Michael W. (San Jose, Calif.): “What is generally the best way to “grade” a punter? It seems like punt yards per attempt/net yards and punts inside the 20 are all dependent on average field position. Ie a punter on a good offense may have more opportunities for inside the 20, but a lower punt distance, and vice versa for a bad offense. And where does Rigoberto rank among other punters?”
Walker: To me, the best punters aren’t necessarily the ones with the more impressive legs, but, to your points, Michael, they answer these two questions: what do they do to flip field position, regardless of where they’re kicking from? And do they give their coverage units a chance to make a play? In my opinion, Rigoberto Sanchez is excellent in both of these areas, which is why the team felt compelled to sign him to a contract extension this year just before the start of training camp. Since the start of the 2017 season, Sanchez’s rookie season, his 42.6-yard net punting average ranks fifth in the NFL, but perhaps more importantly, teams are averaging just 4.7 yards per return on Sanchez punts since that same time — that’s the lowest figure in the entire NFL. This season, Sanchez is right up there again: seventh in the NFL in net punting average (42.3), and fourth in return average against (5.3 yards). Then, what Sanchez adds as a solid kickoff specialist on top of his punting duties is an added bonus. The Colts have been fortunate to have some really good punters over the years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pro Bowl was in Sanchez’s future in the not-so-distant future.
Jeff H. (Henderson, Tenn.): “Why did the Colts wait till week 15 and basically out of the playoffs before they signed Dontrelle Inman??? How could they have not foreseen the WR debacle when Funchess did not recover from his clavicle injury?”
Walker: Dontrelle Inman was waived/injured from the Los Angeles Chargers’ injured reserve list on Nov. 25. The team announced that Devin Funchess would not be moved back to the active roster and would revert to injured reserve on Dec. 1. The very next day, the team brought in Inman for a workout, and that week, he said, they tried to sign him, but he declined. He eventually did decide to sign with the Colts on Tuesday. So that’s the exact timeline.
Rose G. (New Orleans): “Why doesn’t Jonathan William’s play more. I think he’s a strong reliable player.”
Walker: Jonathan Williams did a tremendous job carrying the load at running back while Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins were down with their respective injures across Weeks 11 and 12, running for 100 yards in both of those matchups against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans. But once Wilkins got fully healthy in Week 13, and Mack got back on the field last week, that means they’re simply going to get a bulk of the carries as the top two running backs on the depth chart (Nyheim Hines, of course, will get his touches, too, but Mack and Wilkins are the top “traditional” backs). I think if you’re the Colts, you feel fortunate to have such tremendous depth at the running back position and know that if anybody goes down, you have multiple players that can step in and produce right away; it’s just in this case, with a fully-healthy group of players at the position, you’re going to stick with your depth chart, plain and simple.
Gerald G. (Indianapolis): “Now that Eric Enron is out for the rest of the season, what are the plans for utilizing Jack Doyle? Will it be more toward receiving or blocking? Are there plans for acquiring another TE to help out?”
Walker: To answer your second question, Gerald, it seems that for now the Colts are set on using three tight ends moving forward in Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox and Ross Travis. As for Doyle, I think Eric Ebron’s absence certainly has meant maybe a few more targets in the pass game each week moving forward; in the two games since Ebron went on injured reserve, in fact, Doyle has caught 8-of-17 targets for 100 yards and one touchdown, and those numbers could’ve been even better had Jacoby Brissett been able to connect with Doyle on a few crucial plays during last Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So I think Doyle will continue just chugging along and being a threat as a pass catcher and as a blocker in the run game, and then Alie-Cox, whose been playing through a broken (and surgically-repaired) broken thumb should see a few more targets as that injury continues to improve, and then Travis is always a guy capable of filling Ebron’s shoes as the more athletic playmaking receiver threat down the field.
Brandon S. (Orient, Ohio): “How can someone try out for the team in the offseason?”
Walker: As far as I know the Colts don’t hold any sort of team tryouts, Brandon. There is the annual NFL Regional Combine Invitational, but that is limited to participants that are draft-eligible for the upcoming NFL Draft, have played college football within the last year and have used all of their NCAA college eligibility, according to the league.
Mary H. (Martinsville, Ind.): “Which players will become free agents at the end of this season?”
Walker: According to Spotrac.com, the Colts have 13 players set to become unrestricted free agents heading into the 2020 season, as well as three restricted free agents and seven exclusive rights free agents to-be. This is all unofficial, but gives you a general idea (we’ll have an official list, as well as plenty of free agency coverage and analysis, once the offseason begins):
Pending free agents: tackle Anthony Castonzo, wide receiver Devin Funchess, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, tight end Eric Ebron, kicker Adam Vinatieri, wide receiver Chester Rogers, safety Clayton Geathers, wide receiver Dontrelle Inman, tackle/guard Le’Raven Clark, safety Isaiah Johnson, running back Jonathan Williams, guard/center Josh Andrews, guard/tackle Joe Haeg
Pending restricted free agents: defensive tackle Trevon Coley, tight end Ross Travis, wide receiver Chad Williams
Pending exclusive rights free agents: wide receiver Marcus Johnson, safety Kai Nacua, quarterback Chad Kelly, wide receiver Zach Pascal, tight end Mo Alie-Cox, safety Rolan Milligan, wide receiver Daurice Fountain
Bob B. (Deltona, Fla.): “I have a comment……………….Ballard has done a better job than Grigson 2 improve and upgrade the team……………but what bothers me and other Colts fans is his relucyance 2 trade or sign a good free agent 2 help………………..case in point…………..he drafts Parris Campbell and passes on D.K. Metcalf………………Campbell hasn’t done a darn thing only 2 be constantly inactive where as Metcalf starts for Seattle and has played in every game……….what’s wrong with this picture ?…………..and watching Rock Ya-Sin , he plays scared…………”
Walker: Bob, if you can accurately predict football injuries, then I bet there are a few teams that would like to speak to you about providing your services. Parris Campbell, just like D.K. Metcalf, was regarded as one of the top receiver prospects heading into the 2019 NFL Draft; mock drafts had both guys going all over the place in the first couple of rounds, so to try to compare the two after three-fourths of their rookie seasons seems, to me, to be a pretty useless exercise. The Colts saw (and continue to see) Campbell as a guy who can line up all over the formation and utilize his raw speed to get yards in big chunks. Unfortunately, Campbell has suffered four different injuries this year since August: a hamstring injury during training camp, an abdominal injury Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders, a fractured hand Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a fractured foot last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Campbell did not have a history of injuries coming out of Ohio State, and none of his injuries suffered this year, in my mind, can be looked at as anything but tough luck. Let’s give the guy a break and see if he can come back in 2020 to be the weapon Frank Reich and the Colts are confident he can be.
Daniel S. (West Lafayette, Ind.): “Hey, Andrew! Two questions. First, what do you think has been the biggest difference between our success last year and our mediocrity this year? Can we chalk it up to injuries? Coaching? Does it just come down to luck? Or does it just come down to Luck?
Secondly, a more general question about the NFL: why have I never seen anyone intentionally fumble? Obviously you almost always want to hold onto it, but let’s say it’s 4th down and you’re getting tackled short of the chains. Why not toss it forward a couple yards? With luck, your team recovers and makes the first down. If not, the opponent gets it a couple yards father back. Or what about if you’re trying to stop the clock and you can’t get out of bounds: why not throw the ball out? I know the rule is you can’t throw forward if you’re in front of the line of scrimmage, and yet somehow if you fumble it and it goes forward, your team can still recover it. That’s always seemed a little strange to me, and I wonder if anyone has tried to test the lines, and what rules are in place to prevent abuse?”
Walker: To me, the biggest difference between last year’s successful run and this year’s second-half struggles simply comes down to fourth quarter execution. In 2018, the Colts played plenty of close games, and down the stretch it just seemed like they were able to make the plays necessary to shut the door and earn a victory. For whatever reason, that isn’t happening with any sort of consistency this year; the team got off to a 5-2 start this season by following that same formula from 2018, but has been 1-5 since. The team will never use this excuse, but I also don’t think it’s out of line to mention to some degree that injuries have certainly made their mark throughout this season, especially at wide receiver and in the secondary. But, to me, as simple as it sounds, it comes down to whether or not you’re making plays to win ballgames, and preventing the other team from doing the same; the Colts haven’t been able to do that with any sort of consistency over the second half of this season.
And real quick, on your question about fumbling: the NFL rules state that if it’s fourth down and a fumble occurs, the player who fumbled the ball is the only person from his team permitted to recover and advance the ball. “If the recovery or catch is by a teammate of the player who fumbled, the ball is dead, and the spot of the next snap is the spot of the fumble, or the spot of the recovery if the spot of the recovery is behind the spot of the fumble.”
Martin H. (Rochester, Ind.): “First of all, great job with the mailbag ! Really enjoy all the questions, opinions, and insight. My question/comment is how can we not focus the 2020 draft on getting corners and safeties that can cover opposing wide receivers one-on-one ? This seems to me to be the most glaring weakness on our team. The rest of the defensive unit seems solid, but the secondary simply is not that good. I vote for spending the first three rounds entirely on corners and safeties. Another pass rusher would be nice too. Perhaps GM Ballard could pick up a couple experienced corners/safeties on free agency ? We just simply have to get better back there to compete with all the elite passers and receivers in the NFL !”
Walker: Thanks for your continued support of the Colts Mailbag, Martin! I don’t look at the Colts’ secondary and think it’s in line for many changes heading into 2020, if I’m being honest. At cornerback, you have two top guys who earned new contracts this offseason in Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore II, and then you have two 2019 draft picks in Rock Ya-Sin and Marvell Tell III who have a ton of upside at the position, while Quincy Wilson is also set to return for the fourth and final year of his rookie deal next year. Do you maybe try to find someone to come in and compete to back up Moore II as your backup slot cornerback? Perhaps. At safety, we know for sure starters Malik Hooker and Khari Willis will be back in 2020, as will key piece of depth/special teams standout George Odum, while another key depth guy, Rolan Milligan is set to become an exclusive rights free agent, so the team could easily decide to bring him back into the fold. Safety Clayton Geathers, meanwhile, is the only player at either position set to become an unrestricted free agent, so his future status is more up in the air. So I see no more than two potential spots on next year’s 53-man roster that are realistically up for the taking between cornerback and safety for the Colts. I think the recent issues in the secondary have simply come down to communication and execution, which are easily fixable, especially with an offseason to pour over the film and work out the kinks.
Bob S. (Alvin, Texas): “I am impressed by the emergence of Marcus Johnson. He has exceeded my expectations and hopefully the expectations of his coaches. Any predictions about Marcus role with the Colts moving forward ?”
Walker: I was really intrigued by Marcus Johnson’s potential role after the team acquired him in a trade just before the start of the 2018 season, and was disappointed to see his season end in Week 6 just as he was starting to get more involved in the offense. Once he recovered from that ankle injury, Johnson was definitely one of my darkhorse candidates to watch at wide receiver during training camp this year, but a concussion suffered during the preseason finale — and just the simple numbers game at the position at the time — didn’t immediately lead to a spot on the initial 2019 53-man roster. So maybe that’s why I’m just not really surprised at all that Johnson has been able to take advantage of his opportunities since re-joining the Colts a few weeks back. They obviously needed someone to come in and make plays at the wide receiver position with all the injuries there, and Johnson not only is very familiar with Frank Reich’s system (they also were together in Philadelphia when Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator), but he began building a rapport with Jacoby Brissett when he was the backup/scout team quarterback last year, which has carried over into this season. Johnson, unofficially, is set to become an exclusive rights free agent heading into the offseason, meaning the team could easily bring him back onto its 2020 90-man offseason roster and give him another shot at earning a spot heading into Week 1 once again.
Craig V. (Humboldt, Iowa): “_Obviously it is time to fire Colts’ defensive coordinator, right? Or maybe the entire coaching staff? Yesterday’s defensive debacle, after a 5-2 season start, has this team continuing its 2019 freefall. Wasn’t GM Chris Ballard hired to bring in the right head coach to right the ship after Chuck Pagano was fired? Sure, key injuries have more than hurt Indy, but the defense is a JOKE!!! But Frank Reich? What has he done as head coach to improve things? NOTHING!! This team once led the AFC South, but now, look at them! Losers of 5 of 6, stop the bleeding!!!! Too late for 2019 playoffs. The team is in disarray and needs fixing, badly, but where to start? _”
Walker: Craig, I understand the frustration about the way the 2019 season has played out, particularly over the last six weeks. But making wholesale changes just two years into this coaching staff’s regime? Look across the league — that just doesn’t happen, unless teams are really struggling. The Colts are a more-than-capable football team with a bright future that just hasn’t been able to execute late in games the second half of this season. Also, defensively, I think it’s important to note that the Colts are in much better overall shape than they’ve been in years; from 2010 through 2017, when looking at Football Outsiders’ “Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average,” or DVOA, ranking, the Colts came in at 24th, 26th, 31st, 16th, 13th, 13th, 29th and 27th. Since Matt Eberflus has taken over as Indy’s defensive coordinator, the Colts have ranked 10th and 15th (so far) in this metric. It’s a very young unit that has tons of promise and a superstar already leading the way in Darius Leonard. Last week’s Buccaneers game was not Indy’s defense’s best effort by any means, but you can’t let that overshadow the way the team has been defending all season as a whole, particularly since that Week 5 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Let’s see how the rest of the regular season plays out and what moves the team makes over the offseason heading into the 2020 season and then re-assess things from that point? Sound good?