Colts NFL Annual Meeting Notebook: What's Next At Wide Receiver And Tight End, Plans For Nyheim Hines And Excitement For Yannick Ngakoue

Over the last few days in Palm Beach, we learned plenty about the direction the Colts may take in 2022, both in the short and long term. 

PALM BEACH, Fla. –Emptying the notebook from a jam-packed week at The Breakers in Palm Beach after we covered:

The Colts are confident in their wide receivers, but could still add to that group.

Frank Reich rattled off the wide receivers on the Colts' roster beyond the thousand-yarder Michael Pittman Jr: Dezmon Patmon, Mike Strachan, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Keke Coutee – and expressed his confidence in that group's ability to step up in 2022.

"I happen to have a lot of belief in our young guys," Reich said. "I think it's my job as the coach to believe in and develop the guys that we have. It's Chris (Ballard's) job as the GM to push the limit and try to get us the best weapons we can have.

"Some of that's possible, some of that's not possible. There's only so many moves you can make. So I think we're always open to looking for the right player. And we are not a desperate team that's gonna say hey, let's just go grab a guy who's a big name or just to grab somebody. I say to Chris — hey, go do your thing. But just know I believe in these guys and so there's no need to do anything desperate."

And as Ballard put it: "Do we need to add, yes," he said. "But do I feel just totally lost and hopeless, no."

A shift could be coming in how the Colts us their tight ends.

Reich said it'll be "impossible" for the Colts to replace Jack Doyle, who retired earlier this offseason. The steady physicality Doyle brought to the Colts' run game was massively important for a 2021 offense powered by Jonathan Taylor, whose 1,811 yards comfortably led the NFL.

With Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox – who signed a contract extension earlier this month – the Colts were able to have two big, physical tight ends as accomplished run blockers when they were in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). Only four teams ran the ball more frequently from 12 personnel than the Colts (the Eagles, Bengals, Rams and Bills), which pointed to just how much trust Reich and his staff had in Doyle and Alie-Cox as run blockers.

(Among regularly-playing tight ends, Doyle and Alie-Cox ranked second and sixth in Pro Football Focus' run blocking grade.)

So without Doyle, the Colts offense will need to find some new wrinkles to not only run the ball effectively – but get the ball into the hands of Kylen Granson, who played about 20 percent of the team's offensive snaps as a rookie and caught 11 passes for 106 yards.

Ballard said the Colts believe Granson, a 2021 fourth-round pick, has "big upside," while Owner and CEO Jim Irsay pointed to Granson's explosiveness and ability to generate yards after the catch as encouraging traits. And with the Colts' goal of having a more effective passing offense in 2022, Granson could wind up playing a key role in it alongside Alie-Cox at tight end.

"We'll adapt," Reich said. "We adapted last year with Jack and Mo. We didn't have — Kylen's a good player, we think he has a possibility to be a playmaking tight end, but we want to try to put the best 11 guys on the field. We couldn't take Jack and Mo off the field, they're too good of football players. So what do you do? You emphasize that personnel group and you accentuate the running game a little bit because they're both really good at it.

"But we know, as has already been stated by me and you guys and everybody else, is that a great run game isn't going to be enough anymore."

Another weapon to consider

Running back Nyheim Hines set a career high in yards per touch (6.1) in 2021, yet his 96 touches tied a career low and his 40 receptions were a career low.

"I'm not giving up any trade secrets," Reich said. "We're trying to give him touches and give him the ball."

It was notable back at the NFL Combine, when Ballard was asked about the state of the Colts' offensive weapons, that he included Hines alongside Taylor and Pittman – both of whom had hugely productive 2021 seasons. Ballard said the Colts may get Hines some work in the slot this year, but another aspect to getting Hines involved may be having Ryan under center.

"I think Matt's the kind of quarterback who would want to get him involved as well," Reich said. "We don't want to force it, we don't have to force it, but it can be — we're going to spread the ball around. We can make it a point to continue to develop Nyheim in every aspect that we can utilize him — as a runner, when we use him out there in the slot as a receiver and do some of the different things we do."

So, to be clear: The Colts, who signed Hines to an extension last fall, very much view him as an important part of their plans.

"He needs to be a big part of the offense because he's a valuable player for the organization and is a weapon," Ballard said. "And you gotta defend him when he's out there."

A good first impression

A day after the Colts traded for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, Reich had a chance to chat with him at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. He knew what kind of player the 26-year-old is – Ngakoue recorded at least one sack against the Colts every year of his career – but he quickly learned what kind of person joined his team.

"You talk to him, and I always love this — it's never a surprise, but you talk to these good players, and it takes about one minute to figure out, oh, this guy's really smart," Reich said. "Like, it's not just physical talent. He knows how to play the game. He knows how to think about it."

As for the physical talent, Ngakoue brings 55 1/2 sacks in six seasons to the Colts this year – and his 351 hurries are second only to Aaron Donald since he debuted in 2016.

"It's just proven production with sacks and hurries — affect the quarterback, affect the quarterback," Reich said. "He's been a playmaker, that's been proven. He's hard to block. He's got that combination of speed and bend around the edge, an experienced, savvy player."

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