Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Final Thoughts Before Saturday's Final Roster Cuts, Who Will Make Year 2 Leap, Is Philip Rivers A Top-10 Quarterback?

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about Saturday’s final roster cuts, which Year 2 players are due for a big leap, Kemoko Turay’s Week 1 availability, whether Philip Rivers can be a top-10 quarterbacl 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:

Aleph_Alpha_001 on Colts Reddit: "Which Colts position coaches have stood out in camp and why?"

Walker: While there's certainly a great bit of continuity throughout much of the coaching staff — when you have your head coach and all three coordinators entering their third season together, that tends to happen — I've definitely been intrigued by a couple of the new position coaches: defensive line coach Brian Baker and wide receivers coach Mike Groh. I actually had a chance to see Baker up close and personal in 2014 when he was the outside linebackers coach with the Washington Football Team and remember being extremely impressed with his approach then, so when I knew he was being considered by his old friend and former University of Maryland teammate Frank Reich for the defensive line job here, I was all for it. I think you've already seen his effect on guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad and Tyquan Lewis, who had solid training camp performances; if that can carry into the regular season, and the Colts can roll out seven to eight defensive linemen a week and staying fresh and productive throughout the ballgame, then look out. And as for Groh, I've just noticed a no-nonsense approach out of him throughout practice. He doesn't seem like much of a yeller or screamer, but there's just a clear expectation out there that his guys should be where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be there. I've also noticed T.Y. Hilton and Groh working together a lot off to the side during breaks or special teams portions of practice, so WR1 and the new position coach seem to be meshing well.

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Polal69699 on Colts Reddit: "How has Daurice Fountain been performing in practice? How are his odds to make the 53-player roster?"

Walker: I'll say this: Daurice Fountain will once again factor in to some extremely tough choices for Frank Reich and Chris Ballard come 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. It's amazing after last year's gruesome ankle injury — I was standing right there on the sideline when it happened; I'll never forget it — that Fountain even was able to participate in training camp this year. He said last week he had to undergo three surgical procedures just to get to this point, the latest of which came earlier this year after the bone clearly wasn't healing correctly. But Fountain proved throughout camp this year that he's not just some feel-good comeback story — the kid can still make plays, and he had a few big catches thrown in there, too. I've said this before, but I think the last one or two spots at wide receiver are going to come down to special teams ability, because if everyone's healthy, then the fifth or sixth wide receiver probably isn't going to have a huge role in the offense (though they need to be ready at a moment's notice). So all things considered, Fountain is certainly in the mix for a spot.

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ApolloSimba on Colts Reddit: "Coach Dungy used to speak about how great players make a "leap" in year 2. Any second year players that are standing out in camp?"

Walker: I just don't think I can say enough about Rock Ya-Sin's camp performance. Daily — not just some days, but daily — he was bringing it outside at cornerback. I think Ya-Sin's rookie year was a bit of a blur, and while at times (especially early on) he had his ups and downs, it was probably extremely beneficial for him to just be thrown into the fire and play as much as he did (he logged more defensive snaps than any other Colts defender). With that rookie year now under his belt, Ya-Sin has just been able to focus on the task at hand this time around, and he's been a true leader and tone setter for that cornerback group. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Ya-Sin is among the Colts' second-year players to make that aforementioned "leap" this year. I'd put wide receiver Parris Campbell in this boat, too, but I just think it's unfair to try to grade his rookie season at all due to all the unlucky injuries he had, so there's less on which to base Year 2 expectations.

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GBarr11 on Colts Reddit: "Where do you see Xavier Rhodes fitting in within the CB depth chart? Has he consistently been with the 1's or is the analysis leaning towards where he was last year in regard to productivity? I know it's just the training camp phase so you can't probably gather too much on this but I'm curious as he used to be a dominant all pro. Thanks Andrew!_"

Walker: I'll add this caveat here: the league rules put into place for media covering training camp this year, with no fans in the stands, prohibit any sort of reporting on who specifically is working with what units, what formations the team is using, etc. But I will say this: Xavier Rhodes signed his one-year deal with the Colts because of the chance to once again work with cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon and safeties coach Alan Williams; Gannon was a key defensive assistant working with Rhodes during his best seasons with the Minnesota Vikings (2014-17), while Williams was Rhodes' defensive coordinator his rookie year. I can already see signs of this reunion paying off for Rhodes and the Colts' defense. I also think Rhodes has brought a bit of that "healthy tension" Chris Ballard and Frank Reich talked about needing more of heading into this offseason, as he's constantly chirping with Philip Rivers and the Indy receivers throughout practice. So I think a return to his roots, mixed in with his competitiveness, could pay dividends for all involved.

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SuperVanillaBear on Colts Reddit: "Based on camp performance, which unit do you think will be the strength of the 2020 Colts - Offense or Defense?"

Walker: This is a tough one. Offensively, I can see the Colts easily being a top-ten unit in the NFL if they can maintain their rushing attack from last year — and there's no reason why they can't, or even improve upon it — and if Philip Rivers is able to help add more of those ever-popular chunk plays to the passing offense (and with better health at the wide receiver position, there's no reason why that can't happen, either). But I think the defense really has a chance to jump from what the numbers show was about an average unit in 2019 to a top-10 unit in 2020, and a lot of that has to do with the addition of DeForest Buckner. The Colts ranked tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks last year (41), and that was without consistent production up the middle along the defensive line; I think Buckner will not only get his own sacks, but he'll command so much attention that Justin Houston, Denico Autry and others will have more favorable matchups and easier paths to the quarterback. To me, there's no reason why the Colts can't have at least 50 sacks in 2020 (an increase of nine overall), which would've tied for the fourth most in the NFL last year. The more pressure up front, the better the opportunity for takeaways in the back end, and that's how this whole thing rolls for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

But if I had to choose, I just keep going back to the Colts' rushing attack, with pretty much everybody involved returning on top of the addition of Jonathan Taylor, being so dang good that defenses aren't going to have any choice but to add more guys to the box on first and second down. When this happens, I think Rivers can and will pick apart those more intermediate passing opportunities to T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Michael Pittman Jr., Jack Doyle, Nyheim Hines and others. Rivers' comfort in this system makes such a big difference to me, as well, so I'm going to go with the offense to start out if I had to pick, but I definitely believe the defense has top-10 potential, as well.

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Look__a_distraction on Colts Reddit: "Heard alot of good things about Danny Pinter. Care to share your thoughts on how his camp has gone so far and early projections for his place in the Colts org?"

Walker: I've been extremely impressed with Danny Pinter, and I can see exactly why the Colts were so excited to be able to get him in the fifth round of this year's NFL Draft. I think one of Pinter's main selling points was his ability to quickly adjust to a position change, which he did at Ball State his junior year when he moved from tight end to right tackle; Pinter has had to do the same in his first few months with the Colts, as now he's considered an interior lineman, getting reps at both guard and center. So as of now, I'd say his primary role is as a key piece of depth at those two spots, but we've also been seeing Pinter getting reps as a "tight end" in the Colts' "big" packages of late, so that's a bit of a return to his roots. So Pinter is doing everything he can behind an already-established starting offensive line group to showcase his value at multiple positions and even possibly handle an extra role on gameday.

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ehhhhhhhhhhmacarena on Colts Reddit: "Perhaps it's a bit too early to ask since he's just coming off the injury, but what has Isaiah Rodgers been up to since returning? Second team defense? Punt/Kick returner? Gunner?"

Walker: Yeah, the issue is Rodgers returned to practice last week, and although he was able to participate in Saturday's scrimmage, we are no longer able to report on full practices with training camp now officially over. So I can't say with any certainty where Rodgers has been lining up in recent days. But with Kenny Moore II still out Saturday with his groin injury, we did see Rodgers getting reps at the nickel corner spot defensively, and he also had extensive reps as both a punt and kickoff returner. While you don't want to rush the guy back, there is a sense of making up for lost time, especially since he's a rookie and he's not getting any snaps in preseason games. I will say this: Rodgers' 4.28 speed shows on the field for sure; I saw him turn on the burners during one particular kickoff return in practice last week and it was impressive for sure. If he can take advantage of learning under Moore II and other veterans like T.J. Carrie and Xavier Rhodes and keep developing with that speed, then look out.

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Four2itus on Colts.com Forums: "How is Braden Smith progressing on his pass protection skills?"

Walker: Perhaps this is a total cop-out answer, but it's really hard for me to evaluate the play of offensive linemen in particular throughout training camp. Yes, we've had a chance to see padded practices for the most part, but unless a guy is really struggling out there, or if a particular defensive unit is just constantly getting into the backfield, then I can't say I specifically am paying much attention to those matchups. Now, once the regular season begins and there's All-22 film available, then I can get a much clearer picture on how well a particular offensive lineman is playing. Also, in most training camps I can get a good look at the 1-on-1 drills between the offensive and defensive linemen, but with the COVID-19 rules and restrictions in place, that unfortunately wasn't the case (though I did have a spectacular view of pretty much everything else).

I definitely think this is something to keep an eye on throughout the season, however. Smith is already one of the best run-blocking right tackles in the NFL, and if he can add a little bit more consistency in pass protection, then we're talking about Pro Bowl- and even potentially All-Pro-level recognition for him. I also think Philip Rivers' ability to get the ball out of his hand will help everybody up front, but particularly a guy like Smith, who is tasked with going against teams' best pass rushers on a weekly basis.

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Chucklez on Colts.com Forums: "Has there been any discussion about between TY and the Colts about a new contract beyond 2020? I think I can speak for most (if not all Colts fans) when I say we want to see him be a life-long Colt."

Walker: You can add me to the list of those who would love to see T.Y. Hilton remain with the Colts for the rest of his career. I was already a big Hilton fan for what he was able to do the first few years of his career as one of the more under-appreciated receivers in the league, but in 2018, when he played through a low and a high ankle sprain — to the same ankle — _for much of the second half of the season and _still was the league's top receiver over that span, helping guide Indy to its improbable postseason run … that was legendary. Pure and simple. As for his current contract, Hilton is entering the final year of his deal this season. He said Aug. 10: "It is what it is. We are going to concentrate on right now and then at the end of the season we will go from there." That pretty much says it all right there.

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PrideOfAthens17 on Colts.com Forums: "Andrew, OK, what's your take on the REAL chance of two players, Moore II and Turay, missing actual games at this point? Thanks."

Walker: Since Kenny Moore II has been able to return to practice since you asked this question, I'll address Kemoko Turay's situation: I think it's pretty obvious we're up against it if he wants to play in nine days in the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. I think this weekend could also help add some clarity to the situation; Turay entered training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, so the team could elect to keep him on PUP for the start of the regular season, but that would mean he's sitting out at least the first six games. The Colts could also elect to remove Turay off PUP before final cuts, and then on Sunday place Turay on injured reserve, which would mean for this year only the team could elect to return him after just three games. Or they could remove Turay from PUP on Saturday and just elect to keep him on the inactive list on gameday until he's ready to return. The final scenario that could play out: Turay is removed from the PUP list Saturday, returns to practice early next week and is able to play some sort of role against the Jaguars. It's important to remember with Turay that he's just nine months removed from his broken leg and subsequent surgery; it took wide receiver Daurice Fountain 10-plus months to return from a similar injury suffered at the end of training camp last year. Of course, not all players have the exact same recovery timelines, but it's just something to keep in mind. What's most important is Turay getting back to the level of play he was providing off the edge the first five games of the season last year; if, by chance, he has to miss some regular season time to do that, then the Colts certainly have other options at the defensive end position that can get the job done.

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2006Coltsbestever on Colts.com Forums: "What is your opinion on Rivers possibly being a top 10 QB this season? If he plays good we can accomplish a lot this season. I would even be happy if he played like a top 15 QB because of our run game."

Walker: I don't see why Philip Rivers can't be a top-10 quarterback this season — and most certainly don't see why he can't be in that top-15 range, which I think he's in by default anyway. I don't think you necessarily need 2018 Rivers, when he was an MVP candidate throwing for 4,316 yards with 32 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and a yards-per-attempt figure of 8.5, but you also need Rivers to cut down on the turnovers from last season, when he threw 20 interceptions. If Rivers is able to find a happy medium between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then I think he'll be a top-10 quarterback for sure. And with one of the league's best offensive lines and rushing attacks, as well as plenty of weapons in the passing game, at his disposal in his first year guiding the Colts' offense, I think Rivers has everything in place to get that done.

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csmopar on Colts.com Forums: "With all the lost time for OTAs, Rookie mini camp and other times, how has that affected the Colts approach to training camp and is there any concern of being rusty amongst the Colts staff when the season kicks off?"

Walker: Could there realistically be some rust to knock off early on? Sure. But let's remember: every NFL team has been faced with the same challenges with no on-field work during the offseason program, a shortened training camp and no preseason games. I think the Colts' staff has done a terrific job just rolling with the punches, however; the team got a ton of work done during its virtual offseason program, players reported to training camp in shape and the team had very productive camp practices with minimal injuries occurring. Indy has a new quarterback, but he was already well-established in Frank Reich's offense, and was able to hit the ground running once training camp began. The defense returns pretty much every starter, and added one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL, DeForest Buckner, who will be playing the exact same three-tech spot he played with the San Francisco 49ers. And not to be overlooked: the Colts return their head coach/playcaller (Reich), offensive coordinator (Nick Sirianni), defensive coordinator (Matt Eberflus) and special teams coordinator (Bubba Ventrone) for a third straight year together; that kind of continuity in today's game is hard to find. So because of all those factors, I think the Colts head into the 2020 season in pretty good shape compared to other teams across the league.

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