Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Filling Devin Funchess’ Role, Utilizing Play Action, Jabaal Sheard Timeline?

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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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Keaton S. (Pendleton, Ind.):Is the offense we are currently using designed for Luck or was it adjusted to best fit the abilities of Obi Wan Jacoby?

Walker: Obi Wan Jacoby?! That seems too easy. But I won’t knock the attempt. Anyway, to get to your question, Frank Reich was actually asked this same question (minus the nickname) on Aug. 26, and he referenced both his playing days as Jim Kelly’s backup with the Buffalo Bills, as well as when he was the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles had to replace an injured Carson Wentz: ”I think that sometimes that gets overplayed,” Reich said of how much the playbook would change between Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett. “I might of mentioned this before – I am not sure – I had the experience of when I backed up Jim Kelly, we’re running the K-Gun offense and everybody thought when Jim got hurt, that we would have to go to plan-b offense for me because I wasn’t as talented as him. But that’s not how it rolled and that’s not how we’ll roll. The same thing when Carson Wentz got hurt and Nick Foles came in. Completely different quarterbacks in many respects, same offense but it’s just interpreted in a slightly different way. We will accentuate some of Jacoby’s strengths and some of our team strengths in a different way, but the playbook won’t change.”

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Adam G. (Layton, Utah):Who figures to play a bigger role in the offense now with Funchess out, Deon Cain or Parris Campbell?

Walker: This is a great question, and I’m eagerly anticipating seeing how Frank Reich mixes things up at the wide receiver position on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. For now, though, it seems as if Deon Cain would be next in line to, in a way, take over the No. 2 receiver job with Devin Funchess now on injured reserve. That’s not to say Parris Campbell’s touches won’t increase; it’s just Cain has played more of that outside receiver role his first couple years in the league, while Campbell’s strengths, for now, are more suited for a slot receiver-type role. Any way you cut it, however, the four remaining Colts wide receivers not named T.Y. Hilton — Cain, Campbell, Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal — should all be ready for an increased role moving forward, as Reich and quarterback Jacoby Brissett will want to continue spreading the wealth and keeping opposing defenses on their toes.

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Joseph J. (Bellevue, Neb.):Is there any timetable on Sheards return?

Walker: Short answer for you Joseph: no. There isn’t really any timetable for Jabaal Sheard’s return — not one that has been discussed publicly, at least. Frank Reich said this when asked if Sheard was any closer to coming back on Wednesday: “He is making good progress, making very good progress. Obviously, I’m not going to say any status but we are encouraged.” The fact Sheard wasn’t placed on injured reserve to begin the season could very well indicate the team believes he can get back before, at most, the eighth week of the season, which is the minimum time someone placed on IR must sit out before the team can use one of its two return-from-IR spots on them. So the next step for Sheard, obviously, is to get back to some sort of practice routine, and then the team will see if he’s back to form to return to game action. Stay tuned.

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Jordan J. (Visalia, Calif.):With Funchess out for at least 8 weeks, do you think there is a surprise riser who fills that void either at the receiver or TE position? Hale, Mo, Deon, Zach, Chester are options to fill that void.

Walker: Of those guys you listed, Deon Cain, as I mentioned before, is, to me, the most likely option to step into that No. 2 wide receiver spot moving forward. But when you remove one weapon from a lineup, that means everybody else needs to step up collectively to help make up for that loss, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the rest of those guys got some added opportunities as well. I look at a guy like Chester Rogers, for example, as a guy who could really surprise some people. While guys like T.Y. Hilton and Cain got a lot of hype — and for good reason — during training camp, Rogers quietly seemed like a man on a mission, and his day-to-day consistency showed it. Coming off a career-best season in which he had the fourth-most receptions (53) and the third-most receiving yards (485) on the team, Rogers, to me, is certainly someone who can step in and pick up the slack, as well.

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Ryan L. (Allen, Texas):Life long colts fan here! I want to start off by saying, I thought the offense looked very efficient on Sunday. The oline dominated with the exception of Smith losing on a couple pass rushes. Mack looked amazing! Brissett was very poised and accurate. With that said, I couldn't help thinking that the Coaching staff was holding Brissett back. It felt to me that they were playing him in a very conservative style. My question is this, do you think moving forward the coaching staff is going to give Brissett a little more freedom to make adjustments on the line and open up the playbook a little more?

Walker: Ryan, first off, I think you can relate to us Hoosiers and our love of high school basketball, because that high school football stadium y’all have there in Allen is something else — 18,000 seats?!? What a facility. Anyway, I think that “conservative style” you were feeling against the Los Angeles Chargers was actually more by design — at least to start the game. Frank Reich admitted as much afterwards: “This team, we wanted to come out and dink-and-dunk — a short, controlled pass game. A lot of the analytics said that this team in the first quarter was pretty good against the rush. Especially the first drive or two, running the ball and you got everybody crowded up. They knew we wanted to run the football, they were crowding the box.” So Reich saw the short passing game as an extension of the run game early on. But when that offensive line and Marlon Mack started clicking to open the second half, one can imagine that would’ve been difficult to really get away from after the run plays were working play after play after play. So I’d imagine this won’t be the case every week — we all know the big arm that Jacoby Brissett has, and the weapons he has to throw it to.

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Jeffrey P. (Bristol, Conn.):Good morning. I have great trust in Ballard and Reich! With that said, wondering if the Colts are missing a Al Wood type of DT in the line up? I know we want speed but to me stopping the run is always priority number 1. Any thoughts? Quick question, how is Chad Williams looking in practice?”

Walker: Hey Jeffrey, always appreciate your questions. I think I know what you’re getting at; the Colts will always feature speed and quickness with their defense, even up front, but can that work against you when you don’t have many big guys along the defensive line? The answer is yes, it can (and it has many times; see last year). Before suffering a season-ending injury last year, Al Woods did play a very important role as a key rotational guy and a solid run stuffer, but I see Grover Stewart playing that kind of role moving forward for the Colts’ defense. Stewart, at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, is the only 300-plus-pound defensive lineman on this team, and he was really starting to show the ability to throw that weight around during training camp practices. So I’d keep an eye on big No. 90 and see if he can play a similar role as Woods. As for Chad Williams, to be honest, I don’t have a ton to go off of. Since moving back from training camp, the media can only watch the first 10 to 15 minutes of practices, so I haven’t gotten a good look at Williams as of yet. He’s got good size (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) and he’s a former third-round pick back in 2017, so there’s obviously a body of work there this coaching staff likes, so I’ll keep my eye on him moving forward.

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Eduardo C. (San Juan, Puerto Rico):Is Jordan Wilkins still getting up to speed after missing all the exhibition season with his foot injury?? It was strange not to have seen him used in the HB rotation this past Sunday. I consider he is a great asset/ complement to our running game. GO COLTSSSSSS!!!

Walker: Wilkins last Sunday played 15 snaps, all on special teams — six on kickoff coverage, five on kickoff return, three on punt coverage and one the punt return unit. But this isn’t real surprising given it’s very similar to the role he played as the third running back for much of the 2018 season, too. Once Marlon Mack returned full-time in Week 6 last year, Wilkins averaged a little more than five offensive snaps per game from Weeks 6-17, and he didn’t log a single offensive snap in three of those games. So just going off of his role in last Sunday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers and what he did last year, it seems Wilkins could get some snaps with the offense from time to time, but as of now Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines will continue to get a bulk of the carries.

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Ted C. (San Antonio, Texas):I’m a huge fan of the Colts Mailbag and this is my first time submitting a question. With tat said, the defense could have played a little better against the Chargers. The defensive starters rarely played in preseason games. Could their lack of playing time attribute to their subpar play in the first game of the season?

Walker: Ted, thanks so much for your first question. Hope it’s the first of many. I think the consensus certainly is the Colts’ defense, A., could’ve played better against the run; and B., could’ve tackled better against the Los Angeles Chargers. I’m not so sure the lack of playing time during the preseason has much to do with it; it might just be teams tend to have the most troubles with their tackling early on. Last year, in the Colts’ narrow Week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, for example, the Indy defense missed 11 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF had the Colts with 12 missed tackles last Sunday against the Chargers. “To me, it really comes down to a few things: the angle in which you pursue when you’re going to tackle and then it’s technique and desire after that,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said this week. “You’ve got to take pride in your tackling ability as a player. When you tackle a guy and you wrap him up then I drive my feet and then the guy should be where he is. I think that’s important on the individual level.” The Colts missed, on average, seven tackles in their two games against the Tennessee Titans last year, something they’ll want to continue improving upon this Sunday in Nashville.

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Michael M. (LaGrange, Ind.):What will happen to Chad Kelly after his suspension is lifted

Walker: The Colts have a few options when it comes to quarterback Chad Kelly once he is able to return from suspension after this Sunday’s game. They can retain him on the 53-man roster, meaning the team will be carrying three quarterbacks (Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer and Kelly) and another player will have to be cut to make room. The team can try putting Kelly on its practice squad, but by doing that it would have to expose him to waivers, meaning the remaining 31 teams would have 24 hours to claim him. Or the Colts can simply cut ties with Kelly for the time being, knowing they have a young QB in him they can possibly turn to down the road if needed. So what’ll it be? That’s anyone’s best guess, but general manager Chris Ballard did offer this when asked what the team’s plans with Kelly would be a couple weeks back: “We like him, I’ll say that. We like Chad.”

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Terrill Jones (Anaheim, Calif.):Is it possible we could see more play action on offense?

Walker: Yes, I think this is possible. I think since we’re only one game into this season, we’ll use the entire regular season last year as a jumping-off point for play action data. According to Pro Football Focus, Andrew Luck attempted 129 play action passes in 2018, which was the 10th most among qualifying NFL quarterbacks. His passer rating on those plays was 115.7, which was the fifth-best mark in the NFL. Jacoby Brissett last Sunday against the Chargers attempted seven play action passes, which were the 19th-most in the league; Brissett completed all seven of those pass attempts, by the way, for 56 yards. So Luck averaged a little more than eight play action pass attempts last year, and Brissett attempted seven last week. Not much of a difference there, but I decided to ask Frank Reich myself on Friday if they hope to get more out of the play action: “Anytime you run play action, part of the equation of play action is getting chunk plays,” Reich said. “We didn’t hit as many as those last week, but, you know, you’ve gotta take ‘em when they’re there, and so (we) always have an eye on that stuff. You can’t always predict how it’s going to come up in a game as far as number of calls that we have. Relatively speaking the total number of plays we had was somewhat in the norm; when you only throw 27 passes and you consider how many of those are third down, where you’re not throwing play action. So it was a fairly decent spot for us, but we make no bones about it — that’s a big part of our plan.”

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Tyler A. (Rushville, Ind.):It was disappointing to Devin Funchess go down last week. He was a talented player. However, I am intrigued as to the development of Krishawn Hogan during the preseason. Is there any chance of the team resigning him?

Walker: As of right now, it appears the Colts are moving forward with five wide receivers on their active roster. The fact they had six wide receivers to start the season was somewhat of an anomaly to begin with, so at this time it doesn’t appear there is room for a guy like Krishawn Hogan. But that’s not to say the Colts won’t keep Hogan in their sights should something else happen at the wide receiver position. The guy put in a terrific offseason, training camp and preseason, and it simply came down to a numbers game when the team had to make its final cuts. So I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Hogan returning at some point down the road.

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Jordan K. (Fontana, Calif.):Who do you think has the most potential to lead the Colts in INT, Sacks, and tackling individually?

Walker: I’ll go with obvious choices to answer your question, Jordan: I think Malik Hooker will lead the Colts in interceptions, Justin Houston will lead the Colts in sacks and Darius Leonard will lead the Colts in tackles. If I’m going with runner-up predictions in each category: Kenny Moore II (interceptions), Kemoko Turay (sacks) and either Anthony Walker or Clayton Geathers (tackles).

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Alonzo Q. (Houston):Can we see Jacob to Campbell on a 🔥 route?

Walker: Yes, Alonzo. Yes we can. And I’ll try to make sure the highlight has the “🔥” utilized with any related social media posts.

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Isaac R. (Pasadena, Calif.):Can Q. Nelson, D. Leonard, M. Mack, T.Y. Hilton, or J. Brisset wish me a happy birthday? It would be an awesome gift!!

Walker: I can’t speak for those guys, but I can speak for myself: happy birthday, Isaac. I’m sure that’s just as good.

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