Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Training Camp Questions On Wide Receivers, Gus Bradley's Scheme, Jelani Woods And More

The Colts Mailbag returns for a pre-training camp look at a few things to watch for when practice starts at Grand Park on Wednesday at noon. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here, or by taking part in the Colts.com Forums. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Rob Prochaska, Lineville, Ala.: Does it look like the Colts aren't going after a big game, long-threat receiver? Does the team have the depth to overcome not getting a number one receiver? Is this a weakness of the team?

JJ Stankevitz: All fair questions, Rob, and I'll answer each one on its own.

On a big-game, downfield receiver: The Colts have a few guys who can be home run hitters. We saw Parris Campbell and Ashton Dulin catch 50+ yard touchdowns last season, while Michael Pittman Jr. had a 42-yarder against the Baltimore Ravens. One of Alec Pierce's strengths in college was getting vertical against cornerbacks, and he certainly has the skills to be a downfield receiver. I'm not too worried about the ability of the Colts' receivers, collectively, to get open downfield.

On the receiving depth: You don't have to squint very hard to view Michael Pittman Jr. as a No. 1 wide receiver – in 2021, he had more catches than Ja'Marr Chase, more yards than D.K. Metcalf, more touchdowns than Terry McLaurin and a higher yards per catch average than Tyreek Hill.

Behind him, sure, there are a lot of players with something to prove and who folks outside 56th Street may look at as unknowns. But here's the thing about Frank Reich's offense: It's built for a quarterback to spread the ball around by identifying coverages, going through his progressions and finding the open receiver. Maybe on some plays that's Pittman. Others it might be Dulin streaking downfield. There will be opportunities to get the ball to Nyheim Hines – who the Colts expect to play a significant role in the passing game – for explosive YAC plays.

Maybe the most important thing here is the Colts feel like they have a quarterback adept at operating Reich's offense in Matt Ryan. If he clicks through his progressions and makes the right decisions, the Colts have wide receivers who can get open – and he'll get them the ball.

Ryan Blaker, Edinburgh, Ind.: Is it a concern that the Colts don't have a current young quarterback for the future? With Trevor Lawrence, Malik Willis, and Davis Mills in our division, it kind of makes me nervous.

JJ Stankevitz: There are certainly some talented, young quarterbacks in the AFC South. But when the Colts traded for Matt Ryan back in March, he was asked if he sees himself playing for two more seasons and said this:

"I'd like to play as long as I can. I feel really good, my body feels really good. I still feel like I can play at as high a level as I ever have and as long as that is – nobody has a crystal ball to know exactly how long it's going to be. As long as I feel good and feel like I can play well, I'm going to try and play."

The Colts are committed to at least two years of Ryan as QB1, with the emphasis there on at least. This is a guy who's missed three games total in his 14-year career, and watching him during OTAs and minicamp he hardly looked like a guy whose talents have diminished with age.

Maybe next year or the year after the Colts will identify a guy they think can be Ryan's successor. But there's no fire right now, and no reason for the Colts to have deviated from their board in this year's draft just to get a young quarterback on the roster.

Maurice Zuver, Bryan, Ohio: With Gus Bradley as our new DC, can you give us a little background on his philosophy on defense? And with the personnel our Colts have will he be able to carry it out his philosophy?

JJ Stankevitz: Great questions, especially since folks heading up to Grand Park will get their first chance to see how Bradley installs and schemes his defense with the Colts.

Bradley is widely known for running plenty of Cover 3, whereas former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus primarily used versions of Cover 2. Bradley has tweaked and evolved those coverages over the decade-plus he's been a defensive coordinator and head coach, so it's not like he always runs the same static stuff – he's implemented quite a bit of match coverage principles over the years, which can lock a corner in man-to-man coverage depending on what kind of route the opposing receiver runs.

The Colts were able to sign Stephon Gilmore – the 2018 AP Defensive Player of the Year – in part because they pitched him on his fit in Bradley's defense. Brandon Facyson – who's played his entire career in Bradley's defense – was also brought in at cornerback and the Colts return Pro Bowler Kenny Moore II and an ascending Isaiah Rodgers there, too. There aren't concerns about Bradley's ability to fit his scheme to the players on the back end of the Colts' defense.

Up front, Bradley values an attacking defensive line that wins with four rushers, lessening the need to blitz to generate pressure. That approach worked well with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 with defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue consistently getting after quarterbacks; the Colts feel they have the personnel to attack in 2022 with guys like Ngakoue, Kwity Paye, DeForest Buckner and Dayo Odeyingbo, among others.

Steven Wagner, Granger, Ind.: Do you think Jelani Woods will take over as TE1 at some point over the season?

JJ Stankevitz: Let's not sell Mo Alie-Cox short here. Alie-Cox is one of the best run blocking tight ends in the NFL – he ranked sixth in that category, as graded by Pro Football Focus, in 2021 – and he set a career high with four touchdowns last year. The Colts' offense can get into a lot of different looks and concepts because of Alie-Cox's versatility as a blocker and receiver, and that's important to how Reich wants to call his offense.

Woods' growth during training camp will be interesting to watch, though. The rookie learning curve is steep for tight ends, but Woods is a sharp kid who has the talent, size and athleticism to be a key part of the Colts' offense in 2022.

Nick Hodge, Avon, Ind.: Why is Jonathan Taylor only a 95 in Madden?

JJ Stankevitz: I wish I had an answer, Nick. If Jonathan Taylor wasn't a 99 overall last season, then I don't know what looks like that for a running back. My suggestion: Go in and manually edit Taylor's attributes so he becomes the 99 he *actually* has shown he is.

Tyler Wyse, Indianapolis, Ind.: Will players be able to sign stuff this year?

JJ Stankevitz: Great news, Tyler: Autographs are back! For complete 2022 Colts Training Camp information and to get your free tickets, go to Colts.com/camp.

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