Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Addressing The Drops, T.Y. Hilton’s Health, Trading For OBJ Or Antonio Brown?

030919_mailbag

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:

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» Colin W. (Nitro, W. Va.):Hey Andrew, always love reading your thoughts on the roster. My question pertains to the linebacking core. From what I could tell there was a lot of rotation at the SAM position with Goode, Franklin (and Adams on occasion if I'm not mistaken). Najee didnt have a great season, but our rookies definitely showed that they can produce when called upon. Do you think the Colts look to the draft/free agency to improve the right side or are they comfortable with the rotation?

Walker: You’re from Nitro? That has to be the coolest city name I’ve ever heard. Good for you, Colin. Anyways, the way the season ended up playing out, it was mostly Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin getting reps at the SAM linebacker spot, while the veteran Najee Goode was sparingly used on defense, but was heavily counted on for his special teams prowess. The fact that the Colts were able to get such solid production from not one, but two 2018 seventh-round picks in that SAM linebacker spot was pretty impressive; Adams (215 defensive snaps) ended up edging Franklin (176 snaps) in playing time, but both will undoubtedly compete for that starting job throughout this offseason. Goode, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent-to-be when the new league year starts at 4 p.m. E.T. Wednesday, and while he’s certainly a beloved member of the locker room, it seems as though the team might let him test the market before possibly considering bringing him back. I will say this, though: Chris Ballard and Matt Eberflus are always looking to get faster, especially at linebacker, and even though that SAM spot is known for a little more thumping than the WILL or MIKE, don’t be surprised if the team tries to add there in free agency or the draft.

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» Alejandro C. (Monterrey, Mexico):I’d like you showcase an escenario... Trade Jacoby Brissett and our late 2nd Round pick on this draft to the Giants for Odell Beckham Jr. They get the QB that can play West Coast style offense, with starting experience and an early pick for this draft to keep filling roster holes, and we get an elite talent at wide receiver. ¿Thoughts?

Walker: This ain’t Madden, Alejandro! I love your creativity, nonetheless. And the way you explain it, yes, this would make sense in theory. But you’re talking about a wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. who is owed $77 million over the next five seasons. You’re going to give up your safety valve at the quarterback position and a second-round pick for that contract? On the other hand, Beckham Jr. is just 26 years old, and he’s certainly worth the money as it pertains to his talent and productivity. But I just don’t see something like this actually happening.

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» Terry W. (Ocklawaha, Fla.):Hi, Thanks for helping us all through the off season. I was wondering if you could answer a question that puzzles me. I watched the Senior Bowl and there was a receiver that seemed to be a dominate player named Andy Isabela if my memory serves me correctly, but I haven't heard mention of him in connection with the draft. Is he not interested in the NFL or is there some other reason I'm not hearing anything about him? Thank you in advance.

Walker: Terry, maybe you just haven’t been looking in the right places, because Isabella’s stock has continued to rise since his impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. Isabella had a terrific Combine workout, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds, confirming the blazing speed his seen in his college film, and now he’s being viewed as a potential starting slot receiver who can also add value in the return game at the next level. He’s not the biggest guy at 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds, and he also didn’t play against the greatest competition week in and week out at UMass, but Isabella, at this pace, seems like he should be able to overcome those factors.

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» Cody W. (Anderson, Ind.):Hey Andrew first time ever asking a question. Has anyone in the organization actually reached out to Antonio or Le'vion and got there side of things? Character is the main thing Ballard wants in the locker room and keeping the culture. How do we know Brown or Bell are players that have been painted one way in the media and the real story behind closed doors paints another picture? Just something to ponder thanks for the opportunity to ask questions and keeping colts nation up to date and informed.

Walker: Cody, thanks for submitting your first question. I encourage you to submit questions every week — I try to get to as many as I can. Anyway, here’s the issue when it comes to getting Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell’s “side of things:” they are currently under contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It would be considered tampering if another team were to reach out to players of another team like that, which is a huge no-no. We’re talking about potential loss of draft picks and/or massive fines and other punishments from the league if you’re found guilty of tampering. Here’s another reason to love Chris Ballard and his personnel folks, however: they’re very well connected in the league. If they want to get reliable information about a certain player or situation, they can get it one way or another. Let’s also keep in mind: we don’t know the Colts’ actual thoughts on Brown or Bell. Despite the fact both are elite talents, it is possible that one or both just simply aren’t considered good fits on this Indy roster — and that’s OK. But, again, we don’t know that for sure. Maybe more perspective on both guys will come out here in the coming weeks as both guys likely find their new NFL homes.

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» Lori T. (Damascus, Ore.):Hello, my boyfriend is a huge fan. I would like to plan a trip to the Colts training camp for 2019. When is the schedule published and tickets typically released?

Walker: Are you guys going to be coming all the way from Oregon, Lori? That’s quite the hike — and quite impressive. Please say hello when you make it. Anyway, I don’t have any updates on when the actual schedule for this year’s training camp will be released. I can tell you, though, that last year’s schedule came out on June 13; so maybe use that as a starting point. I have been told that tickets to this year’s Colts Camp will once again be free, but fans must obtain a digital ticket to enter each day, so keep that in mind. My best advice is to, of course, keep an eye on our team social media accounts as well as Colts.com/events/trainingcamp for all the latest.

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» Chuck F. (Fort Wayne, Ind.):Hey! Long time fan! I know it's way to early yet but any word on Doyle or Hiltons health? I'm really excited to see how our offense will be with the both of them in the lineup!

Walker: It’s never too early, Chuck! As you might’ve seen by now, tight end Jack Doyle’s kidney seems fine (which is relieving), but he did undego surgery on that nagging hip injury suffered Week 2 last season against the Washington Redskins. Doyle isn’t expected back until probably training camp. As for T.Y. Hilton, it seems like it’s all good news there: he told reporters the day after the Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that he wasn’t expecting any sort of surgery to his twice-injured ankle, and that a little rest and relaxation for a few weeks should clear up those issues. Sounds like he should be good to go for the offseason program.

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» Ted T. (Greenfield, Ind.):The colts have 9 picks in the up coming draft is there a player in your opinion say inside the top ten that is worthy trading up for like Devin white who I think would be scary next to Lenord and Adams ?

Walker: Every time someone brings up the possibility of the Colts trading up in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, I go back to what Chris Ballard said at his Combine press conference: “I like them picks.” In other words: I wouldn’t expect the team giving up much in the way of draft picks this year. “I’ve always been under the premise in how I was taught in this league (that) the more picks you have — the more darts you have at the dart board — the better chance you have to hit on players,” Ballard continued. “Is our roster to a point where I think we can just go and draft three players? No. I still think we need to continue to add young talent. We like having draft picks”

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» Bryce H. (Madison, Ind.):Haven't been reading the mailbag for a little while but figured it was time to touch base. As I've said before Ballard is the man so whatever he drafts I'm cool with. He's always on point but being a fan of the oline do you think we might get another oline man with one of our first three picks. We can always use young depth in that department and I don't think we can get complacent thinking we're good we need a replacement for castonzo because he'll be a free agent in the next couple years and getting to groom a guy with Mudd back is ideal this year. That's my opinion not popular probably but even getting a right tackle to let Braden go to his natural RG spot shouldn't be out of the question either. Thanks I figure if this is answered we won't see eye to eye but Ballard will pick talented players so that's all that matters to me at the end of the day.

Walker: “Haven’t been reading the mailbag for a little while”?!? Blasphemy, Bryce! Get with the program, fella! If you had been keeping up, you’d know by now that I think the team could/should still pursue offensive linemen in this year’s NFL Draft. Also, not that there won’t be other considerations and competition along the right side of the line, but the Colts just re-signed Mark Glowinski to a reported three-year, $16 million deal, and the team has said it’s excited to see what Braden Smith can do with a full offseason to train specifically at right tackle. So, again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you know?

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» John K. (Turtletown, Tenn.):Hello Andrew, Been a Colts fan since 1954 when their training camp was held in a pasture in Westminster, Maryland, and I've enjoyed many great players/teams since then. Back in the day, punters took great pride in what was known as the "Coffin Corner Kick" that went out of bounds inside the 10. Not so much anymore. Given the NFL's passion for statistics I wonder if anyone has ever analyzed how many punts result in (1) turnovers, (2) big returns, (3) return TDs, If I could ask any head coach one question it would be "Considering all the possible outcomes, why in the name of Vince Lombardi does any team ever punt the ball down the middle of the field?" Since I can't ask the question, I hope you will. Thanks and keep up the good work. I enjoy your analysis.

Walker: Thanks so much for the question, John, and for staying with us all these years. And you bring up some very interesting points about punting. Here’s what I’ll say: I’m not quite sure the league has necessarily abandoned the “Coffin Corner” approach, but with punters’ legs seemingly getting better and better each and every year, teams seem to be relying more on hangtime and their coverage team’s ability to get downfield to produce more consistent results. The Colts’ and Rigoberto Sanchez were among the league’s best at this very approach in 2018. Just 21 of Sanchez’s 57 punts were returned, and when they were, Indy limited the opposition to just 4.4 yards per return — the best mark in the league. Sanchez’s net average of 42.7 yards per punt also led the AFC. So while I realize you’re talking about more of a leaguewide trend, whatever the Colts and Sanchez are doing is obviously working.

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» Craig K. (Wittenberg, Wisc.):Been colt fan since Bob Shaw was the QB. Go back and figure that one out. Was a h.s. head coach for 22 years. I have always believed in NBS (nothing but speed). That said I have one other problem with the colts receivers. How can we be in the top of the league in dropped balls every year? If we need to step back on speed and get someone who can catch the ball like a pro why don't we do it? In addition how many of those drops turn into turn overs. This has been an issue for 7 to 8 years isn't it time to adjust expectations?

Walker: OK, Craig, let’s talk drops. This was certainly a storyline for the Colts’ receivers the second quarter of the 2018 season, especially when T.Y. Hilton was out as he dealt with his chest and hamstring injuries suffered Week 4 against the Houston Texans. In fact, in Weeks 4, 5 and 6, Pro Football Focus gave the Colts’ receivers five drops in each game — that was after the group had just two combined drops the first three weeks of the season. But, really, Hilton’s return, as well as the emergence of a guy like Dontrelle Inman, helped get these numbers back under control the rest of the way. In 2018, PFF credited the Colts with 33 total drops during the regular season — that’s not exactly great — but they had a drop percentage (drops of passes they consider catchable) of 6.4 percent, which ranked 17th in the NFL. So while that’s not something to write home about, being in the middle of the rankings isn’t exactly worthy of a major shakeup, either. And, actually, it was a noted improvement from the last three seasons; the Colts ranked 23rd in drop rate percentage in 2016, and 25th in 2017. Other than that, however, the last eight years (using your example) have been pretty inconsistent in this area for Indy receivers. According to PFF, the team has ranked 28th twice in drop rate percentage (2011 and 2014), but has also ranked as high as third (2013) and sixth (2015); the team ranked 19th in 2012, Andrew Luck’s rookie year. Drops are frustrating, I get it — and they’re one of the more visible acts of failure a football player can have. But the numbers show the Colts are pretty much right in the middle of the pack in this particular area.

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» Aftan R. (Anderson, Ind.):There's no question the Colts have a need for some depth at receiver and there seems to be a lot of talk about drafting one high. To me, the type of receiver the Colts may target depends on what role Deon Cain will play when he returns from injury. Do you anticipate Cain playing on the outside, or in more of a slot role? And who are some of the WR prospects that you would like to see the Colts draft based on that?

Walker: Deon Cain’s college numbers show he was best utilized out wide, and not in the slot, while at Clemson. During his senior year in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus, Cain was lined up out wide for 647 total snaps, while he was lined up in the slot for just 16 snaps. Cain had a few more opportunities in the slot (45 snaps) his junior year, but he was still mostly lined up out wide (389 snaps) that season. To me, Cain is best utilized on the outside as a “go up and get it” type of receiver, and while I don’t think Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni would think twice about lining him up in the slot from time to time, I think he’ll be a major playmaker mostly as a perimeter guy in Indy. And I don’t really see Cain’s projected availability really having much of an impact on what type of receiver the Colts go after in this year’s draft. To me, if D.K. Metcalf, N’Keal Harry, Marquise Brown, Hakeem Butler or A.J. Brown are available there late in the first round, or if they fall to the second round, I think they’d be nice pieces to have on this roster.

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» Drew F. (Fort Wayne, Ind.):I know it seems like we may want to draft guys to bolster the secondary but I'm thinking it may be best to improve the secondary by getting more pressure up the middle, or maybe around the edge. To beat elite QBs pressure is key up the middle (Tom Brady). Any chance we may focus on defensive linemen and edge guys? I think going that route improves the line and the secondary. Also, I'd love to see Ryan Hewitt get some 1 yard line touches either as a blocker or carrier. Has anybody considered that with his background?

Walker: Drew, I don’t think Chris Ballard has been bashful about saying that defensive line, particularly off the edge, is perhaps his top priority this offseason. And considering how deep this draft class is along the defensive front, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Colts picked up at least a couple talented prospects to address those particular needs. That’s not to say the team will go defensive line or bust with the 26th-overall pick — Ballard has said he’ll take a best-player-available approach — but it might be almost impossible to not get at least one defensive linemen if you’re the Colts and you have nine total picks entering the draft. And as for Ryan Hewitt — we’ll see. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on Wednesday, and while he was solid in his role as more of a “blocking” tight end in 2018, we all know how crowded that room can get.

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