*INDIANAPOLIS — *Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
This week’s edition is coming at you from the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, where the Colts are preparing to take on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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:
» Michael R. (San Antonio, Texas): “Will Tyquan Lewis be the player to come off Ir before the season ends? Anxious to see if he is the player Ballard thought he would be. Colts fan since 1968!”
Walker: Hey Michael, you definitely aren’t alone in your feelings about Tyquan Lewis. Chris Ballard and this Colts coaching staff are really excited about what they believe he can bring to this defensive line — both inside and off the edge. Unfortunately, he never really got much of a chance to show what he could do during training camp, as he suffered his toe injury pretty early on at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., and would eventually be placed on injured reserve. At the time of his injury, Lewis was really starting to get integrated into the various defensive packages coordinator Matt Eberflus was beginning to install, as he was consistently in the rotation with what could be considered the first- and second-team defensive line — and at defensive tackle and defensive end. OK, so to address your actual question, Lewis is certainly a prime candidate to be one of the two players the team is allowed to bring back from IR. Because he was placed on IR at the beginning of the season, the earliest he could return to game action would be Week 9 (the team is on its bye week then), so, in this case, Week 10. Head coach Frank Reich was recently asked about Lewis’ progress: “I think he is coming along well,” Reich said. “It has been a slow and steady progress and I think the last couple of weeks has been a little bit of an uptick.” At this point, I’d also keep tackle J’Marcus Webb in mind as a potential return-from-IR candidate, as well. Webb got the start at right tackle Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but suffered a hamstring injury late in the game and was subsequently placed on IR. Webb has been seen ramping up his rehab work off to the side during practices in recent days.
» Adonis B. (Memphis, Tenn.): “Yes just wondering why you guys keep draft picking instead of free agent picking you got guys like Dez Bryant that can be a threat & can help you guys we Colts need experience mixed with youth ; injuries don't have a name they could happen to either experience & fresh draft guys yet as a fan I'm just insight giving saying that you're wasting Andrew's time & talent by not surrounding him with now guys that can help you all win conferences divion titles & a few SUPERBOWLS ”
Walker: Adonis, you certainly aren’t alone in your thoughts about how the Colts should go about building their roster. We get many, many questions about, “Why aren’t you signing this big-name free agent?” or, “Why aren’t you making a trade for this superstar?” I think the best way to address these thoughts is to say that’s just simply not the way Chris Ballard, in all of his years as a scout, personnel executive and, now, as the Colts’ general manager, has learned you build a consistent winner in this league. To Ballard, you build through the draft, and then you utilize free agency to plug-and-play some specific spots along the way, a la Eric Ebron at tight end. Also, as it pertains to Dez Bryant, I guess I’ll ask you this: why hasn’t he been signed by any other team to this point? I obviously don’t know the answer to that question, but the Colts can’t have the only fanbase in the NFL that has expressed interest in bringing Bryant on board throughout this season — so why haven’t those teams signed him, either?
» Bryan Y. (Winston-Salem, N.C.): “I've noticed that we have been signing free agent wr's. Do you believe that Rishard matthews from the titans would be a good find? He's currently working out for other teams I feel he would be great in our system for a relatively low price.”
Walker: Rishard Matthews has reportedly worked out for a few teams since requesting his release from the Tennessee Titans, but he has said this week he doesn’t expect to be signed by another club this season. “Probably not,” Matthews told Allan Bell of 247 Sports in Nashville. “A lot of teams are turned off by my past as if I have some criminal record. Most likely won’t see me until next season.”
» Barbara C. (Crawfordsville, Ind.): “When will Hilton be back? Love the Colts Love Andrew Luck so much So happy he is back”
Walker: Hey Barbara, thanks for writing this week. All signs point to T.Y. Hilton being back in the lineup on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Whether or not he’ll be on a pitch count of sorts remains to be seen — after all, he does have two different injuries (chest and hamstring) from which he’s been working his way back. But there’s no doubt that simply having Hilton out on the field could be a huge boost for the Colts offense. Reich was asked about Hilton’s availability on Sunday, and said: “We feel pretty encouraged, pretty positive, OK? So we are thinking good thoughts. But we are still going to be cautious and see how he responds to practice today but we are thinking there is a good chance.” Hilton, for what it’s worth, was a full participant in practice on Friday.
» Saul M. (Alexandria, Ind.): “Will there be any changes made on the roster to improve on the O/line and D/line?? Regardless, I will still be a Colts fan. ”
Walker: Hey Saul, thanks for writing all the way from Alexandria — home of the Tigers. I guess I’m not sure what you’re getting at with your question. The Colts’ offensive and defensive lines, to me, have been a strength of the team so far this season. Now, are both units absolutely dominating week in and week out? No. Do both units have the exact depth the team eventually envisions for them? Probably not. But if you look at simple stats, both lines have done pretty darn well so far. The Colts’ offensive line allow the third-fewest sacks per pass attempt in the NFL. The Indy defense, meanwhile, ranks third in the NFL in both tackles for loss and sacks — both indicators of the consistent push the line is getting up front. So, again, it can and likely will get better as Chris Ballard and his staff continue adding pieces in the future — but both lines this season are significantly improved already.
» Max G. (Missoula, Mont.): “What happened to Terrell Basham ”
Walker: Tarell Basham certainly showed some flashes last season in his rookie year, especially down the stretch, and was even lined up at defensive end opposite Jabaal Sheard with the first-team defense throughout much of this spring’s offseason workout program. But eventually, other players just couldn’t be ignored — guys like Margus Hunt, Kemoko Turay and, later on, Jihad Ward. To this point, those guys have done pretty well for themselves, as Hunt leads the league in tackles for loss and has four sacks, Turay has two sacks in his rookie season and Ward has three sacks. You can only keep so many players along the defensive line, and eventually, Basham reached the point where he was a healthy scratch on gamedays. Then, prior to the Colts’ Week 5 matchup against the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football, the team had all sorts of injury issues it had to address, so Indy waived Basham to make room for players at other positions of need. Basham was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets the next day, and is yet to play for his new team.
» Angel E. (Borger, Texas): “Are we going to see any improvement in the o-line in week 7 against the Bills? Like players coming out of the injured list? ”
Walker: Hey Angel, I’ll refer to Saul’s question above if you want my thoughts about the Colts’ offensive line. And I guess I’ll add this: the team didn’t allow a single sack last Sunday against the New York Jets — and allowed just three quarterback hits in all — and averaged more than five yards per carry in the run game. Those are results, I think, Colts fans can all live with week in and week out. The only real difference you might see as it pertains to the offensive line this Sunday against the Bills would be the team getting tackle/guard Denzelle Good back in the fold, although head coach Frank Reich has indicated the team will likely stick with the same lineup as the Jets game: Anthony Castonzo (left tackle), Quenton Nelson (left guard), Ryan Kelly (center), Mark Glowinski (right guard) and Braden Smith (right tackle).
» Jerald F. (Peru, Ind.): “Why don't we use a fullback to help running game ”
Walker: To the likely chagrin of football traditionalists, the pure fullback position has really been phased out of most rosters across the NFL. But that doesn’t mean the Colts aren’t utilizing an up-back completely. In fact, tight end Ryan Hewitt has been solid in this role throughout his entire career, and it’s part of the reason why he was signed by the Colts at the start of the regular season. According to Pro Football Focus, Hewitt has been lined up in the Indy backfield seven times this season — twice each in Weeks 2, 3 and 5, and once last Sunday against the New York Jets. So, no, the Colts don’t have a traditional fullback, per se, on their roster anymore, but they have other options available to fill that role when needed.
» Scott R. (Nappanee, Ind.): “Love your updates and positive feedback for fans we appreciate that. I’ve noticed other team quarterbacks really get fired up when the receivers don’t make catches and make that 1 play that could swing the game .. why aren’t we fired up ? Why aren’t we holding each other accountable? It’s really upsetting as a fan to see a (better luck next time ) attitude instead a sense of urgency.. I love the colts but am so tired of the losing and with so much cap space, why not get some real playmakers who aren’t soft? ”
Walker: Hey Scott, thanks for your kind words about the Mailbag. I guess I’ll say this: just because you don’t see players and coaches in each others’ faces on the field and on the sideline during games, that does not mean these guys aren’t holding each other accountable. If you were to step inside the Colts’ various meeting rooms on Mondays after games, I think your opinion on this matter would change drastically. These coaches and team leaders don’t often mince words about getting things right and correcting mistakes. And as for the drops: what do you suggest? Yes, it’s clearly been an issue the last three weeks. But we’ve about hit the midpoint of the season here; outside of a guy like Dontrelle Inman, who just happened to have a ton of prior experience with Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni, who are you going to bring in at the wide receiver position who could master the playbook within a few days and be a capable replacement? Are they going to take over the special teams roles required of a third or fourth (or fifth) receiver?
» Andrew E. (Dayton, Ind.): “So with the return of mack and castonzo do you still see us throwing a ton or will we finally balance this this thing out a little and give our dropped passes plagued receivers a little break, I'm fine with passing like we are if they catch the ball btw. Also do you think Inman will immediately start if ty is still out?”
Walker: Great name, Andrew. And, yes, I do expect the run game to become more prominent with the return of Marlon Mack and Anthony Castonzo. That’s what we saw the second half of last Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, when Mack nearly got to 100 yards himself and the Colts really started to get some momentum on the ground as they tried to work their way back into the game. What I noticed was Mack’s success running the ball between the tackles, something that didn’t come too consistently during his rookie season last year. If Mack can find success running both inside and outside, then I think the Colts really could get something going to start obtaining the balance Frank Reich wants, which could open up the passing game even more. And I do believe Dontrelle Inman could play a pretty prominent role on Sunday against the Bills, even if T.Y. Hilton is able to go. Reich has a lot of trust in this veteran receiver from their time together at the San Diego Chargers, and I think that could translate into some early opportunities for Inman.
» Terry W. (Ocklawaha, Fla.): “Luck seems to struggle in the first half of games and Brissett seems to struggle in the second half. Maybe they should start Brissett in the first half and Luck in the second half. What do you think?”
Walker: Terry, I love your creative thinking. But, no, this won’t ever be an option for the Colts. You also can’t compare Jacoby Brissett’s performance last season to Andrew Luck’s performance this season, because the Colts’ offense is just completely different under Frank Reich this season than it was under Rob Chudzinski last season.
» Andrew L. (Chesterton, Ind.): “Do you think that after a 1-5 start that we will utilize the free agency just a bit more next offseason or will we stick with the focus completely on building through the draft method? Personally I believe we should stay with the draft method and ride out the painful seasons, but I was just wondering your output on the matter.”
Walker: Another great name, Andrew. One factor at play with free agency for the Colts is the fact that the team is required to spend at least 89 percent of its cap, on average, over a four-year period from 2017 through 2020. Chris Ballard hasn’t been spending a ton of the team’s available cap money on free agents during his first two years as the Colts’ general manager, and, really, the team’s key veteran players — guys like Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle, Anthony Castonzo, Malik Hooker, Ryan Kelly, etc. — are all locked in for at least the next couple seasons, if not longer. So that really leaves free agency as the primary way to account for the cap money that eventually needs to be spent. There’s no reason to believe Ballard won’t remain extremely judicious about the outside players he wants to bring into the Colts’ locker room — and the draft will still remain the primary team-building tool — but it’s hard to imagine the team won’t be at least a little bit more active in free agency the next couple offseasons.