Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Matt Ryan's Up-Tempo Mindset, Depth At Linebacker, Wide Receivers And More

The Colts Mailbag returns with questions about how Matt Ryan is running practice, what the wide receiver picture looks like, Isaiah Rodgers' ascent and depth at linebacker. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here, or by taking part in the Colts.com Forums. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Charles Payne, Indianapolis: Why is Matt Ryan's up tempo offense important to the Colts success in 2022?

JJ Stankevitz: To me, how Matt Ryan has led practice has been one of the biggest stories of training camp. Everything just feels clean, crisp and efficient – as in, the quality of the work the Colts are getting in on the field is high. I had a conversation with a player after a recent practice who confirmed an observation I've had – there haven't been many mental errors (false starts, wrong alignments, wasted plays, etc) over the last week-plus of practice.

So more than anything, the Colts are getting high-quality work in as they prepare for the start of the 2022 season. Ryan's emphasis on quickly getting to the line of scrimmage and getting set is keeping his teammates locked in on both sides of the ball, and there's no wasted time between plays.

If you haven't come out to Grand Park for a practice yet, make a point to get out to Westfield sometime in the next few weeks. You'll see what I'm seeing too – it's just different.

Tanner Edge, West Terre Haute, Ind.: What's up JJ and Colts Nation? I am ecstatic for this season and the potential our team has! What are 2 points of emphasis Colts fans should keep an eye on for the offensive and defensive sides of the ball?

I personally think that offensively the ball is going to be out much quicker into our play makers hands and we will notice fewer RPO's ran based on the playing style of Matty Ice. Defensively, I think we should notice tighter coverage than we are used to seeing but will still have a heavy dose of zone coverages to limit the offense taking the top off us. In my opinion our defense generates more QB rushes and sacks this season due to the new additions on the d-line and secondary which will be great for fans to see as they've been hard for us to consistently come by the last couple of years.

Go Colts!

JJ Stankevitz: Great questions as always, Tanner. Let's start with the offense: I asked head coach Frank Reich about Ryan's ability to spread the ball around to different receivers by going through his progressions and identifying who's open based on the routes and coverage. His response was interesting:

"Sometimes, coaches can fall into the trap of over-scheming, right. And of course, everybody likes it — we all like to see some play on TV that was schemed up perfectly, wow, and then the commentators will say, look what a great job by the coaches in scheming that up. And as coaches we should do that, there should be a handful of things in a game that you can do to put players in position to do that.

But you can't play the whole game like that. You can only play about 10 percent of the game like that. The other 90 percent of the game, you gotta play football. And the No. 1 read isn't always going to be open.

So Matt, he just thinks so fast and he's so poised in the pocket to get through the progression. And the result of that is a couple things. You don't always have to be perfect on the play call, and secondly, the ball's going to get spread around — you may be first in the progression but you don't know the ball's going there. And he has the ability to get it to the fourth guy in the progression. So it keeps everybody into their route."

From an offensive standpoint, the Colts will have their core concepts they'll lean on with the expectation they'll be executed at a high level. You'll still see some schemed-up plays here and there, but the Colts won't need to lean on those to generate efficient, explosive plays.

On defense, you're absolutely right about the pass rush – the emphasis is on attacking and penetrating, and it suits guys like Yannick Ngakoue, DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye and the rest of the D-line group well. And that attacking pass rush can allow the Colts' defensive backs to be more aggressive at times, whether they're in man-match coverage or zone.

I chatted more about the defensive line with voice of the Colts Matt Taylor after Thursday's practice:

Jeffrey Daughtry, Westminster, Colo.: Hi there, Indy Colts fan since 1996 and I've been through a lot of seasons and I believe this may be the best defense that the Colts have ever had. With that being said do you think Isaiah Rodgers will really have a breakout year and solidify himself as our No. 2 or maybe top corner? His ability to play the ball while in the air is amazing, and if not do you see any other corner stepping up in that role?

JJ Stankevitz: I asked Michael Pittman Jr. a few days ago about what he's seen from Rodgers:

"I think it's just a confidence thing for him," Pittman, who was drafted along with Rodgers in 2020, said. "He's always been that — he's super fast and he can make up any type of separation. And he's just learning to use that in the base way possible for his style of play. I think we're just seeing him finally just be him."

There's no reason to put a ceiling on what Rodgers can accomplish, but we should mention how well Stephon Gilmore and Kenny Moore II have played during camp (and in their careers). Gilmore has had a bunch of pass break-ups while Moore looks like the rugged, versatile, Pro Bowl-caliber defender we've known him to be over the last few years. And veteran Brandon Facyson has made a handful of plays while acting as a translator of sorts for how Gus Bradley and Ron Milus want their cornerbacks to play – Facyson has played every game of his career in Bradley and Milus' coverage scheme.

Ricky Byrd, Muncie, Ind.: Based on training camp this far, who has the edge of being WR No. 2? Campbell and Pierce both have looked great!

JJ Stankevitz: Here's the thing about the wide receiver pecking order behind Pittman – it'll depend on the week and the matchup. Both players have had solid camps (as has Ashton Dulin and Nyheim Hines, who's relevant to this discussion too) but Reich and Ryan's emphasis on spreading the ball around and attacking defenses in different ways means identifying a true No. 2 wide receiver isn't totally necessary.

Joseph Notopoulos, West Hartford, Conn.: I am concerned by the continued lack of depth at the linebacker position. The Colts could be in serious trouble if Leonard or Okereke, or God forbid if both were to go down. Why hasn't this been addressed?

JJ Stankevitz: Zaire Franklin has been everywhere during training camp and has made a number of plays against the run and pass. E.J. Speed has proven he can step in for Leonard, too, as he did so well in Week 16 of the 2021 season against the Arizona Cardinals. And don't sleep on the group of undrafted free agents the Colts brought in behind those veterans – we've seen flashes from JoJo Domann and Sterling Weatherford, as well as James Skalski and Forrest Rhyne. Having watched the linebacking depth over the last week or so – I'm not worried about it, and it looks like it has been addressed.

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Christopher Greene, Seymour, Ind.: The biggest question surrounding the Colts coming into this season was the wide receivers and tight ends. From what you've seen at camp, do you think we are good at those positions?

JJ Stankevitz: Watching practice the last few days, I've thought about what general manager Chris Ballard said on the eve of training camp:

"I just don't see quite the desperation," Ballard said. "I mean sure, look, it would be easy to go sign a name for y'all. Y'all would write these beautiful stories and then when that guy didn't play well, the flip would be incredible. Like it would be incredible. Y'all won't get called on it, I will. Y'all won't get called on it though. So, have some patience and let us work through it."

There are a handful of big-name wide receivers still on the free agent market – Ballard said last week T.Y. Hilton is "still in the mix," to answer a question I got quite a bit in this week's mailbag – but he stressed patience ahead of the start of training camp. And with what we've seen from Pittman, Campbell, Pierce, Dulin, Hines and even sixth-round rookie Andrew Ogletree, you can see why Ballard wanted everyone to take a breath and wait and see what the guys already on the team can do.

Randy Gaw, Muncie, Ind.: I was wondering who runs the fastest 40 on this years Colts team?

JJ Stankevitz: Based on their times at the NFL Combine, here's the top 5:

  1. Parris Campbell (4.31)
  2. Nick Cross (4.34)
  3. Nyheim Hines (4.38)
  4. Jonathan Taylor (4.39)
  5. Alec Pierce (4.41)

This is, to be fair, not a complete list – guys like Isaiah Rodgers and Ashton Dulin didn't get Combine invites, for example, and there was no official 2021 NFL Combine.

Thursday's practice was the second padded practice of the 2022 Training Camp

Jordan Kennerknecht, Roanoake, Va.: How is Hot Rod and the kickers are doing? Also when is Hot Rod coming back?

JJ Stankevitz: Rodrigo Blankenship indeed is back – he has been since the offseason program, and said he felt healthy during the 2021 season (the Colts didn't make a change at kicker because Michael Badgley was kicking well). He's competing in training camp with Jake Verity, who spent most of the 2021 season on the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad. We saw Blankenship and Verity each make 50-yard field goals to end Thursday's practice, and Reich said earlier in camp there won't be much fanfare to the kicking competition – it'll just be pretty normal. We'll keep a closer eye on it during the Colts' three preseason games.

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