Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Ryan Kelly's Status, Utilizing The Blitz, Double Rookies Of The Year?

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about the chances of the Colts having the NFL’s Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, center Ryan Kelly’s injury status, increasing blitz calls and much more.


INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, 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:

» John O. (Glendale, Ariz.): "Do you guys feel that the fans need to cheer louder when your opponents have the ball? Especially, when in the red zone? When I watch from home, I see an improvement from last year and the year before. But I wish the fans get as loud as the Seahawk's, Steeler's, and Patriot's fans. Respectfully, John"

Walker: Hey John, this is a really interesting question. I think the simple answer is, yes, the Colts would love to have as much noise as possible during home games when the opponent has the ball. I think we all think back to those glory days at the RCA Dome where the fans were often so loud that opposing quarterbacks could barely even think. Accordingly, guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis seemed to thrive in those scenarios, especially late in games. But here's the more complicated part of my answer: the team realizes it still has some work to do on its end after three straight seasons without a playoff appearance. The good news: general manager Chris Ballard, head coach Frank Reich and their staffs definitely seem to be getting things on the right track. A win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday would represent not only five straight victories, but would wrap up a three-game homestand all with Ws. Those kinds of results, the team believes, will get the house rockin' again soon. "We want to make a statement for our fans," Reich said recentky. "We want to make a great statement for our fans — that we are going to give them great football, we are going to give them a lot to cheer about, get some excitement in that building and climb back in to where we want to be."


» Justin P. (Noblesville, Ind.): "Hey Andrew! This is my first time entering the mailbag but I am a big fan. Keep up the good work! My question revolves around what the Kelly injury this week will mean. Do you think it will have a major impact, or will the Colts offensive line will keep chugging along even without their star center? Also, what do you think Tannehill being back for Miami will change the Colts game plan. Does he really change much for their offense or no? Thanks, Have a nice thanksgiving!"

Walker: Justin — great question, and thanks for your kind words. Ryan Kelly has had a stellar season in 2018. Coaches, particularly Reich and Dave DeGuglielmo, don't throw around words like "Pro Bowler" and "the best center in the NFL" lightly, but that's exactly how they have described the way Kelly has been able to blossom here in his third NFL season. That being said, I think the Colts have a ton of confidence that Evan Boehm can come in and keep the momentum going at the center position while Kelly works on getting back from his injured knee. Boehm has actually already played a good amount at center for the Colts in a sporadic fashion this season, as he played a series Week 8 against the Oakland Raiders, and then finished the game in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. In both instances, everything went very smoothly. Reich said it's possible some of the run calls might be made a little bit differently with Boehm in the game compared to Kelly, but the pass protection aspect of the game will pretty much remain the same.

And, real quick on Ryan Tannehill: I expect a lot of three-step drops and quick passes on Sunday out of the Dolphins quarterback. After missing five games with an injured throwing shoulder, Tannehill was still only a limited participant at all three practices this week. That's not to say the Dolphins aren't confident Tannehill can't execute their entire playbook — but plays deep down the field in which the Indy defensive front will have more time to potentially get into the quarterback's face just doesn't seem ideal if there are, in fact, still any lingering issues. If you're the Colts, you obviously respect Tannehill and the Miami passing attack, but I think your first priority is stopping the run. Frank Gore is still very much Frank Gore, and Kenyan Drake is a threat to break free at any time. You limit the Dolphins on the ground, force them to throw the ball, and then I think that's the ideal situation if you're the Colts.


» Zachary C. (Anderson, Ind.): "Dontrell Inman should move ahead of Ryan Grant on the depth chart! True or False"

Walker: Well, Zachary, that's exactly what ended up happening on this week's unofficial depth chart. Dontrelle Inman is now listed as the No. 2 wide receiver, ahead of Ryan Grant and Zach Pascal. I've been saying this all season, though, and I'll continue to relay this message: it does not matter who is "starting" or who is listed where on the depth chart for this offense — for the most part. Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and quarterback Andrew Luck do such a good job making sure the ball is spread around that it seems as though guys like Inman and Grant are going to get about the same number of targets each week. But this can't be said enough: kudos to Inman for coming in midseason and making such a big impact in a relatively short amount of time. He obviously already has Luck's trust, and his prior knowledge of Reich and Sirianni's playbook is really serving him well.


» Michael W. (San Jose, Calif.): "Do you think the colts can have both the offensive and defensive ROY? I think Leonard is distancing himself from James with every game, but I'm not sure Nelson can beat Saquon just based on the positions they play"

Walker: I certainly think this can happen, Michael. I mean, just look at last season: the New Orleans Saints had both the NFL's Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year in running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore. So, the precedent is certainly there. But will it happen? I happen to agree with you about Darius Leonard distancing himself from the pack in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. I mean, Leonard is not only leading the league in tackles, but he seems to make huge impact plays just about every single week. He takes down the quarterback, he logged his first interception last week against the Titans, he punches the ball out of ballcarriers' hands — and he seems to do it during critical junctures of games. Other rookie defenders have put in very, very solid seasons thus far — you mentioned safety Derwin James, and you can also look at defensive end Bradley Chubb, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and cornerback Denzel Ward, just to name a few. But I have a hard time believing, at this current pace, Leonard doesn't take home that hardware. The Offensive Rookie of the Year race? Yep — I couldn't even begin to tell you how that one will shape out. One might believe, as you alluded to, that New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is the easy selection, and that's because he's a running back and he gets the stats and the glory. But my counter to that is: who was named the league's Offensive Rookie of the Month for October? Quenton Nelson, that's who. He was the first guard in NFL history to earn that honor, in fact. So as the Colts keep winning (the Giants … aren't really doing that), the offensive line keeps dominating and Nelson keeps demoralizing the defenders across from him, I think it might be a pretty tight race for that Offensive Rookie of the Year award when it's all said and done.


» Jim S. (Bristol, R.I.): "No question at this time"

Walker: Thanks, Jim. Happy Holidays.


» Kaleb K. (Lapeer, Mich.): "Are you going to let brissett have ant playing time"

Walker: Are you asking if Jacoby Brissett, the backup quarterback, is going to get any playing time? Well, I mean, if you're the Colts, at this point, the only time you really want Brissett on the field is if the game is well in hand and you don't want to risk the chance of getting Andrew Luck hurt for no reason. That's what ended up happening last Sunday against the Titans, as the Colts were up 38-3 at the 10:43 mark of the fourth quarter when the team decided to put Brissett into the ballgame; he ended up playing eight snaps with the offense to close out the game. Jacoby Brissett is a very talented quarterback and the Colts are extremely fortunate to have him as their backup at the most important position in sports. But he's exactly that — a backup — and his opportunities are going to be very limited unless there are unforeseen circumstances.


» Dale G. (Rome City, Ind.): "Will the defense continue to use blitz packages more often"

Walker: Dale, we can ask this question to Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus until we're blue in the face, but it truly remains an opponent-by-opponent deal. Eberflus obviously saw something in the Titans' offensive front that he wanted to attack, and the Indy defense ramped up its blitzes, particularly on third down, which led to much more pressure, quarterback hits and sacks. But just because it worked against the Titans, it doesn't mean the Dolphins — who have no doubt been studying that Tennessee game film — will get the same dose of blitzes. "We always have blitzes up at certain times for different situations," Eberflus said this week. "If you look back at the games, we have called them on first down, second down, third down – we have called them all the way through. We really worked hard last week on, like I said, the patterns and getting to spots. I thought the guys did a really good job with that and they started to hit and we stuck with it. The guys just really got energy off that and we just kept calling them."


» Big C. (New York, N.Y.): "Who is the most famous person in your cell phone?"

Walker: Caroline Cann.


» Darrell B. (Chesapeake, Va.): "Is Ryan Kelly seriously injured, can Ballard finish the magic he has started"

Walker: Hey Darrell, thanks for writing. I don't think the severity of Ryan Kelly's injury is really known at this point. Frank Reich has been hesitant to put Kelly into more of a "week-to-week" category, meaning the team is not quite ready to say he could miss multiple games. All we know now: Kelly is out on Sunday against the Dolphins, and Evan Boehm is playing in his place. But we'll give you the latest on Kelly's knee as soon as we hear it.

And Chris Ballard was a talented quarterback, and later wide receiver, at the high school and college level. But I'm not sure he'll be calling his own number to fill in for Kelly at center for the Colts anytime soon.

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