Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Defensive End Possibilities, Receiver Depth, T.Y. Hilton's Health

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about the candidates to start at defensive end opposite Justin Houston, how the receiver depth is shaking out so far in training camp, where top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is at health-wise 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: "From what you've seen so far, what is the Colts plan to replace Jabaal Sheard at DE? Is there a clear #1, or is there a rotation? How do you see the position shaking out for game 1 versus the Jags?"

Walker: There's been a lot of Denico Autry and Al-Quadin Muhammad over there in that defensive end spot formerly occupied by Jabaal Sheard so far through camp. I think if you're defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and defensive line coach Brian Baker, it just comes down to matchups and your gameplan from week to week. Autry is your more dynamic pass rusher in 1-on-1 situations, in my mind, and he also has a ton of starting experience in the NFL. Muhammad, to me, is more Sheard-like in terms of his solid play against the run, although I do have to say, I feel as if he's prime to show off his pass-rushing skills a little more this year, too. The wild card, of course, is Kemoko Turay, but it's hard to really project him making a huge impact Week 1 at this point since he remains on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but stranger things have happened. So if I had to guess, I'd say Autry starts opposite Justin Houston heading into Week 1, but it's less about who starts the game, and more about who's in there during its crucial points.

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SuperVanillaBear on Colts Reddit: "How is Jordan Glasgow looking? After the draft, Ballard praised Glasgow on his Special Teams prowess so I'm curious how the roster depth is shaking out and if he has a legitimate chance of earning a spot on the squad. Thanks!"

Walker: If you had asked me this a few days ago, I would've told you I wasn't getting a very good read on Jordan Glasgow's prospects heading into the regular season. But over the last two to three practices, particularly, I've definitely noticed Glasgow working his way in to more reps with the top special teams units, such as kickoff and punt coverage. I've already noticed more than once his knack for taking the exact angle down the field needed to put himself in position to bring the returner down, so he could very well be as advertised in that area. Defensively, Glasgow will continue to work on developing at linebacker, and we all know the Colts were pretty well set at that position to begin with. But depending on how things end up shaking out, due to recent practice developments, I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Glasgow ends up making the Week 1 roster and playing a role on every core special teams unit.

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Wolfdogrhit2 on Colts Reddit: "Any update on Turray's timeline? The secondary is a big concern, how are they looking in camp? Any early guesses on how the depth chart will shake out? Who is getting the most sideline chatter from the media folks in camp so far?"

Walker: No real recent update on Kemoko Turay's timeline to return. About a week ago Frank Reich had said of Turay: "We're hopeful. He's making good progress, and he's obviously an integral part of what we want to do and really committed to rehabbing and getting back. We'll just take it day-by-day." So we'll see on that. Just like with Jack Doyle and his neck injury, the Colts are being overly-cautious with their injured players this training camp; they need as many key guys available during the season, even at the cost of missing some key reps now.

What I've noticed out of the secondary throughout this training camp is a lack of communication issues that plagued the unit at times in 2019, especially later in the season against the Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, of course, sometimes in one-on-one coverage a guy is going to get beat — there are some pretty good quarterbacks and wide receivers on this team, too — but that's to be expected from time to time; as long as the communication is solid and you're limiting those big plays over the top, much like the Colts' secondary did throughout 2018, then I think it'll be a much smoother year.

And unfortunately I haven't had the pleasure of hanging around the Colts' media contingent for most of this training camp. The COVID-19 protocols in place have created only so many spots for outside media members to watch camp practices, and they also limit exactly where they/I can watch practice from. As a team employee, my workaround was to watch practice from the roof that oversees the practice fields, so it's a great view, for sure, but it's also tough not having the chance to yuk it up with those guys and gals over on the complete opposite side of the field in one of the end zones.

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waynewideopenTD on Colts Reddit: "Can you give a rough estimate of how often the defense has used three linebackers versus how often it has used a nickel back? Has the ratio changed with Kenny Moore's absence? Piggy backing off that, has anyone emerged as the clear back-up nickel with Moore out?"

Walker: I haven't gotten the sense that much has changed in terms of Matt Eberflus' tendency to utilize more nickel than base defensive packages out at camp practices so far. So even with veteran T.J. Carrie mostly playing in Kenny Moore II's place as he works his way back from a groin injury, you've still seen that nickel lineup a good majority of the time. I have noticed Bobby Okereke in at the MIKE linebacker maybe a little more than perhaps last year — it just kind of depends on the down-and-distance — but Anthony Walker continues to be the starter there.

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DPLaVay on Colts Reddit: "Which receivers at the bottom of the roster are showing out so far? Will we keep five or six this season?"

Walker: It was hard to wrap my mind around keeping six wide receivers heading into Week 1 last year, but then it started to make total sense when you factored in all the talent at the position, as well as most guys' abilities on special teams. So with a ton of talent to choose from this year, as well as just as many guys able to contribute on special teams, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Colts kept six wide receivers again, although that number could certainly fluctuate this season if there are sudden needs elsewhere. And with Marcus Johnson yet to make his 2020 training camp debut, I've seen guys like Ashton Dulin, Daurice Fountain and Dezmon Patmon working their way onto the field for some more meaningful snaps here lately, but Artavis Scott and DeMichael Harris are certainly no slouches and have made their fair share of big plays with Jacoby Brissett, Chad Kelly or Jacob Eason in at quarterback.

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Ultimatephenom on Colts Reddit: "With the changes to camp and the make-up of the season being so different, what are the chances an undrafted rookie not named Rodrigo Blankenship makes the roster?"

Walker: It's going to be tough for an undrafted rookie not named Rodrigo Blankenship to make the Week 1 roster this year. Common sense will tell you that with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting so many aspects of the year from an NFL perspective, including a lack of on-field offseason work and no preseason games leaguewide, that teams in general will be more inclined to stick with a more proven veteran over taking a shot on an unproven rookie, despite the fact many undrafted rookies not only figure out ways to stick to rosters their first years, but in some cases rise up and become major playmakers. I will say: Farrod Green has done a solid job filling in at tight end with all the injuries piling up there so far. If the Colts are at full health and want to keep four tight ends, the Mississippi State product Green has certainly made his case for that final spot behind Jack Doyle, Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox. And at safety, just due to sheer numbers, the Colts could be one injury away from Georgia Southern rookie Donald Rutledge having a shot at a roster spot, too. Remember: the Colts have kept an undrafted rookie for 21 straight years, the longest active streak in the NFL. So it'll be interesting to see if that can extend to 22 years in 2020.

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csmopar on Colts.com Forums: "Question: How has the battle between Big Q and Buckner looked so far during camp?"

Walker: It's been outstanding to watch these two All-Pros go at it each and every day in camp. It's almost one of those things you don't want to take for granted, but at the same time, those guys are so solid and ready to go that I've honestly been mostly focusing elsewhere throughout these training camp practices. If I had the opportunity to go back and watch the practice film, however, that'd probably be one of the very first things I'd check off my list, is watching Nelson and Buckner battle it out snap after snap. One side note: Buckner hasn't been participating in the one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen, where those battles are highlighted even more, and even if he were doing 1-on-1s, I don't have the greatest vantage point from where I'm able to watch practice. But I've got to imagine the whole "iron sharpens iron" concept is a real thing in this instance; that after going against each other every day in practice, it'll be much easier in their respective matchups when then regular season comes.

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2006Coltsbestever on Colts.com Forums: "How healthy is TY Hilton? What is the latest word on that? He is very important to what we do on offense."

Walker: Every indication I've gotten is that T.Y. Hilton is about as close to 100 percent as I've seen him in quite a while. While he did enter training camp on the non-football injury list with a hamstring issue, I saw that more as a completely precautionary measure than anything else. So while I think most Colts fans know how important it is just to have Hilton on the field in any capacity, having a full-go Hilton, to me, is a complete game changer for this offense. Philip Rivers references this often: the last time he played a game at Lucas Oil Stadium was as a member of the Chargers in 2016; the Colts won 26-22, and he very vividly remembers Hilton going off that day, to the tune of eight receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown, which was a game-winning 63-yard touchdown reception with 1:17 remaining in the contest. Rivers is ecstatic to have that guy on his side now.

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twfish on Colts.com Forums: "Hows Eason looking? Hows the Kelly vs Eason battle look right now?"

Walker: Jacob Eason has had some really nice moments throughout this training camp, and that continued Monday with a solid showing in the team's scrimmage at Lucas Oil Stadium. I mentioned this in one of the recent #ColtsCamp Notebooks: there are definitely plays in which you can see those elite throwing traits that put Eason atop many experts' lists as the best overall arm talent in the 2020 NFL Draft class. All that being said, without preseason games, and without the ability to see how Eason is reacting to an opposing defense actually able to bear down on him, it's really tough for me to make any sort of definitive statements on where he is in his development, and where he stands in the battle for the No. 3 quarterback job against Chad Kelly, who, in my mind, has been pretty solid, too. If the Colts do indeed keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, do they go with the experience Kelly provides and risk exposing Eason to waivers in an attempt to keep him on the practice squad? Or do they go with Eason's potential upside on the 53-man roster? It'll be interesting to see how Frank Reich and Chris Ballard work that one out here in less than two weeks.

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Myles on Colts.com Forums: "Between Chase McLaughlin and rookie Rodrigo Blankenship, could one of them take over kick off duties for Sanchez? Sanchez was one of the better kickers on kickoffs."

Walker: I've seen both Chase McLaughlin and Rodrigo Blankenship performing some kickoff duties at times throughout camp — it happened as recently as Monday's scrimmage at Lucas Oil Stadium — but for the most part it's been Rigoberto Sanchez handling the kickoffs as usual. Sanchez was sold in this area last year; he ranked sixth in the NFL in highest touchback percentage (75.9) and tied for sixth on most touchbacks (60) on kickoffs. Also, since Sanchez took over kickoff duties in 2017, the Colts have allowed just 21.8 yards per kickoff return, which is the 10th-best figure in the league. So it's not like I'd be completely shocked if I saw McLaughlin or Blankenship kicking off during the regular season, just because I've seen them do it a little in camp, but my best guess would be Sanchez remains as the Colts' kickoff specialist in 2020.

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