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Colts Mailbag: 2021 Bold Predictions, Backup QB Battle And More Training Camp Questions

With training camp starting Wednesday, Colts fans asked in this week's mailbag about the backup quarterback battle, bold predictions for the 2021 season, Michael Pittman Jr. and more. 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, or by taking part in the Forums and the Colts' Reddit. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Evan Theriault, Canada: HEY JJ, What ya think stink? BOLD PREDICTIONS. What story line from the Colts is gonna define our season and what's one story that colts fans should be paying the most attention to?

JJ Stankevitz: That's *Stank* not *stink* to you, Evan.

Anyways, let me start with the storylines before I get to a bold prediction. The defining storyline for 2021 looks to be how Carson Wentz plays, and I want to go back to something owner/CEO Jim Irsay said this spring shortly after the trade with the Eagles was executed:

"Anyone you talk to about Carson will tell you that this is a special guy, especially gifted with leadership, especially gifted with wanting to be that guy on the field who is your leader and making a difference and off the field. This is someone who is extremely motivated to come in and more motivated than ever. Let me emphasize that – more motivated than ever. He knows this is a tremendous opportunity for him to be here. He wanted so much to be reunited with Frank Reich, and this opportunity he knows is a blessing. I think he is going to take it and run with it and our community will really come to love him."

Nothing we've heard or seen from Wentz's coaches or teammates in the last four months has run counter to what Irsay said back in March. Now we get to see how Wentz performs during the 19 training camp practices open to the public at Grand Park.

"He's been excited and he can't wait to get out here in front of the fans," wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said Tuesday.

One story to pay attention to at training camp beyond the quarterback position? General manager Chris Ballard mentioned it on Monday, but there's setting up to be some really fun competition at wide receiver up in Westfield - "More than I think people realize," Ballard said.

Parris Campbell flashed during OTAs and is one to watch over the next few weeks. Ashton Dulin has been a core special teamer the last few years and has made a few plays on offense; De'Michael Harris, who played in seven games in 2020, shouldn't be counted out either. Dezmon Patmon and Mike Strachan, late-round picks in 2020 and 2021, respectively, have the size and length to bring a different dimension to this competition. J.J. Nelson topped 500 yards twice with the Arizona Cardinals. And Tarik Black and Tyler Vaughns have intriguing upside as undrafted free agents.

And as for bold predictions, I said this on the Colts Official Podcast last week, so I'll write it here: Michael Pittman Jr. is poised for a breakout season, and I think he breaks out in a big way in 2021.

JJ Stankevitz: The backup QB battle between Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger and Jalen Morton should be fascinating to watch play out over the next few weeks.

Eason "is in that position right now," coach Frank Reich said in May, but added: "this is a prove-it league, right?" While Eason was with the Colts in 2020 -- and spent plenty of time soaking up everything he could from then-quarterbacks coach and now-offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, as well as Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett -- he didn't get many reps due to the truncated nature of training camp, the elimination of preseason games and the two veteran quarterbacks ahead of him.

So Eason, like Ehlinger and Morton, enters training camp having never thrown a pass in an NFL game -- preseason or otherwise. The quarterback who performs the best both on and off the field will win the job. And all three of those quarterbacks will have an opportunity to win the job.

As for kick returner, Isaiah Rodgers returns after finishing third in the NFL last year with an average of 28.8 yards per return. He was one of only four players to return a kick for a touchdown in 2020, along with Bears All-Pro Cordarrelle Patterson, the Ravens' Devin Duvernay and the Bengals' Brandon Wilson.

David Hoopingarner, Sebring. Fla.: Will any of the rookie QBs be NFL ready to take over if Wentz gets hurt? This has been an area that this team has needed for a long time. We have never had a NFL ready backup that could get the job done or play at the NFL level and this has always hurt our team when we cannot win games. In this league if you do not have someone that can come in and play hot then your season will be over, and all teams must have a QB that can step in and not miss a beat and keep your team winning. And if you have this you have a team that can keep winning!

JJ Stankevitz: First things first, I would push back on the Colts not having an NFL-ready backup. Jacoby Brissett was absolutely that guy - he had a passer rating of 99.7 and the Colts were 5-2 before he suffered a knee injury in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It also helps that Peyton Manning quite literally did not miss a game between 1998-2010.

And I'll also say this: Teams that truly continue winning with a backup quarterback - like the 1999 St. Louis Rams and 2001 New England Patriots - are the exception, not the rule. Those teams unearthed Hall of Famers in Kurt Warner and Tom Brady. That's rare.

But anyways, since Brissett signed with the Miami Dolphins and the Colts do not have a quarterback on their roster who's thrown a pass in an NFL game, this is a fair question. The thing I'll say is this: Trust in Reich. This guy won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback in Nick Foles, after all.

JJ Stankevitz: Fun question! In the last five seasons, there's only been one team -- the 2019 Ravens -- to have multiple 1,000 yard rushers (running back Mark Ingram and quarterback Lamar Jackson). In 2020 alone, three teams -- the Panthers, Chiefs and Seahawks -- had multiple 1,000-yard receivers. So statistically speaking, it's more likely the Colts have multiple 1,000-yard receivers than multiple 1,000-yard running backs, no matter how good Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins & Co. are.

While the Colts could certainly have multiple 1,000-yard receivers, one thing to remember here is Reich's emphasis on spreading the ball around. He'll ride the hot hand, no matter who that is, and make sure all the playmakers in this offense get their touches. So if the Colts don't have two 1,000-yard receivers or multiple 1,000-yard running backs, it's unlikely to be a bad thing for this offense.

JJ Stankevitz: The Colts like the way Pittman finished the 2020 season, which was made more challenging for the second-round pick because of the unprecedented, pandemic-altered offseason and a lower leg injury suffered in September. There's a lot of excitement for what he can bring to the offense in 2021, and he'll work on building a foundation for the season over the next few weeks at training camp.

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