Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: 2020 Draft Priorities, Nyheim Hines At Punt Returner, Zone Defense Approach

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — 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:

Sebastian L. (South Jordan, Utah): "hey andrew, love your weekly responses . I know a lot of people are against brissett on being "our guy " , but i believe the injuries and lack of depth in the receiving core has hurt the offense dramatically(what do you think). How do you believe we attack the upcoming draft ??? do you think we take a quarterback??? personally i don't think we don't have a high enough pick to take a quarterback, but i would like to take a wr to play alongside ty. we just aren't the same offense without ty. (side not do you see any potential marquee wr free agents this upcoming offseason??? I potentially see amari cooper, i think the cowboys won't have enough cap space to resign both Dak and Cooper. I think he would a perfect receiver for us). thanks for taking time to read the message happy holidays!!!!!!!!!!!"

Walker: Hey Sebastian, thanks so much for reading, and for your questions. I don't think there's any question that the injuries affected the Colts' offense this season, especially from a pass-catcher standpoint, where Eric Ebron, Devin Funchess, Chester Rogers and Parris Campbell all eventually go on injured reserve, and then T.Y. Hilton has missed a good chunk of the year with a couple different injuries. But the Colts certainly aren't unique when it comes to dealing with a rash of injuries at certain key spots, and other offensive areas — including the offensive line and running back — have really been about as healthy and productive as they can be all season long for Indy. So, to me, I tend to agree with you that the focus in the upcoming draft, particularly early, should probably be on stockpiling serious offensive weapons both at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Build that depth and then let everybody returning this offseason force the coaching staff into some really hard decisions by the time final cuts roll around in August. And, yeah, at this point, other than Amari Cooper and A.J. Green, I don't really see any "marquee" free agents out there at the wide receiver position heading into the offseason.

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William M. (Beaumont, Calif.): "I've been a Colts fan for a very long time and with all due respect to JB who had a great start this year just isn't quite there yet, that being said is there any chance of Andrew Luck will come back and assume his role as QB in 2020 ? And do you think the Colts would have made the Playoffs in 2019 if Luck had remained as QB?"

Walker: I totally get the Andrew Luck-related questions from a fan perspective. I really do. But from an organizational perspective, I can tell you that from the moment Luck said he was stepping away, the team just had to respectfully move on. As much as the Colts love Luck, they had no choice but to accept his decision and then immediately re-adjust their short- and long-term team plans without him involved whatsoever.

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Aarav D. (Millstone, N.J.): "If we draft a kicker in the draft, who would it be and why"

Walker: I always try to make it clear by the time the season ends that because I focus so much on what the Colts are doing, especially from the time training camp begins to their final snap of the year, that I just simply can't proclaim to know too much about the upcoming draft prospects (and this is especially the case at the kicker position). Give me a few weeks in the offseason to dive in, however, and I will undoubtedly have a pretty good beat on the draft and which players the Colts could possibly be interested in. So just by doing very basic research at this point, it appears Georgia's Rodrigo Blankenship and possibly Stanford's Jet Toner have legit shots of being selected as kickers in the 2020 NFL Draft. Whether the Colts explore going that route or not is still up in the air, of course, but it's definitely worth monitoring.

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Billy S. (Tyler, Texas): "I really wish Chad Kelley would be given an opportunity to play in some games. I know he is really good. Is he going to be at least the back up next year?"

Walker: I think the fact that the Colts have kept a third quarterback on their 53-man roster in Chad Kelly this long is a pretty good indication of what the organization thinks of him. Not only does the team believe he's good enough to play, and be expected to produce, if needed — if you're on the roster, that's the expectation — but the Colts don't want to risk exposing Kelly to waivers and then losing out on the chance of keeping him around for this upcoming offseason, when he can continue his development and, yes, continue competing for a spot on the depth chart heading into the 2020 season.

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Angel Q. (El Paso, Texas): "What we need is another head coach we got good players all we need is a really good coach that could lead us too the playoff nd much more."

Walker: Nah, Angel. This ain't it. Respect your opinion, but … nah.

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Tommy R. (Bloomington, Ind.): "When Coach DiNardo was at IU I attended a coaches clinic where Coach Dungy and his D Staff presented on the Tampa 2 scheme. I vividly remember Coach Dungy saying that an opposing QB had to be under duress in 3 seconds or less so he is unable to get through his progression. Coach Dungy said that was why Freeney and/or Mathis were split so they could sprint towards QB and create duress. Coach Dungy said it was very difficult for Cover 2 or any other zone to hold up if QB was allowed time, 3+ seconds. Question, are Colts passing D woes simply an issue of opposing QBs having too much time?"

Walker: Effective pass rush and consistent pressure are, of course, the aim of any modern defensive scheme, whether it's a 4-3 or a 3-4. I think where the three seconds comes into play as it pertains to the Tampa 2 scheme is that by playing zone coverage on the back end, the defensive backs can keep their eyes on the quarterback and get a good initial read on where he's going with the football. But if the quarterback doesn't face any sort of pressure after those initial three seconds, the secondary has to be able to stay disciplined in its zones and assignments and ensure no big plays are happening over the top. This is where communication is so vital, and simply put, the Colts' defense has had some communication breakdowns at times over the last few weeks that have led to some big passing chunks for opposing offenses. So sometimes the front end bails out the back end with great pressure, sometimes the back end bails out the front end with great coverage — and then sometimes teams just make plays on you. I don't think it's fair to blame one unit or the other as it pertains to the Colts' defense this season, as both ends have been really good at times, and both ends have have their struggles with consistency at times.

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Scott O. (Elizabethtown, Ky.): "If we finish 8 and 8 where do you think we'll fall in the draft and where do you think we need the most help I'm in a lot of groups most are saying pass rush other are saying QB would really like your thoughts"

Walker: As of right now, the Colts, at 7-8, would be picking at No. 16 overall — smack dab in the middle of the first round. Also, just one team, the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 1 overall), knows exactly where they'll be picking in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and I say that because so many outside Week 17 factors for the Colts, win or lose, will affect their draft position. According to the Indianapolis Star, a win for the Colts against the Jaguars today, and they will be picking in the 16-19 range; a loss, and it'll be in the 11-15 range. So, about five spots, give or take, depending on the outcome of this game and many, many others across the NFL landscape. As far as the draft goes, as I said earlier, I'm of the opinion that this team needs some more major playmakers on offense, whether at wide receiver or tight end. Watching these college playoff games on Saturday makes me believe more than one of those types of guys will be there ready to go.

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Harry S. (New York City): "What does the ideal offseason for Chris Ballard and the Colts look like?"

Walker: We're about to find out a little bit about that blueprint, Harry. Chris Ballard will assuredly sit down with reporters sometime this week, after the 2019 finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and give at least some insight into his mindset heading into this critical offseason. While Ballard understandably tends to keep the more intricate parts of that plan close to the vest, he is usually pretty candid about his top general priorities heading into each offseason; two years ago, it was to improve the offensive line (the team then drafted Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith); this past offseason, it was to improve the pass rush (the team then signed Justin Houston in free agency and drafted Ben Banogu). So what will it be this time around? Stay tuned and see.

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Aiden H. (New Palestine, Ind.): "Can you give me and my family a ticket to come see you play! It would be a great Christmas gift"

Walker: Here's my promise to you, Aiden: the day I step on an NFL field and play a snap in an actual game, I'll give you and your family tickets to come cheer me on. Heck, I'll throw in parking passes too, because I'm a nice guy like that.

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Martin H. (Stockholm, Sweden): "With the bad special teams play all session and Nyheim Hines only second on the depth Chart as a returner, is Ventrone likely to be replaced?"

Walker: Yes, Nyheim Hines has been electric since taking over punt returner duties for the Colts a few weeks back, and it all came together splendidly last week in his record-breaking performance against the Carolina Panthers. But I think it's important not to allow any recency bias to cloud, A.) The Colts' situation at punt returner heading into 2019, and, B.) How well Chester Rogers did in that role before suffering his season-ending knee injury. 

Hines was going to be given every opportunity to compete for a role as the Colts' punt returner as a rookie last year, but he would have some major struggles holding onto the football during the preseason, and then Rogers — who finished on a high note returning punts in 2017 — was solid in that spot throughout the 2018 season, with 23 total returns for 215 yards, a 9.3-yard average, ranking 11th in the league; Rogers muffed just one punt in 2018, which he recovered.

The trust that Rogers earned at that punt returner spot in 2018, coupled with another solid offseason of work in that area, to me, made him the obvious choice at the position heading into 2019. Yes, you had other potentially explosive options in Hines and rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell, but Rogers was the clear-cut frontrunner due to his consistency. I think fans have also overlooked the fact that at the time of his injury Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans, Rogers ranked third in the NFL in punt return average (9.8).

Hines has been terrific since, of course, and after his huge day against the Panthers he's now averaging 37.3 yards on seven punt returns, and his two punt return touchdowns leads the league. So I think these two things can both be true: Chester Rogers was the right guy heading into the season, and Hines has done a great job overcoming his struggles and taking advantage of his opportunities at that spot in recent weeks.

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Trevor H. (Jamestown, N.D.): "After his incredible game, I guess its safe to assume that Nyheim Hines gets an extended run as the Colts return man?  After watching him at the combine, when he was there, I could tell he was an electric athlete. He provides some SERIOUS juice to the return team and definitely helps them out there. Sure hope he keeps that spot for the long haul. Thank you for the incredible job you do with the mailbag and the articles on the site overall!!"

Walker: Thanks Trevor! I guess we'll have the follow-up to the question immediately preceding this one: I think Nyheim Hines has set himself up well to be in position to hold onto the Colts' punt returner job for a long, long time. But, again, he has just seven punt returns to his credit this season, so before you go writing in his name in Sharpie on your "2020 Colts Depth Chart," let's see how this final game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then how the entire upcoming offseason, training camp and preseason, goes.

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Cameron E. (Beavercreek, Ohio): "Just out of curiosity, why does Brian Hoyer do the kneel down at the end of the game instead of Jacoby Brissett? I've noticed that a few teams will let the backup do the kneel down even though there's no chance of injury. Is this a reward for the backup quarterback being good teammate?"

Walker: Yeah, Cameron, I don't know the exact answer to this question — I'll ask Frank Reich at some point soon — but I've got to assume it's a nice gesture to the backup quarterback, more than anything. It also might, in some small way, be a sign of respect to the other sideline that you have completely taken the foot off the gas by keeping your starting quarterback off the field. But it's one of those interesting aspects of football games that isn't really discussed, so you've definitely added that question to my list!

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Jake H. (Hinesville, Ga.): "Hey Andrew, thanks for everything. I'm stationed down in Georgia, and I am attending the colts and Jaguars game. I just seen the game time had changed. Does it change anything? Also I know Nelson has been a rock on our line. Do you think there is a chance he may clear the protocol, and play? Also is there any chance to meet players there?"

Walker: Hey Jake, hope to see you at the game! The game time change really has no bearing on anything relating to these two teams specifically, but because the outcome of the game could possibly affect playoff seeding implications for at least a couple AFC teams (Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders among them), the NFL decided to flex the game to later in the afternoon. And, yes, Quenton Nelson has officially cleared the league's concussion protocol and, barring any unforeseen setbacks, will start in today's game. And the best bet to meet Colts players, I'd say, is to try to get to the stadium as early as you can, be ready to enter the gates about two hours before kickoff, and then go hang out around the Colts' tunnel as the players head on and off the field for warmups. If you see me, make sure to holler! Safe travels.

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