Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Future At Quarterback, Jonathan Taylor's Ball Security, Anthony Walker's Future

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about the future at the quarterback position, whether Jonathan Taylor’s ball security should be a worry, linebacker Anthony Walker’s future beyond 2020 and much more.

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INDIANAPOLIS — 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:

Ben B. (Geneva, Ill.): "If Hines wins the kick returner job where do things stand for Isaiah Rodgers on special teams and defense? Or if Rodgers wins the kick returner job what about Hines becoming RB1?"

Walker: First off, there are going to be a ton of quality candidates to win the kick returner job throughout training camp and the preseason. You mentioned Nyheim Hines and Isaiah Rodgers, but Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell and Ashton Dulin are among those who also immediately come to mind as guys who could easily be given that responsibility to open up the season. As for Rodgers, lots has to happen between the start of camp and final cutdown day, but I believe his situation on the 53-man roster, if he didn't win the kick returner job outright, could come down to the decision the team makes on Julian Blackmon's status to open the season; let's say Blackmon, who continues working his way back from December knee surgery, is placed on the PUP list and has to sit out at least the first six weeks of the regular season; that opens up a spot in the secondary, and with both starters at safety (Malik Hooker and Khari Willis) returning, as well as backups George Odum and Rolan Milligan, perhaps that could lead to Rodgers being kept at cornerback for at least that period of time. Just a thought. And as for Hines — I don't think RB1 is the job for him. In fact, I think he's in a really good spot as it is, being utilized more on third down and in passing situations, and with Philip Rivers now at quarterback, who has had tons of success throwing the ball to smaller, shiftier backs (Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, Austin Ekeler), Hines' role could grow even more. And let's not forget about Hines' electric abilities as a punt returner; he did average 31.2 yards per return on nine total attempts (with those two touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers) last year.

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Rick N. (Greenwood, Ind.): "Hi - If neither Rivers nor Jacoby play especially well this year, since both are on 1 year contracts for 2020, could the Colts grab a top 10 FA QB for the 2021 season? It seems like every year, several guys are available. If we didn't re-sign either of our primary QB's from 2020, wouldn't that free up enough $$$ to sign someone from outside our currant roster, with our 4th round draft pick from this year as backup? I hear there is a guy up in Green Bay that is not too happy right now."

Walker: I wouldn't rule anything out, Rick, especially at that position. But I'll (kindly) disagree with you that "several guys are available" at quarterback every year, especially if you're talking the top-10 variety; this offseason was a complete anomaly in terms of the talent available at the quarterback position, either via free agency or those being made available on the trade market. So, short answer, yes, by having your top two quarterbacks under contract through just the 2020 season, it does give the team some flexibility in terms of going another direction at the position next offseason if things don't go as planned with Philip Rivers and/or Jacoby Brissett. But if things go the Colts' and Rivers' way, his stay in Indy will be two years at the very least, which gives you a little more time to continue developing a guy like Jacob Eason, the team's fourth-round pick out of Washington this year, or explore other options for your future QB.

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Bill W. (Granby, Conn.): "What's happened to Chad Kelly and is he still a COLT and will he ever get a chance again to play?"

Walker: Speaking of quarterbacks, yes, Chad Kelly is still a member of the Colts. Will he ever get a chance to play? In the regular season? It doesn't seem likely at this point in time, but you just never know how training camp and the preseason could play out. As of now, however, Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are the clear top two guys at the quarterback position, while Kelly and rookie Jacob Eason will enter camp battling it out for the No. 3 job. The big question, to me, as it pertains to that Kelly/Eason competition is whether or not a third quarterback will ultimately be kept on the 53-man roster — as Kelly was for the second half of the 2019 season — or whether the team will try to stash that guy on the practice squad.

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Tony S. (Indianapolis): "All we hear bad about Johnathan Taylor are his fumbles but what was his percentage to the amount Of carries he had compared to the top five or so other backs in the 2020 draft."

Walker: I had pointed this out a few months back: Jonathan Taylor had 18 fumbles on 926 total carries at Wisconsin, a 1.9 percent rate. To compare, Derrick Henry, the NFL's leading rusher in 2019, had five fumbles on 303 carries last year for the Titans, a 1.7 percent rate. Add Colts running backs coach Tom Rathman's obsession with ball security — Indy backs had ONE combined fumble in 2019 — and Taylor, with a little refining, should be just fine in this category, in my opinion.

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Damian B. (Saint George, Utah): "Hello, i've been a Colts fan since I was a little kid and for the most part I love the direction the team is headed. My question is this, with the majority of the NFL beginning to trend towards more pass heavy offenses, is it possible that the Colts are putting too much emphasis on the run game? If most of the statistics and analysis point towards a strong passing attack as the most effective way to go in today's NFL, then why are the Colts making such an effort to "Run that Damn Ball" with recent moves such a as trading up for Jonathan Taylor and signing Roosevelt Nix?"

Walker: Great question, Damian. I think Frank Reich and his staff are well aware of the analytics and the trends of successful offenses in today's NFL, and you saw an effort to address that by getting more explosive in the pass game this offseason by signing Philip Rivers at quarterback and taking a guy like Michael Pittman Jr. in the second round of this year's NFL Draft. The coaching staff itself also is taking on a little bit different look in 2020, as Kevin Patullo, the former wide receivers coach, moves into a completely new position, pass game specialist, and Mike Groh was brought in to be the new wide receivers coach. Between Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, Patullo and Groh, among others, the Colts are exploring every way possible to attack opposing defenses through the air. Now, the run game will still be a huge part of Indy's offense. But I think Reich's philosophy is he wants to be able to run it whenever he wants to run it; no matter what the scenario, he wants to be able to call a run play and know it's going to get a big chunk of yards — especially late in games when the Colts have the lead. So it'll be an interesting give and take, for sure.

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Andrew M. (London, England): "Do you think the colts can win the Super Bowl with this team, and if not why?"

Walker: Why not, Andrew? Great name by the way. The Colts first need to just get back into the playoff picture, but once they're in, their roster should be set up well for a deep playoff run. You saw the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans and even the Kansas City Chiefs utilize a solid run game to get to the conference championship game level, at the very least, last year, which is something general manager Chris Ballard has always talked about: he wants a roster that can dominate in the trenches by the time December and January roll around. But I think the real deciding factor will be defensively; if this young unit can take a major step forward — I'm talking top-10 in yards, sacks, takeaways, etc. — then the Colts are for sure going to be considered Super Bowl contenders by year's end.

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Josh B. (Woodbury, Conn.): "Why did the Colts have so little confidence in Johnathan Williams?

Williams step in game-day rusty and has TWO 100 yard games. Seems to be a high level performer - good kid (low cost vs the contract of Johnathan Taylor). Also why release Williams while keeping unproven RB Darius Jackson +Bruce Anderson? Same confidence question about Chad Kelly?"

Walker: It wasn't about a lack of confidence in Jonathan Williams, who did a tremendous job filling in for an injured Marlon Mack midway through last season with those aforementioned two 100-yard rushing performances. But I think just in terms of an all-around back — we're taking consistency in pass protection and abilities as a receiver, not just what they bring as a ballcarrier — the team just decided to move forward with Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, and it also couldn't help falling in love with Jonathan Taylor, a guy with elite explosive abilities, in this year's draft. Williams is also now free to pursue opportunities with other teams as a free agent, which could lead to a better overall role for him elsewhere. And you mention Darius Jackson and Bruce Anderson — while they'll be given an opportunity to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster during training camp and the preseason, the Colts also have to keep guys in mind for their practice squad. Williams and Jackson/Anderson just simply aren't in the same situation.

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Allen H. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): "With Mack, Williams and Nix all on roster, do you see us running any i or power i formations? That to me would be smashmouth football and fit the slogan "Run the damn Ball""

Walker: Oh, for sure, Allen. Just imagine a run call to the left with Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson clearing out space at the first level, Roosevelt Nix moving linebackers at the second level, and Marlon Mack or Jonathan Taylor doing all the work from there for a 50-yard touchdown run? Now, Frank Reich has acknowledged Nix won't likely get a ton of snaps at fullback each and every week — that all depends on the gameplan — but if Nix is in 10 to 20 percent of the time, that's maybe 10-15 plays a week on average. It should be a lot of fun to see how Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni are able to scheme things up with a true fullback now at their disposal.

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Adam M. (Woolwich Township, N.J.): "While I am very excited for the potential of the team this year, I have been thinking about some of the contracts that will be need for next year (i.e. T.Y, Rivers, Mack). One that hasn't been talked about much is Anthony Walker. I am a big Anthony Walker fan. He had 84 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception. Not a bad stat line for being alongside one of the best linebackers in the NFL. With Okereke having such high potential, what are the chances that you think we resign Walker?"

Walker: Anthony Walker has been an ideal Colt from the moment the team selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He's been a respected team leader, he's been productive the last two years as the starter at MIKE linebacker (and might just be one of the more underrated linebackers in the league) and he's a terrific example off the field. All of that being said, I have absolutely no idea how his contract situation could end up playing out after the 2020 season, when he's set to become a free agent for the first time. Lots can happen between now and then, and as you mentioned, I think it's appropriate to see how defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus handles any sort of possible rotation at linebacker between Walker and Bobby Okereke this season before trying to make any sort of predictions.

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Hugh T. (San Diego): "The one thing Rivers always had in San Diego was a couple of big wide receivers with sticky fingers (Vincent Jackson, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams), it's clear to me that T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman both fit that role, and don't forget, Rivers is the QB who first used LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles and Austin Ekeler as pass catching phenoms out of the backfield, he'll love Jonathan Taylor ... I wish I was "back home again in Indiana" because it will not be easy catching Colt games in San Diego, but I promise you, most of Rivers' Charger fans, are now Colt fans!"

Walker: What's clear is Philip Rivers is bringing with him a ton of passionate fans from his 16 seasons with the Chargers, which is awesome. By signing with Indianapolis, Rivers has given himself an excellent opportunity to end his career with his best shot possible at a title, in my opinion, and the Colts are, of course, happy to try to fulfill those aspirations right with him. And, to your points, I definitely think Michael Pittman Jr. and even a guy like Zach Pascal will fit the mold of guys like Vincent Jackson, Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams, but I don't think Rivers has ever had a receiver like T.Y. Hilton, who we all know isn't the tallest guy in the world at 5-foot-10, but is simply elite at finding and exploiting open zones in the secondary, and then using his world class speed to open things up over the top. And you also bring up another good point, Hugh: we've talked a ton about how Rivers is expected to positively impact a guy like Nyheim Hines as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield (a la Sproles and Ekeler), but he should also bolster Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor in that area, as well.

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