Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Jonathan Taylor's Vision, Injury Updates, Trey Burton's Return, What's Up On Third Down?

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about running back Jonathan Taylor’s yards-per-carry average and vision through three games, the latest updates on injured reserve/PUP players, Trey Burton’s potential return Sunday vs. the Bears, how to improve on third down and much more.

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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:

Dredais on Colts Reddit: "Is Nick Foles gonna let it fly on our secondary like minshew did or are we going to see a more cohesive and talented unit like we've seen the past two weeks"

Walker: I think I get the point of your question, but I'm not sure "let it fly" applies to what Gardner Minshew II did against the Colts' defense in Week 1. Minshew II's average intended air yards in that game, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, was just 4.5, which was the second smallest figure in the NFL in Week 1. He also had an "aggressiveness" percentage — passing attempts thrown into tight coverage — of 5.0, which was also the second-lowest figure among all NFL quarterbacks to open the season. I think if you looked up "dink and dunk" in the dictionary, Minshew II's Week 1 game film against the Colts would show up. Nick Foles, meanwhile, had an average intended air yards figure of 9.2 last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, with an aggressiveness percentage of 17.2; now, granted, the team was trailing in the fourth quarter, so of course you're going to try to push the ball down the field perhaps a little bit more than normal. But one of Foles' strengths is the deep ball, and we saw that last year in the Colts' 33-13 Week 11 home victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, when Foles completed 33-of-47 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns to one interception. Foles had an average intended air yards figure that day of 8.3 and aggressiveness percentage of 21.3. If I'm the Colts' secondary — particularly someone like rookie free safety Julian Blackmon — I'm getting ready to be tested early and often throughout this one on Sunday in Chicago.

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Rusty-Boii on Colts Reddit: "Trey Burton is set to return possibly this week. With that said any other players on IR who could return this season? Sheldon Day? Parris Campbell?"

Walker: Here's a rundown of the Colts players currently on injured reserve/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and the latest on their respective situations:

• Linebacker Matthew Adams: Adams suffered an ankle injury Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings, and Reich had initially said the belief was he'd miss at least a couple games. He has to sit out a minimum of three games now that he's on IR, so the earliest he could return is Week 6 at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Colts also have their bye week following that contest, so perhaps they can use that to their advantage to allow for extra rest and recovery.

• Tight end Trey Burton: Burton returned to practice on Wednesday, and then the team today officially activated him off IR. I'd imagine he's pretty close to returning to game action, whether that's Sunday against the Chicago Bears or next week against the Cleveland Browns, so stay tuned.

• Wide receiver Parris Campbell: Campbell this week underwent surgery to repair the knee injury suffered Week 2 against the Vikings, though head coach Frank Reich isn't yet ready to say the second-year receiver's season is officially over. So we'll just say he's out indefinitely, and maybe see if we can get an update down the road.

• Defensive tackle Sheldon Day: Day, like Burton, returned to practice on Wednesday, giving the team a 21-day window to decide whether to return him to the active roster or revert him to IR for the remainder of the season. Day underwent a minor knee procedure at the beginning of training camp, so perhaps the team might take a little bit more time before deciding if and when he'll be good to go.

• Safety Malik Hooker: Hooker is done for the year with a ruptured Achilles suffered Week 2 against the Vikings.

• Running back Marlon Mack: Same as Hooker: Mack is done for the season with a ruptured Achilles suffered Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

• Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.: Pittman Jr. suffered a lower-leg injury in the first half of last Sunday's Week 3 win over the New York Jets; he was initially labeled as questionable return, but was able to get back onto the field in the third quarter, finishing with three receptions for 26 yards. But Pittman Jr. started feeling immense pain in his leg Sunday night, and after being diagnosed with compartment syndrome, was immediately placed into surgery to relieve the pressure, and was placed on IR today. Reich was hesitant to immediately attach a return timetable to Pittman Jr. earlier this week, so as of now we know he'll miss a minimum of three games before he is eligible to return.

• Defensive end Kemoko Turay: Turay, who suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the Colts' Week 5 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs last season, entered this season on the PUP list, meaning he has to sit out at least the first six games of the year. The Colts have a bye week in Week 7, so the earliest Turay could return would be Week 8 against the Detroit Lions. We'll try to get an update on Turay's status closer to that date.

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PowerfulGovernment on Colts Reddit: "Thoughts about the Tony Jefferson visit? Any chance he gets signed and is he just for depth?_"

Walker: While it doesn't seem as if the team is immediately going to sign veteran safety Tony Jefferson, I think it's a good move to get all the due diligence on certain free agents out of the way in case you need them down the road. In Jefferson's case, the Colts are already pretty deep at safety, even after the loss of Malik Hooker for the year; I think Tavon Wilson' emergence as quality depth at that strong safety spot behind Khari Willis, particularly, has really been a major benefit to this defense. But if you have any more injuries at the position, now you've done all your homework on a guy like Jefferson who has plenty of experience in the league and can be a solid plug-and-play option if he's ever needed (and if he's available, of course).

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N3rdism on Colts Reddit: "With the release of Chad Kelly, is that an indication of things looking promising for Eason, could he be in play as a long term option?"

Walker: Since Jacob Eason was able to win out that third quarterback spot over Chad Kelly coming out of training camp, I'm not so sure I can say Kelly's release from the practice squad earlier this week was related in any way to Eason and the way the team feels about his future prospects; I just think the team needed to fill a spot on the practice squad, and with three quarterbacks already on the roster, Kelly was the next spot up in line in terms of expendability. But I think the very fact Eason is the Colts' No. 3 quarterback and has remained on the active roster all this time, is a clear indication of how this staff feels about him, in general; and as a fourth-round pick this year who won that third QB job, one would have to assume that with continued development he'll be in play as a long-term option in 2021 or 2022. We'll be sure to check in with head coach Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady later this season to see how Eason is progressing.

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bodiepartlow on Colts Reddit: "What do you make of the Ron'dell Carter signing? Depth, special teams, or should we brace for had news on the Turay front?"

Walker: I think what's clear is that Ron'Dell Carter was a guy the Colts fell in love with throughout the draft process, and after signing with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, and then spending the first few weeks of the season on their practice squad, Indy just had to make a move to get him on its 53-man roster. The guy was an absolute monster the last two seasons at JMU, with a combined 40 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks, and he's also a guy who has been working with Colts great pass rusher Robert Mathis, so he already has a good beat on what the team expects out of its edge rushers — now it's time to fully develop those skills at the NFL level under defensive line coach Brian Baker. You can never have too much depth up front along the defensive line, so while I'm not sure what Carter's immediate role will be, the Colts are certainly excited about his chances to possibly develop into something special.

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Walrusgibbon on Colts Reddit: "Hey Andrew! So far this year, do you feel Mo Allie Cox's success has been a product of the situation, with all the injuries to TE? Or do you really feel he's made a jump?"

Walker: Great question. I think it's a both/and situation. I really felt Mo Alie-Cox was showing he was ready to take on a larger role last year after he put in a really solid offseason program and training camp, but when it came down it, Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron were simply going to be the featured guys at the tight end position in 2019. Now with Ebron gone, however, you're looking to replace his abilities as a vertical threat in the passing game, and I think that's where Alie-Cox steps in this year. Now, to your point, his emergence also has been accelerated due to injuries to Doyle and Trey Burton propelling him into the No. 1 tight end role for a couple weeks; but now with Doyle back and Burton expected to return soon, I think Alie-Cox has done enough to force his way into the offensive gameplan moving forward.

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coltsguy on Colts Reddit: "Thanks as always for the insight you provide in the mailbag. My question this week is what has the players reaction been to playing with the reduced number of fans? Have they noticed any differences or has their been any difficulties because of it?_"

Walker: Thanks, guy. One of the more interesting comments I heard about the lack of fans was from head coach Frank Reich, who said this week: "You have to be a little conscious of what you're saying so the defense doesn't hear too much." So, to me, that means coaches have probably had to be a little bit more discreet with their instructions they might shout to a particular player before a play, or perhaps Philip Rivers has to be a little bit more quiet in the huddle when giving the play call and any added last-second points of emphasis or changes. And then on the defensive side of the ball there's Darius Leonard, who said he's enjoyed being able to chirp a little bit more against the opposing offenses: "I feel like there is way more trash talking," Leonard said. "There is a difference between talking trash and competing and I'm just glad no one is being stupid talking trash and letting their emotions get involved and getting a penalty or what not. I think it's just competing but a lot of trash talking."

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Jared Cisneros on Colts.com Forums: "Since Mo-Allie-Cox has done so well the last two weeks, do you think he'll be the no1 TE going forward and Jack Doyle will be fazed out in the offense?"

Walker: To me, the fact Jack Doyle had zero targets in last week's win over the New York Jets was more of an anomaly than anything else. I definitely would not expect that to be the norm moving forward; he is too important and dependable of a target to ever be fazed out, no matter who emerges at the tight end position. Doyle was also returning from missing a game with knee and ankle injuries, so perhaps that played a bit of a factor into his role against the Jets. Nevertheless, Doyle remains the top guy at tight end for the Colts, but Mo Alie-Cox and Trey Burton could very well have games where they have more receptions/yards/touchdowns, too.

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NFLfan on Colts.com Forums: "The Bears have announced that Nick Foles will be the starting quarterback going forward. What are your thoughts on this decision? How will the Colts prepare differently for a Foles-led Bears offense as opposed to one with Trubisky at QB? Thank you."

Walker: I was actually pretty surprised Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy went ahead and made this decision in the middle of a game like that, especially considering the fact Mitchell Trubisky had started 2-0 and, while his completion percentage wasn't great, he had thrown for a decent amount of yards and had six touchdowns to three interceptions at the time he was benched. I mean, Trubisky won the job over Nick Foles fair and square out of training camp, but obviously Nagy was concerned enough about the large deficits his team was faced with in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions and last week against the Atlanta Falcons that he felt compelled to make a change, and Foles, as he's been known to do in the past, came in and excelled with his opportunity, leading Chicago to a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Falcons. I would say the main thing with Foles over a guy like Trubisky is he'll be a little bit more willing to throw it deep against you, which has been both to his advantage and to his detriment at various points of his career. So I wouldn't be surprised if Allen Robinson II gets at least a couple opportunities to test this secondary deep down the field on Sunday, especially early; if you're the Colts, you just can't let Foles get any sort of momentum going in that area.

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coltsfanmurf on Colts.com Forums: "With the WR so depleted, is there any viable options still unsigned that could REALISTICALLY help out in the short term? Names like Taylor Gabriel, Demaryius Thomas or even Paul Richardson stand out as guys that could fill the role. Any thoughts?"

Walker: I think if you look at the recent moves the Colts have made to address the wide receiver position on the practice squad, you'll get a pretty good sense of what they're going after: younger guys with significant experience within Frank Reich's offense that are able to be plug-and-play options if and when they are needed. I'm talking, of course, about Marcus Johnson and Krishawn Hogan. Johnson, who today was elevated to the Colts' active roster from the practice squad for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, first played under Reich with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016 and 2017, then reunited with Reich in Indy in 2018, got injured that year just as he was starting to get going, and then played a major role for the offense the second half of last season, finishing with 17 receptions for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Hogan, meanwhile, played two games with the Colts in 2017 before getting hurt, spent the 2018 season on Indy's practice squad and then played eight games with the New Orleans Saints last year. Both Johnson and Hogan are dependable special teams contributors, too. In other words: the Colts know they can depend on these guys if and when they're needed in whatever role they're asked to play. That's huge in a year like 2020, which has already proven to be unpredictable at best.

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John Hammonds on Colts.com Forums: "Hey there, 3.8 yards per carry is pretty dismal for a team with an OL this hyped. Do you think this is a product of the OL performance? Or perhaps the RB that has gotten the most carries? JT has had 48 of the 93 total carries for the Colts. I've watched him fall into the same trap that plagued Trent Richardson while he was here: He stops himself. He hesitates and jitters behind his blockers, looking for an opportunity for a big play. And the defense tackles him there at the spot. Momentum is his friend. He should keep going, even if the big play opportunity doesn't appear, and gain three more yards simply by momentum. Needs to break himself of this collegiate habit. In the NFL, everybody is fast."

Walker: I'm not going to worry too much about it right now. Marlon Mack averaged 3.9 yards per carry as a rookie and was seemingly boom or bust every single time he touched the ball, and then he really started to learn how to set up his blocks and make his reads, and he averaged 4.7 and 4.4 yards per carry in 2018 and 2019, respectively. We're three games (and two starts) into Jonathan Taylor's NFL career; it's perfectly fair for you to make any sort of evaluation you want, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he, too, will start to figure it out better and better the more reps he gets. I'll also say this: he has great self-awareness; he was asked by reporters about this very topic this week, and has a good grasp on what he needs to improve upon in this area.

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Four2itus on Colts.com Forums: "I expected more growth out of Bobby. Is he doing well and I am missing it? Any sharing by him of where he is at and how he is digesting the season?"

Walker: This one is a little tough to explain, but to me, Bobby Okereke's impact through these first few games has been felt far beyond the stat sheet. He's been a big reason why the Colts' run defense, which ranks fourth in the NFL at 93.3 yards per game allowed, has been so solid so far; while Okereke might not be the guy making the tackle every time, he's oftentimes been responsible for plugging up holes and diverting the running back into the grasp of other defenders. I think for sure you'd love to see a couple high-impact plays — sacks, interceptions, etc. — mixed in there, but, as I will always tell you: we're three games in. Even Darius Leonard, while he's leading the team in tackles, is yet to log any sacks or interceptions. Those plays will definitely come the more opportunities they get.

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Zoltan on Colts.com Forums: "The Colts currently rank last on third down efficiency with a 30.3%, compared to last years 41.55%. My question is how are the Colts gonna improve this? As the teams we have played so far have a combined record of 1-8 and haven't been great defensively."

Walker: What's been most perplexing about the Colts' issues on third down is their struggles on third-and-short; Frank Reich said earlier this week that the team is 0-for-4 converting 3rd-and-2s or 3rd-and-3s into first downs. "Normally I think we'd be 4-for-4 there," Reich said. I hate to sound like a broken record here, but it's too early in the season, in my eyes, to really be concerned about this trend. The Colts have been among the league's best on third down under Reich in 2018 and 2019, and with Philip Rivers completing darn near 80 percent of his passes and moving the ball the way he has been, I have confidence that these numbers will get back to where they need to be. It'll be tough sledding on Sunday against the Bears, however, who rank second in the NFL in third down defense (30.95 conversion percentage allowed).

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alexjsaf on Colts Reddit: "Why do the Titans get to postpone a game due to something that's their own fault? They should have to play the game with 3 replacement players and take the L for not being cautious enough. Steelers shouldn't have to adjust their schedule because of them"

Walker: Let's just take a step back here. We have no idea yet where exactly the Tennessee Titans' COVID-19 exposure came from. If it's discovered that a player or staff member was being reckless and contracted the virus and then it spread like wildfire around their team facility, that's one thing; but we headed into this season knowing this was a possibility, even if everybody involved was trying their best to follow the protocols put into place. And do you really think it's a wise move to go ahead and make the Titans play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday when they still have new players and staffers testing positive each day, including today? That wouldn't be fair to either side, and then it creates a trickle-down effect to the rest of the league. I know we live in a society where we need immediate answers and we always seem to look for someone to blame in situations like these, but I'm going to let the process play out and hope that everybody involved, and their families, come out of this without any serious repercussions health-wise, first of all, and then also hope this isn't a sign of things to come league-wide the rest of the season.

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