HOUSTON — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
This week's Mailbag comes straight to you from Houston, where the Colts are in town to take on the AFC South Division rival Houston Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium. Indy is looking to snap Houston's nine-game winning streak and remain right in the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture.
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:
» Ron N. (Houston): "How is Jalen Collins doing?"
Walker: From everything I can see, Jalen Collins has done nothing to hinder his goal of one day finding his way back to an NFL 53-man roster during this opportunity on the Colts' practice squad. Collins, of course, doesn't have many chances left after his multiple suspensions, so the former second-rounc pick knew the best way he could approach this opportunity was to keep his head down and work. Is he going to be on the Colts' active roster anytime soon? I couldn't tell you. And, just like any other player, coming in and learning defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' system, as well as playing and practicing to his standard, takes some time to master — even for a guy who was playing in a Super Bowl just a couple years ago. Eberflus was asked about Collins just this week: "I do see the talent there. Now, what he has to learn to do is practice the way we practice. The way we practice is full-out. There is walk-thru and then full speed. Then once you learn to play full speed all the time, then that's practicing our way. I think he's learning to do that. He's not there yet relative to that. But we have a style in which we play and each player is held to that standard. When he does that, we will see where he is."
» Tanner H. (Oakdale, Calif.): "United States Army Veteran-California blue blooded diehard Indianapolis Colts fan since the new millennium. Curious as to what it feels like to walk into Lucas Oil Stadium on GameDay and the feeling of first kickoff. (Question: In one word describe the feeling of all of that?) I'm not lucky enough to have been able to experience that to this point or for the foreseeable future. I imagine it to be summed up as "Blissful"."
Walker: Thank you so much for your service, Tanner. And, of course, for being a Colts fan. Hopefully you can experience a Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium in person sooner rather than later. The team has put in a ton of work both on and off the field to make the gameday experience among the best in the NFL. I will say, having started working with the team in recent years, one of the aspects I miss most about Colts games is being out there for player introductions and for that opening kickoff. Now I find myself way up high in the press box during those times. But I can definitely still feel the electric atmosphere, and I think your word, "blissful," definitely captures those scenes very well.
» Rhyan K. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): "Do you think Braden Smith will be the long term answer at right tackle or do you think he will slide back to his "natural position" of guard eventually?"
Walker: Rhyan, what's the saying? "Don't mess with a good thing?" I think the Colts have a good thing going with Braden Smith as their starter at right tackle. Does that mean he won't someday get moved back inside to guard? No, it doesn't. But I think Smith has been able to shatter the stereotype that some college guards get that they don't have the ability to play out in space off the edge. Smith is big and strong like a guard should be, yes, but he also has the quickness needed to block some of the best edge rushers the league has to offer. I'd listen to Colts' offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo who said of Smith, "I don't really go by the labels. People say he is mainly a guard, or he is – what is the common term that everybody has been using – he's a natural guard. I'm not buying that. … He's an offensive lineman, he is a football player. How times do they draft a tackle to play guard? They do it all the time. I mean this is guy is six foot six and a half." Had Smith played tackle in the Big Ten, DeGuglielmo speculated, he "probably would have been a first-round tackle." So I'll defer to Coach Guge in this instance.
» Rob B. (Lee's Summit, Mo.): "What kind of performance does Darius Leonard need to have in order to make up the the gap gained by Derwin James and his great performance in week 13?"
Walker: Derwin James is having a heck of a rookie season for the Los Angeles Chargers. He had a nice performance last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, finishing with three tackles, three passes defensed and one pick of Ben Roethlisberger in the red zone, helping lead his team to a 33-30 victory. And, to some, James is the leading candidate for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award. But I still don't think he's even close to touching the kind of season, and production, that Darius Leonard is having. Leonard continues to lead the league in tackles, and, perhaps more importantly, in solo tackles; he isn't just always in the play — he's making the play. Leonard is second among all NFL rookies in sacks. He's first in forced fumbles. He has a pick, too. And he has, on more than one occasion, made a game-changing play late to earn a victory for the Horseshoe. Just because James has interceptions in two straight games doesn't mean, at least to me, that he's passed up Leonard in the DROY race. James hasn't had a sack since Week 6 (he had a hack-sack then), he's had no more than 11 tackles in a game, and his three passes defensed last week were a career-best. Leonard just has better numbers, and has much more consistent production across the board. Again — I'm not discrediting James. He's going to be a heck of a talent for years to come. But Darius Leonard, at this pace, is without question the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year.
» Scott S. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): "In the next draft do you think the colts should still consider spending time on getting younger players on defense or signing up more veterans. And spending the picks on offense like running backs and wide receivers."
Walker: Scott, I don't think you'll see Chris Ballard divert from his plan of building through the draft on either side of the ball. And I think it's just as important for the team to continue adding young, talented pieces on defense, while also keeping an eye on the offensive side of the ball and, like you said, trying to continue building a really good wide receiver group or maybe continuing to add different talents at running back. Think about this: with 11 picks last year, the Colts didn't select a single cornerback or safety. One would have to imagine those positions might get some attention in next year's draft, if the board dictates it. So while I'd think Ballard will spend a little more than he has in free agency this upcoming offseason — he almost has to — the draft will remain the focal point when it comes to building the roster. The foundation is certainly there — now it's time to continue building on it.
» Ollie T. (Erlanger, Ky.): "Which of the two QBs was dinged up enough that they felt the need to activate the practice squad QB (Walker)? He was activated for the game but then demoted to the practice squad again on Monday!"
Walker: Hey Ollie, I'd suggest you head here and find all the roster moves that have included Phillip Walker just since the start of the regular season. You'll learn that Walker actually hasn't been on the active roster all season, though he's been on and off the practice squad almost 10 different times since September. So no worries about any dinged up quarterbacks — Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett are just fine, thank you very much — but Walker, for now, will probably keep getting moved on and off the practice squad so that the team can continue utilizing those spots the best way they can and developing as many players as possible.
» Patrice J. (Darlington, S.C.): "My question is. Are we the Colts doing anything extra to prepare for our match up against the cowgirls oops I mean cowboys. I don't feel necessarily that their a great threat, I just hate them so much that I want us to pulverize them with a strong iron fist LOL."
Walker: Patrice, Patrice, Patrice. Are you looking ahead on the schedule? Don't you know the Colts play the Houston Texans on Sunday in a pivotal AFC South Division matchup? I won't tattle to Frank Reich about your indiscretion, but we never, ever overlook our current opponent! OK, yeah, the Cowboys actually are playing really, really well on defense, and with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, they're liable to score a lot of points each and every week. So next Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium should be pretty interesti… dang it, Patrice! Now you've got me looking ahead. Let's get to the Cowboys questions next week, shall we?
» Terrance M. (Philadelphia): "How come you guys didn't beat the Jaguars?"
Walker: The scoreboard indicated they had more points than the Colts.
» Steven H. (Indianapolis): "When is Andrews contract up."
Walker: Andrew Luck in 2016 signed a five-year contract. So that means that, as of now, he's set to become a free agent after the 2021 season; he'll be entering his age-32 season when his current contract is set to expire.