Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Guessing Primetime Games, Underdog Mentality, Safety Deep Dive

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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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» Jon T. (Savoy, Ill.):Whom are the Colts first opponent to start off the 2019 schedule? Is the game home or away? Thank You.

Walker: Nice try, Jon. But I honestly have no clue. Here, I’ll narrow it down to eight teams for you — you can make an educated guess from there: the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders (home) or the Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (away). The good news? You might not have to wait too much longer to get your answer; the Colts and the NFL announced the regular season schedules last year on April 19. So give it two or three weeks.

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» Jeffrey P. (Bristol, Conn.):Marcus Johnson. Its Friday March 29th As of today he has not signed yet. Is he waiting until after the draft? Does he not want to come back? Is this a normal amount of time to wait to sign? I like this kid and think he could help.

Walker: Hey Jeffrey, so I know I also answered your question about this on Twitter, but I think it’s important to add some context here. Marcus Johnson is an exclusive rights free agent, which basically means he has no more than two years of NFL experience and, unlike unrestricted and restricted free agents, he cannot negotiate with other teams for this season. In other words, if Johnson wants to play this year, it can only be with the Colts. The Colts on March 11 placed a tender on Johnson; all that’s left if he has to sign that tender and he can return. But I wouldn’t go assuming that because he has not signed his tender by now that there might be some issue, and here’s why: last year, the Colts had four exclusive rights free agents in cornerback Chris Milton, long snapper Luke Rhodes, tight end Erik Swoope and guard Jeremy Vujnovich, all of whom waited until early April to sign their tenders to return (Rhodes and Swoope signed April 2, Vujnovich on April 4 and Milton on April 6). So, in other words, I’d expect Johnson to sign his 2019 tender here pretty soon.

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» Wyatt M. (League City, Texas):Will the new “With the Next Pick” series be available to watch for free on Colts.com? Looks really awesome and I’m super stoked to watch it.

Walker: Absolutely, Wyatt. We’re all super excited for this series to play out over the next few weeks. You can watch the sneak peek by clicking here, but you should see a new episode drop at 8 p.m. ET every Wednesday — starting this Wednesday — through the draft in late-April/early-May (there will be five parts in all). You can watch it on Colts.com, the Official Colts Mobile App, @Colts on Twitter, @Colts on Instagram and on the Colts’ Facebook page.

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» Cody W. (Anderson, Ind.):Hey loving the mailbag here recently with all the hype around the upcoming draft. Just wondering does there seem to be a constant underdog mentality in this team since Frank took over? Philly had the attitude during there superbowl run with dog masks and such. There is a common theme I'm seeing through our draft picks and our free agents. We have sought out men with something to prove. Ebron with the drops and being called a draft bust. Darius coming from a small school and being called a terrible draft pick. Desir with his amazing backstory. Houston coming off of injuries and slowed production for a team who jumped ship on him and everyone saying he doesnt have anything left. Even Andrew who everyone said would never be the same before last year. Frank seems like the coach to establish were not the favorites by any means and seems to get the most out of players with a chip on there shoulder and alot to prove. Just my observation. Thanks agian!!

Walker: Cody, you make some great points about the “underdog” mentality, whether it’s reflected in some of the players the Colts have brought in (Eric Ebron, Darius Leonard, Justin Houston) or some of the players already on the roster with something to prove (Andrew Luck, Pierre Desir). There are many more examples you could probably point to on this Indy roster that could fit that mold. And I think the Colts, especially after their 1-5 start, really took that underdog mentality to heart last season, going from the 32nd-ranked team on many media outlets’ “power rankings” to a team winning nine of its final 10 regular season games to earn a spot in the postseason, and then winning a road playoff game to advance to the Divisional Round. All of that is/was great, and I can tell you that Chris Ballard and his personnel staff will continue to try to find players that feel they have something to prove moving forward. But let me add this: any feelings about being an underdog as a team moving forward have been thrown out the window. The Colts can’t sneak up on anybody in 2019. With the target now on its back, it’ll be interesting to see how Frank Reich’s group responds.

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» Ed B. (Ballston Lake, N.Y.):Hi Andrew great job with the mailbag. Just wondering who vote for executive of the year? Don't know how Ryan Pace beats out Chris Ballard for the award. Thanks and keep up the good work!!!!

Walker: Thanks for writing in, Ed. It can get kind of trivial, to be honest, but there are multiple “Executive of the Year” awards every season. In January, Chris Ballard was voted the Professional Football Writers of America’s (PFWA) 2018 NFL Executive of the Year. But I think you’re referring to the more recent “Executive of the Year” award handed out last week at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. Officially credited to the Sporting News, it was Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace that earned the award after a vote by his peers. So there you have it.

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» Sam S. (Marion, Ind.):With a little teaser of the NFL schedule coming out today, how many primetime games do you see the Colts being in next season? And who will they play?

Walker: I’ve been wondering this myself, Sam. Last year, you’ll remember, the Colts only preliminarily had one primetime game on their schedule, their Week 5 matchup on the road against the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football; their Week 17 “win-or-go-home” battle against the Tennessee Titans, of course, was eventually flexed into primetime. This year, I think it’ll be a completely different story. Counting games that are flexed, an NFL team, I believe, can have up to six primetime games during the regular season. So, knowing that, I would predict the Colts having four primetime matchups in 2019: one of their games against the Houston Texans and road games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints. Another primetime candidate, I believe, will be the road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I’m not going to jump too far ahead of myself here. Those are my best guesses, so take that for what it’s worth.

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» Dan C. (Dubuque, Iowa):Will the colts sign Inman and Goode and Woods? They seem to be the best players left unsigned from last year. What are the chances colts use first three picks on Defense in draft?

Walker: As it pertains to your first question, really, only Dontrelle Inman has been floated around by reporters to general manager Chris Ballard to this point of the offseason. He said last week at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix that talks continue with Inman, and he won’t yet rule out the possibility of re-signing the veteran wide receiver. As for linebacker Najee Goode and defensive tackle Al Woods, it’s tough to say. Both are clear leaders and terrific for the locker room, and both have their value in various roles on the field. But guys like Goode and Woods might be on the outside looking in at this point of the offseason as the Colts try to improve their depth with younger pieces at various positions. I don’t think the team has ruled out bringing back either player in 2019, but perhaps check back after the draft to see where the roster stands at that point. And I actually wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Colts used their first three picks in this year’s draft on defensive players, although I’m more inclined to guess one defensive lineman/edge rusher, one safety and one wide receiver (not necessarily in that order) with picks 26, 34 and 59.

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» H.J. C. (Norfolk, Va.):Good Job,Keep up the good work 👍🏈.Clayton Geathers just signed a1 year (stay healthy prove it) deal with the Colts.That said do you think 🤔 at pick 26 the Colts will select a safety-J.Abram if he is setting there?If nothing else for youth,future depth.How about pick 35?Your thoughts.Take care.Go Colts!!!!!🏈🏈🏈”

Walker: H.J., terrific use of emojis. Well done. I think pretty much everyone was fired up that the Colts could reach a deal to bring back Clayton Geathers, who, when healthy, is one of the more impactful players on the field for the Indy defense, both in the box and in coverage. I’ll say this, however: I do not think his signing has any bearing whatsoever on the team’s plans to continue adding to the safety position in the draft — much in the same way I don’t believe the Devin Funchess or the Justin Houston signings have any bearings on the wide receiver and defensive end positions, respectfully. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Colts went with a safety with the No. 26 pick in the first round, but my gut tells me they wait to pick a player at that position until the second round. Here’s what Chris Ballard said last week about the talent at safety in this year’s draft class: “We think there’s some really good depth, especially late-second, third, fourth (rounds), there’s some really good depth in the draft (at safety). And then there’s always some later-round guys that you like, just with traits. We do think there’s some good depth there.” Ballard doesn’t tend to mince words when it comes to topics like these; we have less than a month now until we see how it all plays out.

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» Brandon E. (Spokane, Wash.):Hey Andrew, Quick question: With Jacoby Brissett on the last year of his rookie deal, how likely do you think it is that Ballard trades him during the draft and we take a late round flyer on a backup such as Gardner Minshew from Washington State or Brett Rypien from Boise State? To me getting a mid round pick is better than losing him for nothing next offseason. Thanks.

Walker: Great minds think alike, Brandon, as I kind of floated a couple Jacoby Brissett/backup quarterback questions to both Frank Reich and Chris Ballard last week at the owners meetings in Phoenix. My take: it’s pretty apparent Brissett, barring any insane offer, will be the Colts’ backup quarterback in 2019, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Colts won’t consider taking another player at the position in this year’s draft, and then keep three QBs on the active roster during the regular season. I think that’s unlikely, but Ballard did not rule it out. Also, don’t forget about Phillip Walker, who put in a solid preseason last year and will continue his development in Indy this offseason.

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» Mike B. (Greenfield, Ind.):Hi Andrew, So what primarily does Andrew(Luck) work on while training with Tom House? Is it how to throw the ball "better" or to improved his release? Just wondering why Andrew prefers to working with him so much, and what he does to help make Luck a "better" QB? Thanks

Walker: First off, I can’t say I know specifically what Andrew Luck’s workouts with Tom House look like, so there’s that. Maybe we’ll ask Luck when the team returns for the offseason workout program in a couple weeks. But, in general, House is known for his expertise about throwing mechanics, which includes the timing and the science behind each throw. Last offseason, we learned Luck was working with House on a “bottom-up” approach to his rehab work; how Luck was working on a better base from which he could throw that was expected to take strain off his shoulder. Also, this is completely unrelated, but one of my favorite anecdotes about House? A former Major League Baseball pitcher, House was in the bullpen and caught Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th-career home run April 8, 1974, in Atlanta, and then presented the ball to Aaron at home plate during the ensuing celebration.

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» Antonio B. (North Little Rock, Ark.):I read every week , first time writing ! First you do an awesome job every week and always look forward to it ! My question is about depth at safety and the possible increasing roll of Odom ?! Do you think Ballard and Reich are big fans and see a bright future ? I would have assume they would have signed Farley to an extension or possibly Mitchell . Also could explain what you think lerevan Clark’s role will be moving forward , he hasn’t emerged as a starter like imagine and has stepped up at times but not consistently ! Thank you for your time !”

Walker: Thanks for reading, Antonio, and thanks for sending in your questions. Dedicated Colts.com fans know that I have a soft spot in my heart for George Odum, who simply made plays throughout the entire offseason program and training camp to earn a spot on the 53-man roster as an undrafted player out of Central Arkansas last season. Utilized more as a special teamer-only in the first part of the season, injuries to Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, Matthias Farley and Mike Mitchell forced Odum into the defensive secondary for several appearances down the stretch, and he had his moments as a rookie, finishing with 28 tackles (one for a loss), two passes defensed, one interception and one quarterback hit. I think it’s fair to say Chris Ballard and Frank Reich are also fans of Odum’s — Ballard has gone out of his way to mention Odum on at least a couple times this offseason — so he’ll hope to continue working hard this offseason to earn a spot on the roster once again in 2019. But the safety position, one would think, should be pretty crowded once roster cuts are made. Hooker, Geathers and Odum are officially back, while the team has also tendered Farley, a restricted free agent (he’s yet to sign that tender). Guys like Isaiah Johnson and Rolan Milligan are also on the offseason roster and hope to show what they can do. And then there’s the NFL Draft, one that includes a deep safety class this year, according to Ballard. So if there’s five open spots at safety on the 53-man roster when all is said and done, competition should bring out the best in those players.

And 2019 is a critical year for Le’Raven Clark, and Ballard has said as much himself. Clark did perform much better last year filling in for the injured Anthony Castonzo and Joe Haeg at tackle, and then he was utilized at times as an extra tight end in the Colts’ jumbo packages at times in eight of the team’s final 11 regular season games, but the former third-round pick is entering a contract year this time around. Ballard has expressed the desire for nine to 10 starting-caliber offensive linemen to be on his roster at all times, and Clark has shown he can get the job done as a swing tackle, but he hopes to really put it all together this offseason and into camp to not only earn a roster spot in 2019, but a contract extension to stay in Indy beyond this year.

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