INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni on Monday spoke to the local media via video conference call. What were his thoughts on the acquisition of quarterback Philip Rivers, a fully-healthy T.Y. Hilton, adding Jonathan Taylor to the run game, the potential for more explosive plays and more?
You can check out Sirianni's entire conversation above, but here are some top takeaways:
» What attracted Philip Rivers to the Colts? Sirianni said it started with five names: "Yeah, I think the big part of Philip being here is Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, Mark Glowinski," Sirianni said of the Colts' five offensive linemen. "Those guys are our studs."
While there's plenty to like about the fact that Sirianni and head coach Frank Reich spent three years together dialing up plays for Rivers when he was the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers — and the Colts plan to take full advantage of that head start heading into this season — Sirianni said in his discussions with Rivers upon signing a free agent deal with the Colts that it he was just as excited about the players he was getting a chance to play with in Indy, starting with the big fellas up front.
Beyond the offensive linemen, Rivers also mentioned his excitement for top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, and recalled a game against the Chargers in 2016 in which Hilton tore up the San Diego secondary to the tune of eight receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown.
"That was one thing he said when he signed and we were able to talk to him like, 'Man, remember that game in 2016? T.Y. was a nightmare,'" Sirianni said. "I think not only the familiarity with Frank and I and the system. It's more so even – and Jason (Michael) obviously too, our tight ends coach — it's more so the players and the guys that Chris Ballard has put on this football team were really exciting to Philip.
"Again, Frank has called plays for Philip before and that's a big dynamic. There's not a lot of questioning going in. Philip knows how Frank thinks. Frank knows how Philip thinks," Sirianni continued. "That's something to do with it, but again it's those five guys up front, T.Y. and not to mention all our other weapons."
» SIrianni doesn't see Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor as a 1-2 punch in the backfield — it's a "1-1 punch:" Heading into the offseason, the Colts already knew they'd be returning a starting running back in Mack who would be coming off his first-career 1,000-yard season, after running the ball 247 times for 1,091 yards (4.4 yards per carry) with eight touchdowns in 14 games last season. But after selecting wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. in the second round of this year's draft with the 34th-overall pick, the Colts, who next were set to be on the clock 10 picks later at 44th overall, took advantage of an opportunity to select college football's top running back, Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, to add even more firepower to their backfield. Indy jumped up three spots to snag Taylor at 41st overall.
Outsiders might look at the Taylor pick and wonder if there will be enough carries there in each game to adequately feed both Taylor and Mack. But Sirianni doesn't see that as a potential problem at all.
"We know we want to run the football. We know a lot of the good running teams in this league and in the past have had good one-two punches," Sirianni said. "It feels like it's just a one-one punch though because we have two such exceptional backs."
Sirianni said Mack and Taylor are similar in many ways — they both have a nice blend of speed and power — but they also separately bring other unique skillsets that could help the Colts' run game — which finished seventh in the NFL in 2019 — improve even more.
"They both have exceptional speed, and they both have ability to make you miss, and they both have the ability to break arm-tackles and run with power," Sirianni said. "They have some different running styles, but again they're both complete backs. I think that's a fantastic problem to have, is to have two guys like that you can feed the football to. It's only going to help our running game."
» Recent additions, as well as some healthy returners, means more explosive play possibilities: The Colts last season ranked 25th overall in explosive play rate, according to Sharp Football Stats — 15th in the run game and 28th in the pass game. They went into the offseason knowing something had to change in that area in order to push the ball down the field with much better consistency.
The team went out and utilized free agency to acquire a veteran quarterback in Rivers who certainly has no qualms about utilizing a deep passing attack when needed, and signed a veteran tight end in Trey Burton who also has previous experience in Reich's offensive system.
In the draft, the team used the 34th-overall pick to select Pittman Jr., a big-bodied wide receiver who has big-play potential written all over him, and then moved up to take Taylor, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, at 41st overall to bring his explosive play potential to the run game — and to help keep the opposing defense honest.
But let's not forget about who's returning for the Colts in 2020 after injury-plagued 2019 campaigns — namely Hilton, who remains the team's top receiver, and the speedy Parris Campbell, who can be outright dangerous out of the slot.
With all those pieces put into play, as well as the other returners at running back, tight end and wide receiver, the Colts are confident they'll see those explosive play numbers increase significantly in 2020.
"We feel like the addition of Pittman to our group of players and just Chris Ballard and his staff of adding just the talent that he's added to this with Jonathan Taylor. Then with the addition of our guys that we already have, that we'll elevate in that area with explosive playmakers that we have," Sirianni said. "Again, the more you run the ball, be able to run the football, the more they play one-high safeties, and we have one of the best big-play wideouts in the NFL with T.Y. Hilton. With the addition of Jonathan – with him and Marlon (Mack) being able to attack defense – and Nyheim (Hines) and Jordan (Wilkins), we just feel like again, you're going to see more one-high safety. We know that Philip (Rivers) can make them pay when they have that."
» Expanding on T.Y. Hilton's role in 2020, Sirianni said the veteran wide receiver is "definitely still the main piece of this offense:" A four-time Pro Bowler who led the league with 1,448 receiving yards in 2017, Hilton has been one of the best, if not one of the more underrated, big-play wide receivers in the NFL since being selected by the Colts in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
So that's why Hilton has been so frustrated the past couple of seasons, as he's dealt with — and played through — a few nagging injuries for the first time in his career. In 2018, an abdominal issue and later high and low sprains to the same ankle limited Hilton to 14 games; last year, it was a freak calf injury that limited Hilton to a career-low 10 games played.
Now getting the chance to fully heal up entering Year 3 in Reich and Sirianni's system, however, there's confidence that a fully-healthy Hilton can continue terrorizing opposing secondaries as he enters his age-31 season in 2020.
"I expect a great bounce back from a year that he had a lot of injuries with," Sirianni said. "If T.Y. stays healthy through the year, there is no doubt in my mind that that's what we'll see because he's highly competitive, highly intelligent and he's going to take advantage of his opportunities.
"He's definitely still the main piece of this offense. T.Y. Hilton is who this pass offense runs through," Sirianni continued. "I think about where we're at – things will be schemed to get him the football. I know he's worked hard on his body and worked hard through the offseason. He's our guy. He's our lead dog. He's our alpha dog. If he stays healthy the sky is the limit again for him."