being of the “greatest need,” I’d say pass rush. And let me address your question regarding “the penchant that (Eric) Ebron has for dropped passes.” The guy led all NFL tight ends in receiving touchdowns (and was tied for second in that area among all players), made the Pro Bowl, yet people are still complaining about his drops. Yes, there were a few, and some of them came in key situations on third down. But what’s the alternative? Would you rather have someone else in his place? The guy scored a touchdown in almost every game he played for the Colts in 2018. Give it a rest. (And I’m not jumping on you in particular, William — this is a theme I’ve noticed from some fans for weeks now, and it’s just time to address it.)
» Paul P. (Shawneetown, Ill.): “Hello. First off I wanna say thank you to the Colts for the job they've done and for choosing Indy. My question is this: Who has the biggest locker room personality?”
Walker: Hey Paul, thanks for writing in. I’d say the Colts’ 35th season in Indianapolis was definitely a success. So the obvious answer to “biggest locker room personality” would be Eric Ebron. The guy is constantly singing, laughing, etc. But some other candidates would definitely be Darius Leonard and Jacoby Brissett. And T.Y. Hilton gets a nomination based off his laugh alone.
» Trey B. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): “Love the mailbag. You are funny and informative. Give us your picks for 3 team MVPs (which I think I just made up- correct me if I’m wrong, praise me if I’m right). 1 based on individual contributions. 1 based on team motivation/ inspiration. And 1 based on clutch plays or performances that might have decided the outcome of games. And don’t worry about hurt feelings from guys you don’t mention. Just tell them Trey wanted your honest opinion.”
Walker: Funny and informative? You better stop, Trey, or people are going to think I’m paying you to say stuff like that. But, nah, it’s very much appreciated. And I like your three MVP classifications, so all the praise goes to you. (And no worries about dudes getting their feelings hurt, but I’ll let them know Trey put me up to it in case they do.) Here are my picks:
» Individual Contributions MVP: Andrew Luck. I think him coming back and having the season he did after all the questions about his shoulder was amazing in itself. But he didn’t just come back and play well — he played at an MVP-type level.
» Team Motivation/Inspiration MVP: I’d give this to Mike Mitchell. I think he was able to come in off the street as a free agent on Oct. 9 and was an immediate team leader for that defense, especially in the secondary. That group came into the season with a ton of individual talent, but the leadership was more lead-by-example. Mitchell comes in and shows the younger guys how to put in extra time in the film room, how to approach practice the right way and, oh, by the way, stepped in and played really good football when his number was called, too.
» Clutch MVP: Darius Leonard. Trey, I’m not sure if you were a fan of the Colts back in the previous decade, but it seemed like every time the Indy defense was on the field late in games and needed a stop, it was Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis making that kind of clutch play seemingly every week, getting to the quarterback and either forcing a turnover or bringing him down for a huge sack. Leonard gave me the same feeling throughout 2018. When the Colts needed a play on defense, I was just waiting for Leonard to make it — and he came through quite frequently. I think we can all consider ourselves lucky that we’re going to be able to watch No. 53 do his thing in Indy for a long time.
» Jay L. (Gwynn Oak, Md.): “Were do u think Chris Ballard will look to improve the wide receiver position in the draft or free agency”
Walker: I just think if you look at Chris Ballard’s track record, going back to his time with the Chicago Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs, and taking into account his first two years in Indy, his teams simply haven’t been big on utilizing free agency to bring in what might be considered “big names” at the wide receiver position. So you might see a guy like Dontrelle Inman brought in midseason and make a major contribution, but that’s about the extent of it. Ballard is big on letting his coaching staff develop players, particularly at the wide receiver position. Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal showed flashes of big-play potential throughout 2018, while the team is hoping to see guys like Daurice Fountain, Steve Ishmael and Krishawn Hogan flourish with another offseason under them. And we can’t, of course, forget about Deon Cain and how he has the chance to make a major impact coming back from a season-ending knee injury before his rookie season could ever get started. So while I wouldn’t be surprised if the Colts added to the wide receiver position in the draft, I just don’t think it’s considered as big of a need positionally as many on the outside believe it to be.
» Ted H. (Alamogordo, N.M.): “I know the team coaches are on contracts, does their salary have any impact on the cap space? What is Matt Eberflus contract currently. If his salary doesn't effect cap space, Mr. Irsay should pay him whatever it takes to make sure he stays with the Colts. I would say that he has been every bit as good a coach as Frank Reich.”
Walker: The short answer, Ted, is that coaches’ salaries do not have an effect on the team’s cap space. So, for example: the Oakland Raiders giving Jon Gruden a reported 10-year, $100 million contract to be their head coach this past year didn’t go against the money the team had available to make player-related moves. And I think the good news is that Matt Eberflus — barring any odd last-minute changes — appears like he’ll be back with the Colts as their defensive coordinator in 2019. But as long as the Indy defense continues to play as well as it did, particularly the second half of the season, in 2018, Eberflus will likely continue to be mentioned among those considered for head coach openings across the league. If Eberflus aspires to be a head coach someday, and one of those 32 coveted jobs opens up and he has an opportunity to take it, then, I think, you should feel satisfied for him, and hope his replacement is able to have the same amount of success. But, again, for now, that’s doesn’t seem to be in the cards heading into 2019, which is the Colts’ gain.