INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts Mailbag is back.
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.
We had a great initial response for this first wave with more than 60 submissions the past couple days from all over the world.
Let's jump right into the questions:
» Jeremy W. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): Nice to see the mailbag back! What are Ishmaels chances to make the team? If you had to make a depth chart for cb who is our top 4 in order? Thanks go blue!
Walker: Thanks for the questions, Jeremy. Steve Ishmael has certainly shown flashes coming in as an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse, and he's definitely lumped in with about six total receivers really vying for what I'd guess are two to three spots on the final 53-man roster. I'd throw him in with the likes of Zach Pascal, Kasen Williams, Reece Fountain, Krishawn Hogan and Seantavius Jones. As of now, just judging by practice reps towards the end of preseason, I'd say Pascal, Williams and Fountain were possible frontrunners, but Ishmael, with solid performances these last two preseason games, could certainly make a late push.
As for the top four cornerbacks, I think it really depends on what formation the Colts are in. If they're in their base, 4-3 defense, I'd say Pierre Desir and Nate Hairston are your outside corners right now. If they're in the nickel, I'd say Hairston and Quincy Wilson are the outside corners, with Kenny Moore II playing inside. The good thing about both Hairston and Moore II is that they both have shown they can play inside and outside, so defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus does have some flexibility there.
» Josh H. (Elmer, N.J.): With the new and improved AFC South, what are your stat predictions for Andrew Luck and what is your reason for them considering the great defenses in the division?
Walker: I'll be honest. I could spit out some projected numbers for Andrew Luck this season, but I don't think I'd be doing anybody any good considering I'm not nearly as educated on the 31 other NFL rosters as I am on the Colts'. Fortunately, there are other people who seem to be pretty good at these statistical projections, such as ESPN's Mike Clay.
In June, Clay projected Luck will complete 376-of-600 passes (62.7 percent) for 4,403 yards and 30 touchdowns to 16 interceptions, while also running 61 times for 289 yards and another two scores. That would have Luck ranked, according to Clay, as the sixth-best overall quarterback in the NFL. That projection puts Luck very near his 2016 totals, when he completed 346-of-545 passes (63.5 percent) for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
There are some really good defenses in the AFC South Division, with Jacksonville having perhaps the best-overall unit in the entire league. But I'm also interested to see the effect an offensive-minded head coach like Frank Reich has on Luck and this Indianapolis offense.
» Robert M. (Montréal, Quebec, Canada): Hey I am a huge colts fan since the early 2000's from Canada. I wanted to get your opinion on the colts offensive schemes? Do you think the colts aren't showing in pre season their real identity they will try to become in the regular season? Also is their a favorite for the colts third WR spot? Thanks and bleed blue.
Walker: Always good to hear from our neighbors up north. I think without a doubt the Colts are holding back their real playbook for the regular season. Frank Reich was crystal clear about that from the beginning, that he was going to try to maintain as big of a competitive advantage as he could and would be extremely vanilla and, frankly, pretty boring in the preseason. In fact, Reich was asked just this week about if he liked where his offense was considering how he's not showing much in the preseason games:
"We've had a lot, a lot of work even going back to OTAs doing a lot of things. Doing a lot … of stuff that we like to do: changing personnel, motions, shifts — all that stuff. That, I feel like, has looked good — and moving personnel around. So we just limit that for right now, but we have to make it work when it counts."
Look no further than tight end Eric Ebron's involvement — or lack thereof — so far this preseason. He went without a catch in the opener against the Seattle Seahawks, and then had four receptions for 16 yards on what essentially amounted to checkdowns Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens. We all know Ebron was signed as a free agent to bring a unique and dangerous skillset to the tight end position, but Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni aren't about to start tipping their hands with him just to look good during the preseason.
» Edward M. (Santa Ana, Calif.): Why aren't the colts getting more weapons for Luck?? Colts need more WR's that are at the caliber of TY Hilton. What is the plan for the running back position??
Walker: I'll just say this: please list for me the wide receivers "at the caliber of T.Y. Hilton" that are available. And not guys who used to be top targets who remain free agents or guys you'd like the Colts to trade for (trades like that just don't happen often).
Hilton is a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver, and even as he tried to get on the same page with Jacoby Brissett throughout last season, he still was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl. Remember: Hilton led the NFL in receiving just two years ago, and with Andrew Luck back under center, there's no reason why Hilton can't get back to similar production once again in 2018 and moving forward.
I think to better address your whole question, however, yes, the Colts have some unknowns at the wide receiver position. Ryan Grant is expected to be a solid, dependable target, and Chester Rogers is back for Year 3 in Indy, but can Grant, Rogers and whoever else makes the team at the wide receiver position take enough heat off Hilton?
I think with Frank Reich's tight end-friendly offense, that alone will help Hilton break open with more frequency down the field. Let's just give it a few weeks and see how it plays out.
As for the running back position, I'll address that a little later below.
» Ryan B. (Cheshire, United Kingdom): Hi guys. I was a regular contributor back in the day and am delighted you've decided to bring back the mailbag! My question this week is: The pick of Darius Leonard was a bit of a questionable one in the draft, but how do you feel he's come on in camp and how do you envision him being used this season? Thanks!
Walker: Thanks for sticking with us, Ryan. Hope all is well in the U.K. I can certainly see how the Darius Leonard pick might've seemed like a "questionable" one from the outside, considering how he was coming from an FCS school. But it didn't take long watching film on Leonard during a lengthy sitdown with general manager Chris Ballard to realize just exactly why the Colts were so high on him.
"This kid is a really talented athlete, and we'll live through some (growing pains) with him, but he's got the one trait that you can't coach: he can really run," Ballard said. "Like, I think we got him at the combine at 4.61 (40-yard dash), but last spring he clocked at 4.53. I mean, this kid can roll."
While Leonard didn't really participate in the on-field portion of the offseason workout program due to a nagging quad injury, it took all of a few minutes into his first 11-on-11 action during the very first day of training camp to show a glimpse into what he can provide, as he made an impressive jumping interception of Andrew Luck while sitting back in coverage.
Leonard is right now the starter at WILL linebacker, which means he'll be on the field pretty much all of the time, unless, in some instances, the team elects to keep the MIKE linebacker in when they're in their dime package. But his sideline-to-sideline speed and playmaking ability is exactly what the Colts want in their WILL, and Leonard's seven tackles in just 28 snaps Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens was the latest example of what he can provide.
» Jordan G. (Laramie, Wyo.): With Andrew Luck coming off a serious injury and having what seems to be an improved o-line. Do you see any of the runningbacks coming into the season with the potential to have multiple 100+ yard games? And if so which teams are they against and which player rushes for over 100 yards?
Walker: I think it's time for Colts fans to change their perspective, or maybe their expectations, when it comes to the running back position. I know 100-yard games have been, and probably always will be, one of the more major individual milestones when evaluating running backs — and, of course, there will always be a connection to fantasy football — but the Colts' shift to a running back by committee system under new head coach Frank Reich likely means 100-yard rushing performances won't be a realistic expectation week in and week out from this staff.
The new approach at the position means the Colts will have multiple running backs on the roster who each bring a little bit different flavor to throw at the defense at various times throughout a game. I tend to look at last year's Philadelphia Eagles offense, with Reich as its coordinator, as a good example of what to possibly expect for the Indy offense moving forward.
The Eagles in 2017 ranked third in the league in rushing (2,115 yards on the year), but only LaGarrette Blount broke the 100-yard rushing mark in a game, and it happened once: a 136-yard performance Week 4 against the Los Angeles Chargers. That includes the Eagles' 16 regular season games and their three playoff games en route to the Super Bowl title.
So are 100-yard performances impossible moving forward? Absolutely not; the Colts could decide to ride a hot hand throughout the season and see some standout individual performances. But the focus now is what the group as a whole does each week, and if Indianapolis can even start to approach what Philadelphia did last season, then watch out.
» Tyler K. (Tipton, Ind.): Glad tot he see the mailbag is back! I have a few questions: 1. I don't understand why Ballard wouldn't offer two second round picks from the 2019 draft and Sheard for Khalil Mack? We have seen how hard it is to obtain blue chip pass rushers, and we have the money to structure a long term deal with Mack, a top 5 pass rusher in this league. I know we just drafted two ends, but why would you not offer anything for someone who is proven elite and has won DPOY? 2. I have been impressed with Darius Leanord's fluid playing style, and seems to have a high amount of potential for us, what are you initial thoughts on him? 3. Finally, with a scheme change and with young D linemen showing flashes of playmaking, what are the chances we cut Al Woods, considering his playing style is similar to Hankins?
Walker: Thanks, Tyler. All great questions.
1. I will say we had many, many questions regarding Khalil Mack, and I'm guessing the gas was really thrown on the fire earlier Friday when NFL insider Jason La Canfora apparently reported the Colts were among three teams who have reached out to the Oakland Raiders about the pass rusher's availability. I can't confirm or deny that report, unfortunately, and because Mack is on another team's roster at the time, there's not much I can actually say about the situation.
2. See above for my evaluation of Darius Leonard.
3. Chances of Al Woods getting cut? Like, to begin the season? Put it at zero. OK, well, this is the NFL, so let's change that to one percent. But Woods is the Colts' starting one technique along the defensive line — no questions asked. General manager Chris Ballard saw the quickness and burst in Woods last year that he felt would translate over well to the new 4-3 defensive scheme this year; that's the main difference between Woods and Johnathan Hankins (and that's not a knock on Hankins at all). I think if Ballard had any hesitation at all about Woods fitting in this new scheme, he would've made a move months ago.
Woods is not only a starter for this defense; he's one of the veteran team leaders. And, yes, the team is excited about the prospects of guys like Grover Stewart and Hassan Ridgeway, but Woods is the man at defensive tackle for now.