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:
» Tara F. (Brazil, Ind.): "This looks like the best rookie group the Colts have assembled in Indy. Time will be the true measure. What has been the best draft class in the past 35 years?"
Walker: You're right — this entire 2018 draft class for the Colts really looks like it has the potential to be an all-timer. But what I appreciate about your question, Tara, is how you attach a historical perspective to it. So, since the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984, what have been the best draft classes? Well, what I'll automatically do is eliminate the 1998 class that included Peyton Manning, just because it's so top-heavy. But here's my top-five, with some highlight picks from each class:
1. 2003 (DE Robert Mathis, TE Dallas Clark, LB Cato June, DB Mike Doss)
2. 2001 (WR Reggie Wayne, OL Ryan Diem, OL Rick DeMulling, DB Idrees Bashir)
3. 2006 (RB Joseph Addai, DB Tim Jennings, DB Antoine Bethea, OL Charlie Johnson)
4. 1999 (RB Edgerrin James, LB Mike Peterson, P Hunter Smith, DE Brad Scioli)
5. 1992 (DB Ashley Ambrose, DB Jason Belser, DL Tony McCoy, LB Quentin Coryatt)
» Tony H. (Carson, Calif.): "I never hear MALIK HOOKER name called whenever the COLTS are playing. This guy and CLAYTON GEATHERS are medical busts. Both of them are always on the injure list. It's time to move on from both. Neither is doing much. I thought both of them would be something like LEONARD. HOOKER IS A BUST. Ballard needs to face the music."
Walker: Tony, I can sense some frustration. It's probably your use of all-caps that gave it away. Anyway, I'm not quite sure it's exactly fair to consider Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers "medical busts." Both guys are coming off knee surgeries, and in Hooker's case, he's still only about a year out from completely tearing his ACL. When it comes to Geathers: sure, you can point to multiple injuries he has worked his way through in his first four years in Indianapolis. In fact, he's out on Sunday against the New York Giants. But when Geathers is on the field, he makes a tangible difference.
"He has been toughing it out big time. I can't say enough about that. Even when he is playing, he is just playing at a very high level. It is just something about when Clayton is out there it just gives us an emotional life. That guy is a leader in every way – just the physicality and the toughness. He is big time for us."
That's Frank Reich speaking. His feelings on Geathers seem pretty concrete there.
And back to Hooker: he's been battling a nagging hip injury for weeks, but still figures out a way to get out on the field on Sundays. Is he making the "high-impact" plays, like a bunch of interceptions, some have expected out of him? Well, no; he has one pick so far this season. But to get interceptions, you need the ball thrown your way, and the Colts have had deep passes attempted against them fewer than any other team in the league. So I don't know what Hooker is supposed to do in that instance?
» William B. (Cicero, ind.): "Tell us about Grover Stewart--will he replace Al Woods? Thx GO COLTS"
Walker: Hey William, it does appear that Grover Stewart should be getting lots of snaps up front at the nose tackle/one-technique position moving forward for Al Woods, who has been placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. The thing is, Woods actually spent the second half of the season more as a role player coming off the bench; he hadn't started since Week 8 against the Oakland Raiders, as the team moved Margus Hunt from the edge into the interior, and saw Tyquan Lewis, who has been placed at defensive end for the time being, come off IR. But, sure, Stewart and Hassan Ridgeway — who has been inactive the last seven weeks — could very well be counted on to continue providing quality depth in the interior from now on. The second-year Albany State product Stewart, actually, is coming off his best performance of the season, according to Pro Football Focus; he earned a game grade of 74.5, finishing with a quarterback hurry and a tackle in the Colts' shutout victory over the Dallas Cowboys. So we'll see if this trend continues.
» Regina P. (Bluffton, Ind.): "Who was added to the 53 man roster when Jack Doyle went to injured reserve?"
Walker: Jack Doyle was placed on injured reserve Nov. 26. Two days later, the team signed free agent tight end Clive Walford. Walford was eventually waived Dec. 7 when the team decided to elevate wide receiver Daurice Fountain to the active roster.
» Gerry S. (Glendale, N.Y.): "Will the defense dial up special schemes to stop Barkley running game for the Giants?"
Walker: One thing you'll notice about Matt Eberflus and his defensive system is it doesn't stray much from its simplicity, which is exactly why it works so well most of the time. The Colts' defenders don't blink when they see exotic formations or pre-snap motions, because, for the most part, they've got their simple jobs (get to the ball up front, and cover your zones in the back), and they aren't going to deviate from them. Now, that's not to say Eberflus hasn't been judicious about when to dial up some blitzes and bring some heat at times; he blitzed last week against the Dallas Cowboys more than he had all season, and it paid off to the tune of a shutout victory. But because the Colts have been pretty successful against the run this season (they're Top-10 in the league and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher yet), I don't see much changing in the way they approach Saquon Barkley on Sunday. "This guy here is dynamic, his cutting ability, his strength, his contact balance," Eberflus said of Barkley. "You start naming the things you want from a number one running back from the guys that have been the greats in the NFL in the history and this guy has it – vision, explosiveness, being able to catch the ball out of the backfield. So he is very dynamic."
» Bryan Y. (Winston-Salem, N.C.): "Hi there, I'm a big fan of the mailbag but I have a serious issue. I'm a little upset that we only got 2 into the pro bowl with 5 alternates. What are your feelings towards the snub for luck and the others?"
Walker: Bryan, you had me worried there for a second. I thought you had a "serious issue" with the mailbag. What a relief. And, yeah, let's talk about the Colts' Pro Bowl situation, because we had a lot of questions about it. First off, huge kudos to Eric Ebron and Quenton Nelson for each being selected to their first-career Pro Bowls. As Tuesday started and I knew the Pro Bowl rosters would be announced later in the day, I personally had a feeling the team would have three Pro Bowlers: Ebron, Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard. This wasn't based off of who I thought should be selected; it was more about who I thought would be picked. I believed this would be the case because you have to factor in the number of players at each position. At quarterback, Andrew Luck has done everything needed to earn another Pro Bowl selection. But there's quite the logjam in the AFC at the position, with Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, Luck, Tom Brady, Ben Roethelisberger, Deshaun Watson, etc. I thought Luck would be viewed as having the third-best individual season of any of those quarterbacks (behind Mahomes and Rivers), and, of course, the AFC team will carry three quarterbacks. But while Luck got enough fan votes, I figured the players and coaches would instead select Brady, who is having another solid season, yet, to me, isn't playing better than Luck by any stretch of the imagination. The Pro Bowl voting, for whatever reason, often comes down to legacy, and Brady, obviously, has a bigger legacy than Luck, so the Patriots' quarterback is going to get in one way or another as long as he's putting up somewhat-solid numbers.
And, really, I don't even want to talk about Darius Leonard's exclusion from the Pro Bowl roster.
» Brandon G. (Yokosuka, Japan): "I'm serving in Yokosuka Japan, and noticed some old pictures of the colts USO tour from a few years ago with coach pagano and was wondering whether there were plans to visit again? I'd love nothing more than to meet colts players and staff"
Walker: Brandon, thank you so much for your service. I will check on our side to see if any visits are planned for the near-future, and get back with you if I hear anything.
» Brayson P. (Richmond, Va.): "How is TY doing"
Walker: That's going to be the question on pretty much everybody's mind come Sunday morning. Last week, T.Y. Hilton went into Sunday morning with his ankle, he said, feeling about 70 percent heading into the game against the Cowboys, but he was able to toughen it out and play, despite not having practiced all week. And not only did he play — he produced: he had five receptions for 85 yards. This week, Hilton missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but was able to be a limited participant on Friday, so perhaps that's a positive sign for his possible availability against the Giants? I mean, Hilton knows his body extremely well, and neither he nor the team would let himself/him participate in practice if he simply shouldn't be out there. So keep an eye on Colts.com and the Colts' social media channels around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, when the inactives lists come out, to see if Hilton is in or out against New York.
» James H. (Plainfield, Ind.): "My question is a where are they now inquiry! I was wondering what happened to a great defensive lineman named Brad Sciolist?"
Walker: Hey James. Without intending to be rude, I always copy and paste questions in their entirety without editing them, but I believe you mean Brad Scioli? If so, it seems as though the former Colts defensive end is currently a health and physical education teacher in the Upper Merion Area School District in Pennsylvania, while also serving as an assistant coach on the Upper Merion varsity football team. Where'd I get this info? Well, Google, first of all, and then this website. Love a good research project, however, so keep 'em coming.
» Steve T. (Huntington, Ind.): "As the great Mike ditka once said offenses win games defenses win championships, in what ways have the Colts defense improved to take them deep into the playoffs"
Walker: Ah, Huntington, home of the Vikings, one of my former high school rivals. I was standing out in my spot in right field at Muncie Central High School back in 2006 when former Purdue basketball standout and Huntington North alum Chris Cramer hit a home run out to left field that might've just landed. Anyway, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus likes to keep things simple when it comes to his defensive philosophy, so I'll keep it simple when answering your question. The Colts' defense has improved in these ways:
1. They are among the league's best at stopping the run. Most weeks, that's their primary focus.
2. When teams do pass the ball, they have, for the most part, gotten good enough pressure up front, while the back end has caused a good number of takeaways.
3. Teams will complete passes at a pretty high rate against this defense, but they won't typically get much more than five to 10 yards at a time. Allowing big plays, a major problem for Indy defenses in recent seasons, simply just doesn't really happen now.
4. Despite blitzing at one of the lowest rates in the league overall, Eberflus in recent weeks hasn't been shy about dialing up the pressure a little bit more during certain opportunities, and it's really, for the most part, worked out well. Look for this to continue.
5. We won't call it "bend-but-don't-break," but this defense mostly does a terrific job with its back against the wall in its own territory. Keeping opposing teams out of the end zone when they get to your 30 or inside the red zone is always a mark of a really good defense.
6. Young players (Darius Leonard, Tyquan Lewis, Anthony Walker, Kenny Moore II, among others) have taken on major roles and, for the most part, flourished. Some seasons maybe one or two youngsters will rise up like that, but Indy has seen it all over the field from several guys in 2018.
7. Veteran players have stepped up to have career years; guys like Denico Autry, Margus Hunt, Pierre Desir and Jabaal Sheard have each been solid pieces, and have meshed well with the youth movement.
8. The Colts' defensive unit has remained (knock on wood) relatively healthy throughout the season. Al Woods, Matthias Farley and Skai Moore have been the only primary contributors placed on injured reserve since the season began. Yes, there have been bumps and bruises along the way for some guys, but, for the most part, the core has been available each and every week.
9. And, finally, let's give Eberflus and his staff the credit they deserve. The players make plays, obviously, but these coaches have done a tremendous job all year ensuring guys are doing what they need to do on the practice field and in the meeting room to ensure they're as ready to go as possible when the games begin each and every week.
» Markeveon J. (Glendora, Miss.): "Who will be the starting right guard this Sunday and what's the percentage of chance that T.y Hilton will play"
Walker: Frank Reich said Mark Glowinski, the team's usual starter at right guard, will be more of a gametime decision after missing last week's game against the Cowboys with an ankle injury, so keep an eye on that development, as well as Hilton's status. If Glowinski can't go, I'd expect Joe Haeg to get a second straight start at right guard.
» Brandon W. (Rensselaer, Ind.): "Go Indianapolis colts"
» Manny A. (Chicago): "No question"
Walker: Thank you, Manny. Happy Holidays.
» Grant C. (Indianapolis): "Will Anthony Walker play this week? I'm hoping it's just a rest week for him. Also is last Sunday's performance something that we should become accustomed to seeing in the future for the colts? Strong run game, stout defense, not needing Andrew to carry the load."
Walker: Oh, a real question! Thanks Grant. And it's a good one. First off, we learned Saturday morning that Walker will not play against the Giants after missing the entire week of practice with a shoulder injury. I'd expect a mix of Zaire Franklin and Ahmad Thomas, for the most part, to play in Walker's place at MIKE linebacker. And that Cowboys game was something, wasn't it? I think, sure, the Colts would prefer to do it that way with, as you said so perfectly, "Strong run game, stout defense, not needing Andrew to carry the load." I think what's promising, though, is that Indy does have a quarterback it can lean on to turn it up a notch (or two, or five, or 10) if needed to win ballgames, too, as has been the case in other weeks this season. There are lots of different ways to get victories in the NFL, and I think we've seen a good chunk of them already from this Colts team this season. We'll see if this upward trend can continue the final two weeks of the season, and maybe, if Indy can get a little help, into the postseason.
» Josiah S. (Charlottesville, Ind.): "HELLO"