Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Quarterback Situation In A COVID-19 World, Player Of The Year Projections, Why The Run Game Matters

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about how the team might handle the quarterback position while taking COVID-19 possibilities into consideration, our picks for offensive and defensive player of the year, why “run the damn ball” isn’t an outdated thought process and much more.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:

Hugh T. (San Diego): "I'm intrigued by Danny Pinter. He's a big physical, beefy, lineman, just what you want in a rookie draft. How do you see him developing in his rookie season? Will he see playing time at all, assuming no injuries to the starters? He looks like he belongs, his size, and his conditioning, he looks athletic and quick, do you think he can play at this level?"

Walker: I, too, am intrigued by Danny Pinter, Hugh, and not just because both of us are Ball State alums. I hate to use this phrase before he hits the field in a meaningful role, but everything I can find on this kid indicates he could possibly be a steal in the fifth round — that is, if he pans out the way he should. By know we know his story: he began his college career at tight end, and his junior year he makes the move to right tackle. In just one year, he was arguably the best offensive lineman in the Mid-American Conference; he had Pro Football Focus' fifth-best run blocking grade in the entire country, and an elite 91.2 grade overall. Pinter's athleticism also seems potentially off the charts for an interior lineman, too. So while I'm not necessarily seeing Pinter getting a ton of snaps his rookie year, he could definitely be in line to compete for that right guard job down the road, and then also be in the mix to back up Ryan Kelly at center, or maybe even be an emergency guy at tackle if needed.

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Ritchie R. (Indianapolis): "How excited are the colts about the running game with the addition of the rookie,from Wisconsin?GI COLTS!!"

Walker: Colts Productions, I thought, did a wonderful job in its behind-the-scenes draft series, With The Next Pick, of relaying just how all-in the Colts were on Jonathan Taylor throughout the entire draft process, and how stoked they were when their dream scenario of getting both Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. ended up actually playing out perfectly in the second round this year. Taylor's college film shows an absolute beast at the running back position, which is clearly evident with a quick look at the stat sheet, as well as his trophy case. And while the team wanted to get more explosive through the air this offseason, Taylor also gives the Colts another big home run hitter on the ground, so good luck trying to find the best defensive play calls against that offensive attack. I will say this about Taylor, and this 100 percent is not me trying to be a wet blanket: give this kid a little time and patience to get fully engrained into this offense. Let's remember that the Colts, because of COVID-19, had zero on-field work as a team this offseason, and there will be no preseason games this year, and when you're playing a position like running back in the NFL, where your proficiency protecting the quarterback and your skills catching the ball out of the backfield are expected to be just as good as what you bring to the table toting the rock on run plays, it very well might take a little extra time for Taylor to really catch on. Running backs coach 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. That's my two cents, at least.

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Mark F. (Fishers, Ind.): "Do the Colts project that contract extensions for the integral pieces of the offensive line will tie up a large chunk of the cap space over the next year or two? If so , do they have any predictions of what that number will be? "

Walker: So, according to Spotrac.com: left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right guard Mark Glowinki and right tackle Braden Smith's contracts all expire after the 2021 season; left guard Quenton Nelson's contract technically expires after the 2022 season, but as a first-round pick, the team could very well exercise its fifth-year option on him to extend that deal one more year; and center Ryan Kelly is currently in a contract year. So you have a little bit of time when it comes to Castonzo (who turns 32 on Aug. 9), Glowinski and Smith, as well as Nelson, who is a prime candidate for that fifth-year option, which buys the team some time to figure out how it will accommodate what is sure to be a pretty hefty second contract in Indy if all goes to plan. But the clock is ticking on Kelly's situation, although he indicated this offseason his representatives have been in touch with the Colts on a possible extension, so we'll wait for updates on that front. One thing I'll never doubt about Chris Ballard, though, is his dedication to the offensive line: if he has solid players up front, he's going to take care of them.

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Jesus P. (Laredo, Texas): "How many QBs will the team have going into this strange season."

Walker: That's a very good question, Jesus. Normally I'd tell you Frank Reich ideally would want two quarterbacks on his 53-man roster, unless you have a situation like last year in which your starter (Jacoby Brissett) goes down with a not-so-serious, but still at-times nagging, injury midway through the season, you bring up a third quarterback from the practice squad (Chad Kelly) and you have the space to keep him on the rest of the year just in case. But I'm definitely planning on asking Reich the next time he speaks to the media what his thoughts are on keeping a third quarterback on the active roster this year, just because of the whole COVID-19 situation, in which anything can happen at any time throughout the week that could cause you to need emergency players ready to go at every position. With quarterback, of course, being the most important position of all, you've got to imagine Reich and his staff have a solid plan in place for the year just in case something unforeseen, such as Philip Rivers testing positive for COVID-19, does end up happening; but stay tuned for more on this.

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Connor C. (Mason, Mich.): "What's the plan for finding a new QB when rivers retires?"

Walker: I think the good news for the Colts is they really have pretty much every option available to them at the quarterback position once Philip Rivers does retire: perhaps Jacoby Brissett could return to be in the running for that starting job; perhaps Jacob Eason, this year's fourth-round pick out of Washington, develops nicely this year and is ready to go by 2021 or 2022; maybe Chad Kelly keeps showing enough steady progression and earns his shot; you could always go the draft route, and, depending on your situation, make a big move to meander into the early portion of the first round and get an elite prospect; you could see who's available on the free agent market; or maybe the team has had its eyes on another team's QB for a while, and would be willing to pull off a trade to get him down the road? How'd I do, Connor? I totally didn't answer the question, but I totally answered the question.

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Austin C. (Kokomo, Ind.): "I'm a huge Michigan fan so when Jordan Glasgow was selected with the last pick I was excited. I know him being a late round pick he is more of a special teams pickup but he did lead the fbs in tackle success rate for linebackers. Does he have a shot at a rotation spot on the defense or is he strictly just a special teams guy?"

Walker: While the Colts have had a pretty consistent rotation at most positions on defense under Matt Eberflus, that hasn't really been the case at the linebacker position. And one has to assume Darius Leonard (WILL), Anthony Walker (MIKE) and Bobby Okereke (SAM) are your starters in those three spots in 2020, and with good health they will play most, if not all, of the snaps at linebacker moving forward. So that means a guy like Jordan Glasgow needs to exceed in a special teams role but always be ready to go in a pinch defensively if one of those aforementioned starters go down at linebacker. I'm not quite sure where Glasgow fits on the WILL-MIKE-SAM tree, but Eberflus values guys like Walker, like Okereke, who can play all three of those spots, so you've got to imagine Glasgow is hoping to get the opportunity to show he can do just that.

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Jordan K. (Fontana, Calif.): "How much of an impact do you think Patmon will do for the Colts offense? Is he only going to be a red zone threat? "

Walker: I think Dezmon Patmon has the potential to develop into a real nice option in the passing game, and not just in a red zone-type role. He's obviously got the size and athleticism, and wide receives coach Mike Groh has to be excited to that that on and mold Patmon into a solid NFL receiver. Speaking of tall, it'll be a tall task to assume a spot at wide receiver at this point for anybody not named T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell or Michael Pittman Jr. Patmon will certainly be in the running for that fifth or sixth spot at wide receiver once the regular season arrives, but he's going to have heavy competition from several other guys, including more established vets like Marcus Johnson, Ashton Dulin and Daurice Fountain. So that likely means Patmon needs to quickly establish himself in whatever role(s) he's asked to play on special teams, which could be his best chance at a shot on the initial 53-man roster, and then he can continue to work on his skills as a receiver from there.

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John W. (Camby, Ind.): "I still believe we are still one great cornerback away from Super Bowl caliber team ... What do you feel that the Colts biggest weakness is???"

Walker: I think the Colts did a real good job this offseason of attacking their weaknesses from a year ago. They wanted to get more explosive in the passing game, so they got a new quarterback in Philip Rivers, as well as new weapons like wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and tight end Trey Burton. Defensively, the Colts wanted to find a dominant presence in the middle up front, and that's exactly what they got — and then some — when they acquired All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for Indy's first-round (13th-overall) draft pick. Another notable move was the signing of free agent cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a First-Team All-Pro selection just three years ago. I think heading into camp there are still some questions that need to be answered about the depth at offensive tackle, for example, but all the pieces general manager Chris Ballard put into place this offseason, if all goes to plan, should pay dividends.

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Matt N. (Woodstock, Ga.): "hey there!! Glad to be here again!! Die hard fan here. Who are your predictions for offensive and defensive players of the year for the colts? Also, who do you think is prime for a breakout year?"

Walker: Hey there, Matt! Thanks for writing in. My predication for 2020 Colts Offensive Player of the Year is T.Y. Hilton; I think The Ghost is able to stay healthy for most of the season, and really benefits from the down-field mentality of his new quarterback, Philip Rivers. It's also a contract year for Hilton, and you just never know how a player will react to that. Defensively I could go with DeForest Buckner or Darius Leonard, but I'm going to pick Justin Houston; after an 11-sack season a year ago, I think Buckner's presence, along with Denico Autry being able to slide in and out and the expected emergence of Kemoko Turay, should set Houston up with a lot of favorable one-on-one matchups that he should be able to win on a consistent basis. I'm not going to go nuts and predict a 23-sack season for Houston, but his total of 11 from last year should be a good starting point. Who's prime for a breakout year? Let's go with Khari Willis; the second-year safety out of Michigan State showed plenty of promise in his rookie year in 2019, and he clearly has a ton of versatility, given how often he was lining up in the box and making plays last year. I just think Willis is a prime candidate to put it all together in Year 2, and, with health, turn in a really solid season in the Indy secondary.

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Mark S. (McKinney, Texas): "Hello to INDY Just curious with all the changes this year.do you think the NFL would do a temporary roster and/ or practice squad increase? Thanks"

Walker: There will be an increase in the number of practice squad players in 2020; it's now 16 as opposed to 10, and teams can choose to protect four of those guys from being signed by another team. And Indy is fully expected to take advantage of its practice squad this year if and when players on the active roster go on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. "Chris (Ballard) and I talked about it the other day — the 53-man roster, 16 guys on the practice squad — everyone of them is a starter. Everyone of them we have to look at as this guy is a starter," head coach Frank Reich said this week. "How are we going to do training camp to make sure that the 69th guy on the roster is ready to play Week 1 because something could happen and he is up? Maybe he is not starting, but maybe he has to come in and play a key role because five guys get the virus right before Week 1 and can't play. Now all of a sudden those guys are playing. So it is a good test for our team."

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Jerry C. (Alhambra, Calif.): "Hey Andrew. I'm not sure if you touched on this lately or not. But I was wondering whats the likelihood of eason earning QB2 and brissett traded for anything at this point?also should we expect any Progression updates on eason at all during the season?. Lastly why do you think they snub colts players so much in madden games each year? Did someone at ea lose money on colts games?lol"

Walker: Unless something drastic happens at the quarterback position on another team and they just blow Chris Ballard away with a trade offer that's simply too good to pass up, Jacoby Brissett will remain the Colts' backup quarterback in 2020. That was the case even before the COVID-19 situation started gaining steam back in March, but with everything going on with the virus and the possibility of any player or coach testing positive at any time, your roster depth could be tested this year like never before. So, to me, Brissett's value to this team is virtually unmatched compared to any other backup on the roster; heck, in my opinion, he might be one of the most valuable backups on any roster in the entire league. You already know he has the experience to come in and competently and efficiently run your offense for any period of time should something happen to the starter, Philip Rivers; what other team can truly say they have that luxury? So when it comes to Jacob Eason, I know the coaching staff is excited to have the opportunity to take the tools that are there, some of which are elite, and mold them into a proficient NFL quarterback, but that's going to take some time — especially considering all the on-field time he missed this offseason, and all the preseason reps he won't be getting this year. We'll definitely be checking in from time to time on Eason's progress this year, however, so stay tuned.

And don't get me started on some of the Madden NFL 21 ratings. My main gripe is when guys like Mo Alie-Cox dip four points from their final ranking in last year's game to their initial ranking in this year's game; what could Alie-Cox possibly have done in the last six months for him to go down four points overall? In fact, he could be used in the passing game even more this season with the departure of Eric Ebron, so isn't that taken into consideration? Now, I will say this: for most guys, don't get too caught up in the overall rating you see right now, because if you have a solid season, that number will get adjusted and go up throughout the year. So Darius Leonard being an 85 right now is ridiculous, but hopefully he's in the low 90s where he should be by the end of the year if he has his typical Darius Leonard-like season.

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Damian B. (St. George, Utah): "The Colts are putting a lot of emphasis on the run game with moves such as drafting Jonathan Taylor, signing Roosevelt Nix, and the whole "Run the Damn Ball" slogan. Don't get me wrong, Taylor is a very talented player and will have a great season behind that O-line, but the majority of the NFL community is starting to shift to more pass heavy approaches. Are the Colts trying too hard to build an old school offense in this modern NFL era?"

Walker: Damian, that's a great question. Let me say this: go back to last year's postseason runs for the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the NFC champions, the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams clearly have major weapons in the passing game, but down the stretch they leaned on their respective running games to grind out wins in the games that mattered the most. We all think of the Chiefs, with Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, as this air-it-out juggernaut, but did you know they averaged almost 120 rushing yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry as a team in the postseason? The 49ers' numbers are even better: an average of 204 (!) rushing yards per game in the postseason, with an insane 5.5 yards-per-carry average in their three postseason games. The point I'm trying to make here is, yes, you're absolutely correct: having an elite passing attack, or at least one that's able to consistently get big chunks, is critical in today's NFL, and the Colts certainly addressed that part of their offense this offseason. But clearly there's still a huge value placed on being able to run the ball when you want to run it, especially in those late-game, late-season situations where you're just grinding away at the opposing defense. That's why the rushing attack is so important to Frank Reich and the Colts.

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