Time To Make A Change
Chase W. (Garrett, Ind.): “How is it looking for us to possibly get another free agent WR or trade for another WR?”
Tailgate Party Time
Walker: While I’d never rule anything out, it seems as if wide receiver is a position the Colts are comfortable moving forward with after making those couple additions in the draft in Michael Pittman Jr. and Dezmon Patmon. In the previous Colts Mailbag, I discussed the possibility of the team maybe exploring a veteran free agent to add help add even more depth along the offensive line, but I think the Colts’ wide receiver situation is a bit different. When you’re talking about offensive line depth, you’re generally discussing guys who rarely would see the field at all, but would obviously need to be ready to go and play at a high level at a moment’s notice should anything happen to one of the five starters. At wide receiver, however, if you’re one of the four, five or six guys on the active roster, chances are you’re going to at the very least be playing a role on special teams, if not playing a varying role on offense, too, as one of the top three or four wideouts on the depth chart. I think the top four at wide receiver for the Colts — T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell and Pittman Jr. — is a very solid group; after injury-plagued 2019 seasons, getting Hilton and Campbell fully healthy in 2020 should be huge. All four of those guys have the ability to lineup all over the formation and make plays, but head Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni mainly see them excelling at specific roles. Getting Pittman Jr., meanwhile, kind of eliminated the need to find another X-receiver type in free agency. Then those last one or two spots on the depth chart at wide receiver will likely go to the guys who help you out most on special teams, and the Colts at this point are going to have nine guys battling it out for those positions. So barring any unforeseen injuries to one of the top wideouts, I think the Colts are pretty comfortable with what they have at the position heading into training camp.
Keaton F. (Selby, S.D.): “Do you think with our coaching staff we could make Xavier Rhodes and TJ Carrie good again and how do you feel about the pick up of Philip and Deforest that we could be a Super Bowl team again”
Walker: When it comes to Xavier Rhodes, I don’t think there’s ever been a point where he wasn’t considered a “good” cornerback. I mean, Rhodes admitted to some struggles last season, but he was still selected to his third Pro Bowl, so that shows you what the fans and his fellow players and coaches around the league think of him. I think what you’re hoping for if you’re the Colts is that you can help Rhodes capitalize on the massive chip on his shoulder after he was released by the Minnesota Vikings earlier this offseason. They envision Rhodes getting back to his 2017 form, when he was one of the key pieces to Minnesota’s No. 1-ranked defense and earned First-Team All-Pro honors. The fact two of Rhodes’ former Vikings defensive coaches are on the Indy staff — cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon and safeties coach Alan Williams — should only help matters. As for T.J. Carrie, I’ll address him below.
Jordan K. (Fontana, Calif): “I want to know why that how come that we get Prime Time games on the road and not at home? Also Walker I want to hear your thoughts on what style or role do you think TJ Carrie will bring to Indy? Go Colts!”
Walker: After crunching the numbers for this article exploring the disparity in home vs. road primetime games for the Colts since 2012, I came to this conclusion: in most cases, there really seems to be no rhyme or reason for it. The Colts have, or will have, played 74 percent of their primetime games from 2012-20 on the road, the highest percentage in the league by far, relatively speaking. If you rule out the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have or will have played just eight primetime games during that same span, it’s the Las Vegas/Oakland Raiders who have played the most home primetime games; out of their 23 total Sunday, Monday and Thursday night contests, six have been or will be on the road, or about 26 percent. I don’t see why there’s a 48-percent disparity between the Colts, who have made the playoffs five times since 2012 and even advanced to the AFC Championship Game one time, and the Raiders, who have averaged less than six wins a season and made one playoff appearance (losing in the Wild Card Round that year) during that same span. I’m not picking on the Raiders, of course, but this is just one example. If you’re Frank Reich, all you can do is tell your players to force the league’s hand by playing so well that it has no other choice but to schedule the Colts for more games under the lights, but those are certainly eye-opening numbers to see.
With T.J. Carrie, I think you know what you’re getting going in: a veteran guy — he turns 30 in July — who brings plenty of experience playing both outside and in the slot, who also can bring value on special teams. The 6-foot, 204-pound Carrie has collected 331 total tackles (12 for a loss) with five interceptions, 43 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, two sacks and five quarterback hits in his first six NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns, so ideally Carrie will come in and compete for that valuable backup nickel cornerback spot behind Kenny Moore II and also have the ability to make plays covering punts and kickoffs.
Devin S. (Columbus, Ind.): “With our jersey changes is there a chance we will have a black uni design ? I think everyone agrees that would look cool”
Walker: I only wish I was included in those discussions, Devin, because I totally nerd out when it comes to sports uniforms, particularly those in the NFL, MLB and the NBA. So that being said, I don’t know what could be coming down the pike when it comes to future Colts uniform designs (beyond what was announced earlier this offseason), but I will say a promising development is the addition of “Anvil Black” to the team’s colors, which at the very least creates the possibility of something significant being designed in that color down the road. I don’t know if or when that would ever happen, but to borrow the words of the lovable Lloyd Christmas in the movie Dumb and Dumber: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
Andrew E. (Dayton, Ind.): “Hello been a while since I’ve written in, was wondering what you think our win total could be this year? I personally think we take back the division and make the playoffs but anything can happen. Also who do you think has a better rookie year, Jonathan Taylor or Pittman jr?”
Walker: Hey Andrew, thanks for writing in again. So I addressed this a little bit in in the previous edition of the Colts Mailbag, but I, personally, am not a big prognosticator when it comes to win totals, but I do try to keep a close eye on what the outside expectations are from various league experts. And the general consensus I’m seeing is that the Colts are expected to finish in the nine- to 11-win range, putting them atop the AFC South Division (or at least tied for the lead) in most scenarios. USA TODAY has the Colts at 11-5 and AFC South champs; CBS SportsLine has the Colts at 8.5 wins, tied for the most in the division with the Tennessee Titans; ESPN.com has the Colts at 10-6 and tied atop the division with the Titans; and ESPN’s Mike Clay has the Colts favored in 10.1 games, which is more than two total wins better than the second-place Titans (8.0). So after some bad breaks in 2019 that led to a 7-9 overall record, it seems as though the outside consensus is that the Colts will have done enough to turn that back around, and maybe even then some, in 2020.
Gary S. (Erie, Penn.): “Do you think there will be any offensive sets with both Mack and Taylor in the backfield ? I would love to see it as i think it would be a nightmare to defend…Alot of options i think could open up….”
Walker: With Frank Reich calling the plays, I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out. Heck, I wouldn’t mind seeing a formation with Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines all out there. If you’re an opposing defense, what could possibly be going through your mind? In all seriousness, Reich has indicated for the most part the team will be utilizing traditional one-back sets, and when it does include two backs — maybe five to 10 times a game — that’s when fullback Roosevelt Nix could be involved. But Reich does like mixing it up and tossing that curveball to the defense, so I’m interested to see what formations come out during training camp that might be utilized during the regular season. Lots of possibilities.
(Name redacted): “Who is the hardest player in the NFL to tackle and who is the most satisfying quarterback in the NFL to sack/pick off? Gotta ask the experts: the most elite line backing core in the NFL.”
Walker: I included this question as amusement because it’s still amazing to me how many people confuse Colts.com writer Andrew Walker with Colts linebacker Anthony Walker. Anthony’s a super smart dude with all sorts of outside interests, but I don’t think he’ll be answering Mailbag questions on the team website anytime soon. But I will say this: if and when Chris Ballard or Frank Reich are ready to add me to the roster, I’ll gladly answer this question for everybody. Speaking of quarterbacks…
Steve G. (Jonesville, Va.): “Please tell me It’s not true that the COLTS were looking at TB12 in free agency? I still don’t know what to think about Rivers. Having that connection with oc and hc makes Rivers more palatable. But TB12 NOT IN MY LIFETIME PLEASE. Long time COLT fan for ever ne hater. Love the Mailbag thank you for it.”
Walker: Yes, Steve, the Colts were at one point looking at Tom Brady in free agency. If you’re the Colts, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you’re not actively exploring the best options at each position each and every offseason, and Brady just happened to be one of many quarterbacks that were going to be hitting the open market. Ultimately, for a number of reasons, the team went ahead and pursued, and signed, another one of those veteran free agent quarterbacks in Philip Rivers, and everybody involved is extremely excited about what he can bring to the offense this season, in large part because of that connection you mentioned with Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni. And, look, I get it: I grew up rooting for the Colts teams that had those fierce battles against Brady and the New England Patriots. I can’t tell you how loud I screamed when Marlin Jackson picked Brady off to seal the victory in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, or how hard I pumped my fist when the Colts got the big “4th and 2” stop in 2009. But when arguably the greatest player in NFL history becomes available and you are already exploring options at that guy’s position, you cast all that bad blood against your team aside and try to do what’s best for franchise in the here and now.
Since a lot of sports fans caught ESPN’s 10-part documentary The Last Dance, in recent weeks, I’ll make this comparison: there were players on the Chicago Bulls who absolutely despised Dennis Rodman after years of brutal battles against his “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons teams. But in 1995, the Bulls knew they were missing a tough defensive presence, as well as someone who could clean up on the boards, so they acquired their old nemesis Rodman in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs, and they went on to win three straight NBA titles. The Bulls were able to cast their previous … issues … with Rodman aside for the good of the team, and it paid off handsomely for them.
Seth H. (Minster, Ohio): “What role do you see Nyheim Hines playing this year with the addition of Jonathan Taylor to an already loaded backfield?”
Walker: I’ve mentioned in a recent Colts Mailbag that I think Nyheim Hines is on the precipice of a potentially huge year, and I think the acquisition of Philip Rivers has a lot to do with that. Hines has always drawn comparisons to Darren Sproles, and it was Sproles that logged 146 receptions for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns (while also running 249 times for 1,154 yards and another six scores on the ground) during his time with the San Diego Chargers from 2005 through 2010 when Rivers was his quarterback. And since that time, Rivers has built connections with a couple other running backs with similar skillsets to Hines in Danny Woodhead and Austin Ekeler. So the Colts have a quarterback who loves to work with shifty running backs like Hines who can get the job done running routes out of the backfield.
But since that was written, I was able to pose this question to offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni during his May 11 video conference call with local reporters:
I’m sure you’ll get a lot about Philip Rivers, but I wanted to ask more about his past with tight ends and pass-catching running backs. It’s hard to not envision him doing the same here. With Nyheim Hines especially, if all goes to plan, do you think he’s a guy who could have his role possibly expand? What could that possibly look like?
Sirianni: “Yeah, where I think Philip is really outstanding, he has this great ability to find the running back out of the backfield whether we’re scheming for that guy or whether it just happens within a protection, where he goes through his progression and finds that back. So I think for sure Nyheim will benefit from that. Just like, we had Danny Woodhead when Frank (Reich) and I were together with the Chargers, and I think one year Danny had 80 catches. Yeah, Nyheim is going to benefit big time from playing with Philip Rivers. There’s no question about that.”
Tyson P. (Pottsville, Penn.): “What do you feel was the biggest and most impactful draft pick ?”
Walker: If we’re talking immediate impact, then I can certainly see wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor playing key roles for the Colts’ offense right away. Pittman Jr. is a natural fit to make plays from that “X” receiver spot on the outside, while Taylor is projected to team up with Marlon Mack to form one of the more dangerous 1-2 running back punches in the NFL. And then I’m also very interested to see Julian Blackmon’s potential role on defense when he’s able to make a full return from his December knee surgery, which general manager Chris Ballard is hoping can happen by October; Blackmon has the cover skills of a cornerback, but the range and hitting abilities of a safety, and could find himself lined up all over the field for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. I can also see sixth-round pick Jordan Glasgow potentially earning a spot right away if he can prove himself to be the same special teams ace at the professional level that he was at Michigan. The rest of the class — quarterback Jacob Eason, guard Danny Pinter, defensive tackle Robert Windsor, cornerback Isaiah Rodgers and wide receiver Dezmon Patmon — all, at this point, seem to project as key pieces of depth at their respective positions, or as guys you develop to eventually take on larger roles within the next year or two.