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Colts Mailbag: Justin Houston's Impact, Anthony Walker's Growth, AAF In Indy?

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about Justin Houston’s impact on the Colts’ defense, Anthony Walker’s growth at linebacker, the possibility of an AAF team in Indy and much more.


PHOENIX — Each week, readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

This week's Mailbag comes to you from Phoenix, this year's home of the annual NFL owners meetings. Be sure to check back with for continuing coverage from team owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich.

Missed out on the Mailbag 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:


» Paul O. (Franklin, Tenn.): "It seems to be popular to think the Colts have been passive in free agency, but to me it has been pretty satisfying. We have signed or tendered quite a few of our own. Outside free agents have been limited in number, but should help in key positions. My question would be do you have any feel for any other of our own free agents we are trying to sign? Thanks so much for your commitment to share info with the fans. We all appreciate it."

Walker: Thank you for participation, Paul! So as far as the Colts' free agents that remain unsigned, wide receiver Dontrelle Inman really remains the only one that has been directly referenced by Chris Ballard in recent days and weeks. On Thursday, Ballard said in an appearance on 1070 The Fan that the team is "still working through some details" on a possible return for Inman, so stay tuned there. As for the rest of the list (you can see the 2019 Colts Free Agent Tracker by clicking here), there are a few names that certainly were key leaders, spot starters and pieces of depth on the 2018 Colts squad — linebacker Najee Goode, safety Mike Mitchell and defensive tackle Al Woods, in particular, come to mind — so as the free agency frenzy continues to die down a bit, let's see if Indy finds the types of deal it's looking for to perhaps bring some of those guys back in 2019.


» David P. (Indianapolis): "Serious question: Considering how much we love football here in Indy and the AAF seeming like the G- League version of the NFL, do you think the Irsay's would invest in a team to bring here? I think it would give us a direct line of players to bring into the organization if needed."

Walker: Thanks David — and I'm a fan of serious questions. Up front, I'll admit that I've heard no internal chatter about the AAF, so I can't say for sure whether or not a team in Indianapolis has ever been considered as a possibility. What I can say, however, is that it seems as if the AAF is initially trying to bring its teams to cities/markets/regions that don't already have an NFL franchise (with the exception of the Atlanta Legends). But I, too, am intrigued by the partnership between the NFL and the AAF that has formed already, as well as the possibilities in such a partnership down the road, particularly when it comes to the development of prospects. Having Bill Polian as an AAF league founder can't hurt, either.


» Bryan H. (Owensboro, Ky.): "So, first time writer here. I really enjoy reading the mailbag week in and week out. First off, I love the move by Ballard picking up Houston. My question is, do you think he mainly brought him in for his veteran experience to help develop some of our young pass rushers like Lewis and Turray? Also, with that pickup do you think we should spend our first pick on another DE or should we still search early for a #2 WR. I don't I think Funchess is the answer, and a little skeptical on Dion Cain coming back from a major injury. Thanks!"

Walker: Appreciate it, Bryan, and please, keep 'em coming. There's no question that Justin Houston's veteran leadership should be a huge advantage for the rest of the team's younger pass rushers. That being said, however, Houston has been brought in primarily for one reason: to get to the quarterback. And, if he can stay healthy, there's little doubt that he'll be able to do just that. And, to be honest, I don't think the signings of either Devin Funchess or Justin Houston really affect the Colts' plans in the draft. Funchess was signed to a reported one-year deal, while Houston was signed to a reported two-year contract; neither, at this time, seem like long-term answers at the wide receiver or defensive end positions (which, of course, could all change if either are given a more long-term deal). So I would imagine the Colts will still be more than willing to take advantage of the deep groups at both positions in this year's draft, even with their earlier picks.


» Dave C. (New Castle, Ind.): "In order to maximize Justin Houston's effectiveness, given his age and health, I am sure the Staff will structure his pre-season, practice and game time. How do you balance the need to be in "football shape", adjust to hour defensive scheme and players and contribute during the season with the need to be fresh and available come December and January? Certainly a 30 year old has different issues than a 23 year old. This acquisition will be a great addition to our defense IF we can keep him healthy. Thoughts?"

Walker: I mean, Justin Houston's only 30 years old. I think some people are acting like he's in his late-30s and he'll play some sort of third down-only role (not saying you're in that camp, Dave). Has Houston had his share of injuries? Yes. But as of late, there hasn't been anything too serious that would make me believe he's incapable of being depended on for the entire season. He played 15 games two seasons ago, and last year he missed four games early with a hamstring injury. We all know how nagging those hamstring issues can be — just ask Anthony Castonzo and Marlon Mack last year. In his 12 games in 2018, Houston still had nine sacks, and Pro Football Focus assigned him his highest overall grade in years. In fact, Houston was getting better as the season wore on. But a few factors, I believe, will help Houston stay as healthy as he can: first off, the Colts will give him a specific conditioning and nutrition plan that should maximize what he can get out of his body. Secondly, the team's defensive scheme calls for plenty of rotation, particularly up front, so Houston should be relatively fresh whenever he's out on the field. And, finally, Houston is a veteran; by now, he knows how to get the best out of himself. I'm bullish on the possibilities for this defense with Justin Houston flying off the edge.


» Jim M. (San Francisco): "Do the Colts want to assemble personnel who can play 3-4 and 4-3 defenses? They have DE Justin Houston now, as well as DE Sheard, and both are really 3-4 linebackers. If you need bigger linebackers for a 3-4, then they might draft another linebacker for that purpose, possibly capable of playing either 3-4 or 4-3. Your mock drafts regularly mention the option of Clemson DT Lawrence, a 340-pounder for the middle of the defensive line (and basically a 3-4 nose tackle if they choose). Are Ridgeway and Stewart experienced in the 3-4? Some of the other mock drafts discuss the option of drafting one of the 225-230 pound wide receivers. I wondered how well WR Funchess blocks, and if the Colts ever line up with big wide receivers like that when they rest Hilton. If they line up with 6 offensive linemen, or with 2 tight ends, they could have 9 decent blockers, and Mack, out there with Luck."

Walker: Jim, the Colts switched from the 3-4 to the 4-3 last season. So any personnel decisions that have been made the last couple years on that side of the ball have been solely focused on how a player can best be utilized in a 4-3. There are, of course, some carryovers from when Indy utilized the 3-4, but that's because those players were versatile enough to excel in both schemes.

Dexter Lawrence seems to project as a terrific run-stuffing option in the interior of the defensive line, and it seems like he can line up at both the one- and the three-tech spots and be just fine. He's one of many outstanding defensive linemen that could very much be available when the Colts go on the clock with the 26th-overall pick.

And I'm also interested to see how Frank Reich shakes things up with his formations this season. Because T.Y. Hilton missed a good chunk of time in 2018, Reich had to think on the fly quite a bit and get pretty creative at times, and the Colts were still able to move the ball. One thing's for certain, however: if you're going to be on the field as a receiver with the Colts, you will be expected to carry your weight as a blocker. Ryan Grant, Zach Pascal, Dontrelle Inman and Chester Rogers were particularly solid in this area last year, and Reich and Nick Sirianni will demand the same, if not even better, in 2019.


» David J. (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada): "Thanks for reading my question Andrew This is the first question I have ever submited I have been a colts fan since I was born even though may family liked other teams. Here is my question: If the colts were to draft a wide receiver and they had any choice of who they could draft, who would they draft. Also I think it would be a smart decision to draft a wide receiver because they also have TY Hilton, Devin Funchess, Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, Imagine trying to guard them as a defense."

Walker: Thanks for the question, David — gotta get the rest of the family on the Colts' bandwagon! Just like defensive linemen, the Colts should have their pick of all sorts of solid wide receiver options when they go on the clock with the No. 26-overall pick. Those currently being projected to be picked by the Colts in various mock drafts include D.K. Metcalf, N'Keal Harry and A.J. Brown, while Marquise Brown, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Emanuel Hall and Kelvin Harmon could also be available. My best bet is that the team will select a wide receiver with at least one of their nine selections. One thing's for sure: the more weapons available for Andrew Luck, the more impossible this offense will be to defend.


» Javier M. (Jacksonville, Fla.): "Hello Andrew! I'm writing to you all the way from Jacksonville, Florida. By the way, I can't wait to see the Colts play against Nick Foles this coming year. It'll be the first NFL football game that I'll hopefully be attending. Anyways, my question: Now that we picked up a great pass rusher in Justin Houston, a wide receiver in Devin Funchess, and re-signed more than a handful of our own Colts, what position do you think will Ballard address in the draft after all of these free agency movesmoves? I'm thinking he will go with another rusher. He did mention that there can never be enough trench players. What are your thoughts?"

Walker: Jacksonville? Thanks for holding it down in enemy territory, Javier! Hope to see you there. I think it's a safe bet to assume the defensive and offensive lines will continue to be a priority for Chris Ballard and his staff in the upcoming draft. As I mentioned earlier, the outside free agents brought in by the team should certainly help in the short-term, but due to their contracts — as well as the contracts of others at their positions — I just feel like the team still needs more long-term answers at both wide receiver and along both lines. And while the offensive line seems set now with all five starters set to return in 2019, you can't forget about the fact that Ballard has said constantly that he wants nine or 10 starting-caliber players in those spots. The Colts are certainly close in this regard, but a draft pick or two that can get some time to develop might help make that goal a reality even quicker.


» Noah A. (Dakar, Sénégal): "Hello! After reading so many well-answered responses I have finally worked up the nerve to send in a question. It was reported that the Colts were interested in former Ravens', now Jets' ILB, C.J. Mosley. Trusting in Ballard & Co. (as all Colts fans should), I wasn't surprised to see we didn't match the Jets' offer. My question is what are your thoughts of Anthony Walker's potential to grow into a franchise ILB? He certainly put up admirable numbers in his second season (105 combined tackles)! Darius Leonard deserves all the praise in the world, but I feel that Walker hasn't gotten enough, yet. Thanks!"

Walker: Noah, always feel free to send in a question any time you think of one (or two, or three). I'm not so sure how serious the Colts were pursuing C.J. Mosley (he's a heck of a player), but I don't think there's any doubts about the potential that lies within Anthony Walker at the linebacker position. Really, after an injury-plagued rookie season in 2017, 2018 was the first full-time opportunity for Walker to show what he could do with a starting job, and, boy, did he match up well with Darius Leonard. Honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about this great linebacker duo out in Dallas when the one in Indianapolis was just as good, if not better (and proved it in their head-to-head matchup). So we'll see if Walker (no relation) can take an even bigger step up in 2019.


» Joe A. (North Vernon, Ind.): "Andrew! Dude! I just listened to your one on one interview with Clayton Geathers. Very nicely done. You're becoming quite the multimedia personality!"

Walker: Thanks Joe! That's so nice of you to say. Please let me know how to best get you our arranged payment for submitting this to the Mailbag.


» Barbara C. (Crawfordsville, Ind.): "Hello , thank you for doing the mailbag for us fans Really appreciate it so much Are the Colts going to keep Inman?"I thought he was a good addition for us plus he's a bigger bodied receiver, which is what I thought we were wanting Also, who do we have to take over for Al Woods, if we aren't planning on keeping him? Thanks so much Have. beautiful day"

Walker: Thanks for the questions, Barbara! I addressed Dontrelle Inman's situation above, but for a refresher, Chris Ballard said late last week that the team is still working through some possibilities to bring Inman back in 2019, so stay tuned. As for Al Woods, if he indeed heads elsewhere in free agency, it will be hard to replace the leadership he brought on board. On the field, Woods really had transitioned into more of a backup/depth role the second half of last season, as Margus Hunt appeared to get a majority of the starters' reps inside on the defensive line. So I look for Hunt, Tyquan Lewis, Hassan Ridgeway and Grover Stewart, among others, to all get legit cracks at the reps left behind by Woods if he doesn't re-sign with the Colts. You have a beautiful day, too.


» Gilbert M. (Salt Lake City, Utah): "I am a Vietnam Veteran (USMC 1965 to 1968, Phu Bai). My Question: Please explain the impact on a team with the three Free Agency policies: Unrestricted FA; versus Restricted FA; versus Exclusive Rights FAs? How does a team get awarded from the NFL Supplemental Draft Picks? Using Trades or Free Agency, how do the Colts acquire extra Draft Picks, especially the 2nd RD, or 3rd RD, or 4th Round. THANKS."

Walker: Gilbert, thanks so much for your time, and most importantly, thanks for your service to our country. Here are some suggestions to find what you're looking for:

» Click here for definitions for unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights free agents.

» Click here for an explanation of the supplemental draft pick process (from last year).

» Click here for an explanation of the compensatory draft pick process.

As it currently stands, thanks to the St. Patrick's Day trade last year with the New York Jets, the Colts have two second-round picks in this year's draft, while they have two fourth-round picks, one of which is a compensatory pick that was awarded to them.

Those more early-round picks are so tough to stockpile because you have to give up a lot to get them. But Chris Ballard has been pretty good about making deals on draft day to acquire additional mid- to late-round picks the last couple years, so I wouldn't be surprised if there was more of the same this time around for the Colts to get in the 10- or 11-pick range when it's all said and done.

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