Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Replacing T.Y. Hilton, Rookie Playing Time, Quenton Nelson's Mentality

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about how the team will approach trying to replace T.Y. Hilton the next few weeks, how the Colts’ rookie playing time stacks up against other team’s rookies, Quenton Nelson’s elite mindset and much more.


INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, 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:

Shawn T. (Terre Haute, Ind.): "Now that t.y is ruled out and considering the colts are 0-5 in games without him since he was drafted. Who needs to step up for us in order to stay number 1 in the afc south?"

Walker: This is going to be an extremely cliché answer, Shawn, but it needs to be a collective effort stepping up while T.Y. Hilton is out — but I'll try to explain why: for whatever reason, when Hilton has been forced to miss time the last couple seasons, the receivers have had trouble hanging on to the football. It's totally coincidental, but in Week 5 last season against the New England Patriots, without Hilton, the Colts dropped five passes, according to Pro Football Focus. The next week, again without Hilton, Indianapolis receivers dropped another five passes in a loss to the New York Jets. Then, in Week 4 of this season, with Hilton out with a quad injury, the Colts' receivers dropped — you guessed it — five passes in their loss to the Oakland Raiders. So that's 15 dropped passes in the last three games Hilton has missed; who knows how those games could've unfolded had the team been able to hang on to a few more of those throws? I asked Frank Reich on Friday what his team and his staff learned from the few games Hilton has missed that could help them over the next few weeks while he works his way back from his calf injury, and Reich alluded to the fact that the receivers don't need to feel any added pressure: "You struggle for a little bit, but what you learn is it's a great opportunity to learn you've got depth on your roster and you've got confidence in your players," Reich said. "They've got to step up and nobody has to press – that's the good thing. Nobody has to press, nobody has to come in and try and be the hero in his absence."


Norman B. (Cape Charles, Va.): "Is the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl material?"

Walker: Why not, Norman? You can look at this two ways. The glass half-empty folks would indicate, "Oh, it's only Week 9, lots of football to be played, T.Y. Hilton is hurt, blah blah blah." But the glass half-full folks would say, "Seven games is a large sample size, and to be the No. 2 seed in the AFC and leading your division at this point indicates there's lots to be excited about the rest of the way."


Wes B. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): "Why aren't we looking for a backup kicker to be on the roster to learn from Vinne? "

Walker: I've gotten this question before, Wes, and simply put: teams don't really utilize two kickers anymore in today's NFL. These 53 spots on the active roster are extremely valuable, and to use two of them on kickers means you're depriving another position group somewhere else. That's why the Colts typically bring in another kicker during the offseason and into training camp and the preseason; with a 90-man roster at that point, it's much easier to justify two kickers.


Richard H. (Franklin, Ind.): "Several times this season they have scratched healthy players for what appears to be only related to the scheme with the current game at hand. Is this play into the locker room (team) mentality they want to develop?"

Walker: I think this is where Frank Reich's leadership comes into play. Because he's so open and lays it all out there for his players, they know that there are times when tough roster decisions need to be made. "We remind everybody we've got, not only our 53 (man roster) but then our practice squad players, we feel like everyone plays winning football. We believe everyone in this room can help us play winning football," Reich said. "We've got lots of moving parts that go into the roster, lots of moving parts of who is active, who is inactive. A lot of factors that go into that that changes week to week." If a player is a healthy scratch on gameday, it doesn't necessarily mean they've fallen out of favor with the coaching staff; but it can serve as quite the motivation for that particular player to put in the work to make sure the coaches have no choice but to make them active each and every week.


Stephen B. (Plainfield, Ind.): "Why dont we have blue pants?"

Walker: Well, Stephen, the Colts wore their blue pants literally last week against the Denver Broncos. If you're asking why the team doesn't wear them more often, then I don't have an immediate answer for you other than to note that the Colts' uniform, in general, has changed very little over the years. It's one of the classier looks in professional sports, so it's hard to foresee any drastic changes other than the occasional "Color Rush" look or throwback uniform once or twice a season.


Ron M. (Goffstown, N.H.): "Long time Colts fan, first entry to your mail bag. With the exception of Vinnie this Colts team is very young! And the future looks very bright! Minus Vinnie, what is the average age of this team? And where does that rank them compared to other teams as far as which teams are the youngest in average age? Also, we have a lot of rookies on this team who either start or make significant contributions on game days. I can think of at least 7 rookies on this team that play every week (if not injured). Are there any other teams in the NFL that have this many rookies in their starting lineups or that see action on game day? KUDOS to all of our rookies! They are playing great for us! I can't imagine there are too many teams that would be playing this many rookies on a week to week basis and still have the kind of success we are having to date. Do you know if any team plays more rookies each week than we do and still have a winning record? #GOCOLTS""

Walker: Ron's making me work. Love it. So, with Adam Vinatieri, the average age of the current Colts 53-man roster is about 25.8. Without Vinatieri, the average age is about 25.4 (big shoutout to Microsoft Excel for making this math much easier). The only data I have immediately available to me when it comes to the average age of other teams' 53-man rosters is at the start of the 2019 regular season; if we're factoring in Vinatieri, then an average age of 25.8 would rank the Colts about the middle of the pack in the NFL, but without Vinatieri factored in at 25.4, that would tie the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second-youngest roster in the league. Yes, those four or so months do make that much of a difference.

And thanks to ESPN's Field Yates, we do have very recent data on which teams are relying on their rookies the most through the first eight weeks of the 2019 season; the Colts' rookies have played 1,703 snaps so far, which ranks as the eighth-most in the NFL. But none of the teams ahead of the Colts on that list — the New York Giants (2-6), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4), Oakland Raiders (3-4), Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1), Washington Redskins (1-7), Denver Broncos (2-6) or Miami Dophins (0-7) — have a record better than .500; in fact, their combined records are 15-39-1 (.375). The Colts, of course, sit at 5-2 (.714) heading into Sunday's Week 9 road matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. So kudos to the Colts' personnel folks, first of all, for knowing which rookies could come in and handle early playing time, and kudos to the coaching staff for getting those players not only ready to go, but in a position to succeed in their roles so early on.


Eduardo C. (San Juan, Puerto Rico): "Hi Andrew!! I know that Parris Campbell has been limited because of injuries, but now that he is healthy, do you think he will be more involved in our offense?? He is an extremely dangerous weapon because of his speed and illusiveness that we can use when our pass/run game become a little stagnant. I hope we utilize him in different situations this week against the Steelers strong defense so that we can finally go over the hump of beating them, and beating them convincingly. GO COLTSSSSSS and thanks always for your great work!!!"

Walker: I actually asked head coach Frank Reich this week about Parris Campbell and where he is in terms of his role as he works his way back from his abdominal injury, and Reich said Campbell is now "good to go." Last week against the Denver Broncos — Campbell's return after missing the previous two games — the rookie wide receiver only played eight snaps, and was targeted just once. Reich said the plan was actually to get Campbell involved even more against Denver, but the flow of the game just didn't end up working out that way. "We were probably earmarking like 20 plays last week and it ended up being eight just because you have 100 plays on there and you don't know which are going to get called," Reich said. "He feels good, we feel good and hopefully will turn that up a little bit this week." To me, now that T.Y. Hilton is going to miss some time with a calf injury, Campbell is going to have to be a major piece of the Colts' offense, especially as a guy with elite speed that can take the top off an opposing defense. While Reich and quarterback Jacoby Brissett certainly won't force the ball Campbell's way, this will be a great opportunity for him to showcase where he's at in his development.


Steve G. (Jonesville, Va.): "As a Colt fan I can not thank you enough for your time. The mailbag and other articles from you thank you. When the season started you know what the national media was talking and writing about. COLTS 2nd in afc with so little attention we will take the under the radar. I'm not a NFL fan I'm a COLTS fan. So I would have very little information about my COLTS. Please keep us informed like you have and again thank you "

Walker: Steve, thanks so much. I totally didn't pay you to say that. But your check is in the mail.


Ronnie J. (Elizabeth City, N.C.): "Do you think the Colts would explore drafting or signing a top rated right tackle and move Braden Smith back to his natural position right guard. I believe the Colts o line woud be even more dominant if those changes were made. I understand Mark Glowinski is a serviceable guard I believe Braden Smith would be a perennial pro bowler just like Q.Nelson. just a thought"

Walker: I think at this point, Ronnie, Braden Smith is anchored in at right tackle for the Colts. Yes, he was selected early in the second round of last year's draft as a guard, but he's proven since the switch over to right tackle that he has a ton of upside protecting off the edge. And any young player is going to have their peaks and valleys, but Smith is one of the top young players at his position across the league, and there's no reason right now, in my opinion, to disrupt that. Colts offensive line coach, Chris Strausser, was actually asked about Smith — and if he's "officially a right tackle" — just last week: "Braden is doing a nice job," Strausser said. "He's such a solid competitor, a smart guy, a tough worker and all that stuff. I am probably not the guy to proclaim anything along those lines, but Braden has done a good job for us and he has played well there."


Marqus M. (Defiance, Ohio): "Thank you for taking my question! With jacoby playing as well as he is do you think league MVP is in question "

Walker: I think Jacoby Brissett deserves a ton of praise for the way he's handled taking over Colts' starting quarterback job, especially considering the circumstances. Is he or should he be considered a league MVP candidate? Well, here's his argument: Brissett's team is 5-2, is in first place in the AFC South Division and is the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture; Brissett has led his team on two game-winning drives so far (Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans and Week 7 against the Denver Broncos); and he was the Week 6 AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Sounds pretty darn valuable to me.


Jerry V. (Westfield, Ind.): "Are colts going to go all blue for their uniform? Why did the colt not look at the the free market for player to add to depth are they afraid to disturb the locker room?"

Walker: We already referenced the Colts' all-blue look above, so I'll get to your second question: the way a player could affect the locker room is always a consideration for the Colts and general manager Chris Ballard when bringing in players from the outside, whether it's via trade, free agency or the draft. But this is just one of many factors involved in this process; in this particular instance, it just seems like _if_ Ballard and the Colts were involved in any possible trade talks before the deadline that the compensation required to make those moves was just too much. The Colts will always have their lines in the water and consider any improvements to their roster, but the team isn't going to just make moves for the sake of making moves.


Eric F. (Memphis, Tenn.): "Just stay focus,and play smart ...we going all the way don't see nobody stopping us ,we beat some of the best already .NO ONE CAN STOP US !!!!"

Walker: Darn tootin' Eric.


Michael M. (LaGrange, Ind.): "Will Devin Funchess be able to play when he comes off the injury reserve"

Walker: That's the hope. I think when will Devin Funchess play is the question right now. Funchess, who suffered a clavicle injury Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers and subsequently had surgery and was placed on injured reserve, was eligible to return to practice two weeks ago, but is yet to get back on the field; once he does, the team has a 21-day window to decide whether to move Funchess back to the active roster or revert him to IR for the rest of the season. The earliest Funchess can play is Week 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so if he's able to return to practice next week, then that would give him two full weeks to work his way back into the mix. So we'll definitely keep an eye on that as it develops.


Seth H. (Minster, Ohio): "What motivates Quenton Nelson? He has a high motor and never takes a play off!"

Walker: I will forever remember hearing Quenton Nelson chatting with the media at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine and saying this: "As a blocker my mindset is being dominant. I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play and finishing them past the whistle." That's what motivates Nelson, plain and simple. And he's been able to do that — and more — through his first year-and-a-half in the NFL.


Cody W. (Teays Valley, W.V.): "How do we plan on stopping the Steelers defense with turnovers this week?"

Walker: That's certainly going to be a major key Sunday against the Steelers, who have one of the more opportunistic defenses in the entire NFL. Pittsburgh gets 2.7 takeaways per game so far, the second-most in the league. The Colts, meanwhile, are one of the best at protecting the football, as their 1.0 turnovers per game ranks tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL. So while the Colts are always emphasizing this area, it'll be an even bigger emphasis on Sunday. "Yeah, we know games are won and lost in the turnover battle," Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said on Tuesday. "That's not just this game. Knowing that we are playing a team that creates a lot of turnovers, it's not just our emphasis this game, it's an emphasis every game that we play. I believe we have the best in the business ball-security coach in our running back coach, Coach (Tom) Rathman. He's unbelievable with the fundamentals he teaches for our ball security. They get a 10-minute meeting on how the opponent that we play creates turnovers each week. We have the turnover circuit where we are protecting the football. It is an emphasis that we really pay a ton of attention to each week regardless of the opponent. Obviously, with their production we will be even more in tune to it this week."


Julie C. (Indianapolis): "Why does Mack never run to the left ?"

Walker: He does run to the left. In fact, Marlon Mack actually runs to the left more than the right; through seven games, he's running to the left on almost 62 percent of his carries, according to Pro Football Focus. He has 85 carries for 281 yards (3.3 yards per carry) on runs to the left, and 53 carries for 309 yards (5.8 yards per carry) to the right. So more volume on the left, but more success on the right so far.


Jonathan P. (Mumford, Tenn.): "Can u ask George Odum can I have a sign football when he comes home for thanksgiving and also get the QB to sign it as well thanks "

Walker: I passed this along to George on Thursday, Jonathan. Best of luck.


Amy K. (Plainfield, Ill.): "I have seen articles discussing Frank Reich going conservative at the end of the last drive, but to me it was even more surprising that he went conservative on the first drive. Any word on why they didn't go for it on 4th and 1? Kind of seemed to set the tone for the game and not in a good way"

Walker: Never heard any official explanation as to why the Colts didn't go for it on that particular fourth down scenario early in the game, Amy, but I will say that while Frank Reich has proven to be a very aggressive playcaller, I think it's important for fans to understand that the offense isn't going to stay on the field for every fourth-and-short — and that includes some 4th-and-1 plays. Yes, this play came early, and yes, you want to set a tone, but several factors influence these decisions beyond just where the team is on the field and the time left in the game; those include what the team's analytics folks have to say, the opinion of the other coaches (particularly offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni) and quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and, finally, Reich's gut feeling at that particular time. The Colts lead the league by converting 7-of-8 (87.5 percent) of their attempts on fourth down so far this season, so Reich obviously has a good handle on when to push it, and sometimes more importantly, when not to push it.


Alex S. (Tucson, Ariz.): "How come Indianapolis doesn't usually trade for big time players (within the last couple years)? This includes Le'veon Bell, Emmanuel Sanders, Amari Cooper, JJ Watt, or any other players that are out there."

Walker: Of those players you listed, only one, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, was even traded this year. Heck, J.J. Watt was placed on injured reserve before the trade deadline even expired, so he can't even be traded, even if the Houston Texans wanted to (which they don't, by the way). I don't blame any fan for wanting to see the Colts make a big splash, whether it's in free agency or at the trade deadline. I get it — it's exciting to see how a new, talented piece can make a positive effect on your favorite team's roster. But the truth of the matter is big-time trades simply aren't the norm at the deadline in the NFL; this year has seen more player movement overall (not necessarily at the deadline) because certain players have expressed their desire to be traded, and they can fetch some extremely valuable draft capital in return, which is likely why the Colts and Chris Ballard haven't been big players at the deadline in his three years as general manager. Ballard isn't against acquiring star players, but the situation must be darn-near perfect to pull one of those deals off. Also, the NFL isn't like Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association; it takes time — often weeks — for players to get 100-percent integrated into their new teams in the NFL, while in baseball or basketball these adjustments can take just days, if that. So if you're the Colts, you're rolling with what got you here.



Walker: Here's the basic reasoning why the magic number is 46 active players on gameday, and not 53 (as far as I understand it): let's say you're allowed to have all 53 players on your active roster dress on gameday; what if one team has four injured players that can't play that week, but the other team only has one? Then one team has 49 available players, while the other has 52. I'm sure there was research done by the league that indicated most teams, on average, aren't going to have more than seven injured/inactive players each week, so that's how they landed on 46. It's just a way to make things a little more fair if one team happens to be bitten by the injury bug more than another.


Jim L. (Killeen, Texas): "Hi Andrew. I love all of your articles. They are very informative and in depth. Did I miss something in the Denver game? I did not notice any quick crossing routes. That was the Coach's strong point not only in Philly but last year also. It seemed like every pass JB was holding the ball too long for the play to develop. It seems that some quick slants and no huddle (not hurry up but keeping Denver's defense from substituting) would have made the game a non nail biter. I also didn't see Coach with the play card very often (the tv was mostly close ups). Did Coach call the plays like always? Kudos to the defense for keeping Denver out of the endzone. Flags were flying all night also."

Walker: Thank you very much, Jim. The reason the crossing/shallow routes weren't as successful against the Denver Broncos — as simple as it sounds — is their secondary just happens to be much more solid than the Houston Texans, who are dealing with all sorts of injury issues in the back end. With good enough protection up front, Jacoby Brissett was able to have enough time to slice and dice the Texans' secondary with those crossing routes, but the Broncos were able to stick to the Indy receivers much better the following week. So, really, there's a pretty big difference between the more slower-developing crossing routes and the quick slant routes that you're referencing. My best guess Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers — who have an outstanding secondary — is that the Colts, without T.Y. Hilton, are going to have to get creative to get their receivers free. Perhaps there will be more rub and pick routes on the docket? Stay tuned.


David C. (Washington, Ind.): "Why leave a player in the game who the offense is attacking. When the player has drawn 4 penalties or got beat? "

Walker: I get what you're saying, David, and this was a question I saw by plenty of fans throughout last Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos. I guess my rebuttal, though, is what is the alternative? Pierre Desir, your top cornerback, is inactive. Kenny Moore II is your top nickel cornerback, and the team doesn't want to move him away from that critical spot; Shakial Taylor, meanwhile, was your emergency backup at the slot, and doesn't really play outside. I guess the only other alternative with Quincy Wilson inactive would be replacing Rock Ya-Sin mid-game with fellow rookie Marvell Tell III, but as much development as Tell III has shown, he's still working on his full transition from safety (in college) to corner at the NFL level. The issue for Ya-Sin, for the most part, was his technique, and the good news is that can be corrected. "Typically it's early with a defensive back when you're playing in a press cover usually it's early. If you're good early you're going to be good late," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "There's a lot more to it than just that. That's just a general statement. Yeah, it's just fundamentals (and) technique and he's going to get better."

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