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Colts Mailbag: Keeping Three QBs, Early Practice Observations, Secondary Depth, New Practice Squad Rules

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about whether the Colts are considering keeping three quarterbacks on their active roster, how the 2020 opt-outs of Marvell Tell III and Rolan Milligan affect the depth in the secondary, how practice squad rules have changed for this year 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:

ehhhhhhhhhhmacarena on Colts Reddit: "Can I get an update on Julian Blackmon's health? Specifically, I'd like to know if we're still targeting October as I believe was previously mentioned a while back. On a similar note, any thoughts on whether he would start the season on IR or make the 53, but not play like Sheard did last year."

Walker: This is a tough one, because I completely understand why there's high interest in Julian Blackmon's progress reports, but training camp is a time in which every team is not obligated to provide any sort of injury updates or reports. Now, we can, and probably will, ask Frank Reich about how Blackmon is progressing, so we'll see if he has anything else to add beyond what Chris Ballard had said after selecting Blackmon in April's NFL Draft. But I do know this: if Blackmon were to remain on the Non-Football Injury list at the start of the regular season, he'd basically be treated as if he were on Injured Reserve; he wouldn't count towards the active roster, and with the new rules put into place for this year only, the team could elect to return him to practices and/or games as soon as after the first three games (instead of having to wait until after eight games like any other year). So that might be the first clue to look for: if he is taken off the NFI list anytime before the end of training camp, perhaps that's an indication the team believes he could be ready to go sometime within the first three games; if not, then perhaps it'll be sometime after Week 3.


ablock1 on Colts Reddit: "Will the Colts keep 3 QBS on the active roster? Who wins the kicking competition?_"

Walker: I actually asked Frank Reich the three quarterbacks question in his media availability this week, and the basic answer I got is it's a little too early to tell, but it's certainly still a consideration. "Chris (Ballard) and I talk about it all the time as we talk about the roster and how it's going to be made up," Reich said. "That's to be determined, but we're talking about all options are open as we continue to progress forward and see where the roster is at that time. We'll weigh the pros and cons of going with two or going with three." So, to me, that makes the Jacob Eason/Chad Kelly battle for that No. 3 job even more important.

And there's no way to competently predict who will come away with the kicking job heading into the regular season — not at this point of training camp, anyway. The team just began actual 11-on-11 practices on Friday, so it's important for the Colts to at least get a couple weeks of real football in the books before trying to come to any sort of conclusions. Like the battle for the No. 3 quarterback job, the fact there are no preseason games this year makes it even harder to figure out, that's for sure.


Aleph_Alpha_001 on Colts Reddit: "The Colts took a hit in our defensive backfield depth due to Tell and Milligan opting out for COVID. How has this shaken up the depth chart? Which players will see their roles change in the short term (first 4 games) and in the longer term (season long)? We have two new dbs from the draft (Rodgers and Blackmon). How will this affect their prospects? What is the effect on Hooker's prospects? Does this give him potentially new life on the Colts roster?"

Walker: Both Marvell Tell III and Rolan Milligan were key pieces of depth last year for the Colts at cornerback and safety, respectively, and that definitely seemed like it was going to be the case again in 2020. Tell III was going to be competing primarily for snaps at outside cornerback, so now, guys like Lafayette Pitts, Jackson Porter and Travis Reed should get more opportunities to show what they can do behind the likes of Kenny Moore II, Rock Ya-Sin and Xavier Rhodes; T.J. Carrie and Isaiah Rodgers are also in the mix, but they're also likely going to be given looks at the nickel cornerback spot behind Moore II. Milligan, meanwhile, seemed on track to be the fourth safety behind Malik Hooker, Khari Willis and George Odum, so ninth-year veteran Tavon Wilson, who signed with the team on Aug. 8, should get plenty of looks, while undrafted rookie Donald Rutledge is also in line for some added opportunities. A huge factor in deciding who fills those spots, though, is special teams; Tell III and Milligan played a combined 365 special teams snaps last year, So, really, when it comes down to it, yes, your fourth corner and safety are going to have a role on defense to a degree, but whoever can show out the most covering kicks and punts, for example, might be in even better position overall.

And as to your other questions, it's really to be determined. Tell III, for example, really could've possibly had a significant role in the Colts' dime package this year, so that's seemingly a spot that is to be earned by someone else that could have short- and long-term implications. I mentioned Rodgers; he was already in the mix at outside and nickel corner to begin with, so I don't see that changing much, and Blackmon could play a Milligan-esque role, but he has to get cleared and back to full health first. And Malik Hooker is the Colts' starting free safety, so these guys opting out really has no bearing on his spot this year.


twfish on Colts Forums: "Several questions. Are the colts planning on doing much in the form of social media on the practices? In years prior members of the media would tweet and give us updates as practices went along, We would see more videos of training camp. Will members of the media eventually be able to watch from a far? Hows the WR competition looking especially on the back end of it because it seems like there some deep competition there. Whats the chances we see Eric Berry or Jadeveon Clowney in a colts uniform this year? Where do you think the colts are going to utilize the extra 2 positions on the 55 man roster QB or OL? Do you think Chad Kelly stands a chance to still be on this roster 2021?"

Walker: One thing to remember is the heavily modified training camp schedule this year — due to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the traditional in-person offseason workout program, OTAs and minicamp — has pushed back and condensed those opportunities to cover a typical practice. As noted before, the team literally just started 11-on-11 action yesterday, and is scheduled to put the pads on for the first time Monday. So with that being said, I'd expect things to ramp up coverage wise from our own content and production folks next week. And as far as I know, the outside media will be given access to camp practices this year — again, probably once padded practices begin. Since training camp is not at Grand Park Sports Campus in front of the fans this year, however, there might be some added limitations on what we/media members can report from day to day, so please keep that in mind. And then…

— It's too early to tell at wide receiver. Get back at me in a couple weeks.

— I have no idea about the chances of the Colts signing either Eric Berry or Jadeveon Clowney, but I will say that the league allowing teams to actually host free agents at their facilities now will probably play a major factor in both of those guys, who have recent injury histories, getting the chance to be fully evaluated and signed somewhere.

— I definitely think quarterback will be one of the primary positions in play for one of those extra active roster spots by the time the regular season hits. It'd be a nice luxury to have if you can carry an emergency quarterback throughout the season. As for offensive line, the new CBA allows for teams to dress an extra offensive lineman on gamedays this year, anyway, so I'm not quite sure the effect that will have on those couple added active roster spots.

— Chad Kelly for sure has a shot at remaining with the Colts past 2020. He's currently got bigger fish to fry, however, as he's locked into a competition for the No. 3 job with Jacob Eason, but Kelly has earned the trust of the team with the way he's gone about his business since being signed last year. The hope for now is that Philip Rivers puts in a solid season and returns again next year, but there's no reason why Kelly at this point wouldn't at least be in consideration to eventually earn the backup job if he's still with the Colts by that point.


RollerColt on Colts Forums: "Hi Andrew! Thanks for reaching out to all of us! My question: How is Xavier Rhodes looking in the Colt's defensive schemes? How is his leadership in the locker room as the elder statesmen with the young guns?"

Walker: It's been fun to get the chance to see all the new guys in action in practice the last couple days — Philip Rivers leading the offense and directing traffic, DeForest Buckner's sheer size, Michael Pittman Jr.'s smoothness and Jonathan Taylor's burst. But Xavier Rhodes just has this kind of swagger about him that's hard to accurately describe. I think Rhodes wants to prove a lot of doubters wrong this year, and with full health and a fresh opportunities in the Colts' defense, as well as familiarity with defensive backs coaches Jonathan Gannon and Alan Williams, he's got a realistic shot at doing just that. In the two days of practice I've gotten a chance to watch so far, I will say the cornerbacks group just seems like a close bunch; they're very vocal and supportive of each other throughout drills and in team sessions, which I think can go a long way. The veteran Rhodes no doubt has played a huge role in this.


2006Coltsbestever on Colts Forums: "how is JB taking it being the backup QB again after given the keys last year? He seems like a great locker room guy and a great leader but that has to be tough for any QB to handle."

Walker: Brissett said yesterday he was surprised, but at the same time not surprised, when he learned the Colts were signing Philip Rivers as their new starting quarterback back in March. Brissett was fully prepared to move on from an up-and-down 2019 season and get another shot at the starting job heading into 2020, but he also understands the business of the NFL and how plans can change in an instant. So it's one of those things where, yeah, of course it's tough at first, and Brissett leaned on guys like head coach Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady, both of whom have very relatable histories as quarterbacks from their own respective playing careers. But Brissett is also a true professional, and the situation is what it is; his job now is keep preparing the same as if he's the starter and be ready to go if and when he's needed. He's confident he'll land another starting job somewhere in the future, but as for right now, that's not his focus.


Jordan K. (Roanoke, Va.): "When it comes to the Colts O-line, is Chris Ballard gonna sign a few of them for depth since our pass rushers are loaded?"

Walker: I think the Colts are really waiting for the start of padded practices on Monday to determine just where they're at in terms of offensive line depth. Non-padded practices are great for the guys up front to work on their fundamentals and techniques, but actually getting the chance to be physical and play more at full speed is critical in the evaluation process. So while I wouldn't be surprised if the team continually hosted free agent offensive linemen for visits over the next few weeks — maybe even signing a guy or two — I don't think you're going to see a major run at those spots until offensive line coach Chris Strausser and assistant offensive line coach Klayton Adams can get a realistic look at what they've got in their current crop.


Andre M. (Fayetteville, N.C.): "Help me to understand something. Why haven't the Colts Traded Kelly? They are not going to release the QB they just drafted Eison. I'm sure someone can use him he is good enough to be a starter. Why wait?"

Walker: Frank Reich likes to have four quarterbacks on his offseason roster. And this year, especially, it's important to have a solid No. 3 quarterback ready to go as an emergency option, so Chad Kelly and Jacob Eason are currently competing for that job. Besides, I think there's a misconception out there that the NFL is just as active as the MLB or the NBA when it comes to trades; comparatively speaking, there are very few trades in the NFL each year. That's not to say Chris Ballard and other GMs aren't always discussing possibilities, but it takes a lot behind the scenes to actually pull off a trade in the NFL. And I'll also give you this: Kelly was waived last year at the beginning of the regular season, and then spent the first half of the year on the practice squad, able to be signed by any team during that time. So it's not like he hasn't been available at various points. So for now he remains a valuable part of the Colts' offseason roster, and if he can win out that No. 3 job, then that value skyrockets.


Miles C. (Bloomington, Ind.): "Under the new covid-related NFL structure for 2020, is the waivers process the same as it was last year? For example, can players be signed to the practice squad without clearing waivers? The Colts have a lot of really good players on the 80, and if they can stash some of them on the practice squad without fear of them getting claimed by another team, then that would likely vastly alter their strategy of who to keep on the 53 versus who to put on the practice squad."

Walker: So, to me, there are three major changes to the practice squad structure this year (and these are temporary due to the COVID-19 pandemic):

— Teams can have up to 16 players on their practice squads, up from 10 previously.

— As many as six practice squad players can have unlimited previous NFL experience; in any other year, there are limits on how many previously accrued NFL seasons a player signed to a practice squad may have.

— By 4 p.m. ET each Tuesday, teams can protect four practice squad players from being signed by another team up until and through their upcoming game.

So, Miles, there is a lot more flexibility this year when it pertains to the practice squad, and you better believe Chris Ballard will use every new rule to his advantage.


Tony H. (Carson, Calif.): "Mr. Walker I just have a comment. take a look at this comment by you."Tom Rathman is a huge stickler about doing things the right way, and it might be more beneficial for Taylor to just watch and learn a little bit more early on before really being unleashed". I truly hate this cliche," doing things the right way." So does that mean every other football team does things the wrong way? This is a highly overrated statement and I WISH PEOPLE WOULD STOP USING IT. The right way is to win. What other way is there? OHHH....I FORGOT...IT'S THE HIGH WAY."

Walker: Tony coming in with the heat! I'm always up for constructive criticism or suggestions when it comes to my articles. I'll say this: I think it's very important for people to understand that while Jonathan Taylor is insanely talented and has all the physical tools needed to be a terrific NFL running back, it's going to take some serious work on his behalf over the next few weeks to earn his spot in the rotation by the start of the season. By me saying Tom Rathman is a "huge stickler about doing things the right way," absolutely do not twist that into an inference that other teams' running backs coaches aren't also sticklers; it's actually a testament to Rathman's high standards. It should be a point of pride as a Colts fan. But, look: I love the passion.

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