Welcome to the first edition of FPC Colts Mailbag, where our managing editor, Ben Pfeifer, answers your questions. In this edition, we cover everything from Malik Hooker to the running back room. To be on the next edition, submit your questions to @FPC_Colts on Twitter.
How is the Colts’ linebacker corps looking right now?
Anthony Walker has cleared his concussion protocol, meaning he should be good to go for training camp. He will have the chance to step up and be the Colts’ primary MIKE linebacker. He will have to cut some weight if he wants to be able to cover, which is so vital for linebackers in the modern NFL.
Darius Leonard will likely see a lot of work early in Nickel and Dime packages, as he may be the best cover linebacker on the Colts right now. He’s rangy and has solid instincts. Since the NFL is moving to a place where cover linebackers are at a premium, look out for undrafted rookie Skai Moore to get significant minutes. A cover specialist in college, he’s not very athletic but has great instincts in zone.
Antonio Morrison will likely start on the strong side as he’s the thumping run stopper of the group. I assume the Colts will be using John Simon as a hybrid SAM linebacker and defensive end. He played well last year rushing the passer and stopping the run and should transition well to the strong side linebacker position. In the nickel, he probably plays as a pass rusher, hoping to get to the quarterback on third downs.
What’s your confidence level in the Colts’ running back group?
I feel pretty good about this running back group. I think Marlon Mack should be ready to take on the load as the primary runner in this room but he won’t be fully leaned on. As we saw last year, he is a tough, elusive runner who breaks the big play but can also take it between the tackles. I don’t think he’s a true workhorse but he shouldn’t have to be. Nyhiem Hines should see ample work as well as not only a spell back but as a slot receiver and a gadget player. He’s electric fast and should play a similar role to Corey Clement.
I’m still not sure where Jordan Wilkins fits in. I wasn’t a big fan of his tape and still question why the Colts took him over John Kelly but he’s reported been performing well in camp. He’s big, strong, fast, and has good vision but he doesn’t run tough from what I’ve seen. I hope he proves me wrong and outperforms my expectations. If he’s healthy, Robert Turbin should remain as the short yardage and pass protection specialist.
What is your outlook on the Colts’ secondary? How comfortable are they with stopping the deep pass?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t have much confidence in this secondary. Cornerback may be the weakest position on this roster and letting Rashaan Melvin walk certainly won’t help. Considering Oakland only paid him $5.5 million over one season, I would have liked to see the Colts keep him around for a year.
Quincy Wilson definitely showed flashes in his rookie campaign but I’m unsure if the former second-round pick will be able to be the shutdown corner that the Colts need. Nate Hairston played well in the nickel last season and he should continue to perform at a high level in 2018. Cornerback two across from Wilson will be a big issue. The job will either go to Pierre Desir, Chris Milton, Kenny Moore, or a surprise player who steps up. None of those are CB2 material and opposing teams will pick on them even if Wilson steps up his game.
Matt Eberflus will likely run quite a bit of zone to rely on Malik Hooker’s ball-hawking ability. If he plays like he did before his injury, Hooker will cover for plenty of mistakes by the corner. His elite range and closing speed, which will be invaluable in protecting the Colts’ young corners.
The other safety position is also a question mark. Clayton Geathers is a good enforcer when he’s healthy but he’s more of a nickel linebacker than a safety in my eyes. T.J. Green’s frame and speed give him potential at safety but he’s been absolutely awful on the field. Matthias Farley may end up taking the second deep safety spot for his solid coverage and run stopping ability. All in all, this secondary has a lot to prove and must step up if the Colts want to be competitive in 2018.
I am getting the feeling Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers will not be ready by week one. Thoughts?
Hooker has been limited in offseason activities as of now but the Colts are happy with his progress. But due to the severity of his MCL and ACL tears, nothing is certain at the moment. As for Geathers, the Colts are being careful with him but they’re confident he’ll be ready to go for training camp.
Did Braden Smith or Darius Leonard sign yet? If no, what’s the hold-up?
Both remain unsigned but it’s really too early to have any significant concern. They’re most likely not happy with the contract they’ve been offered.
Who will be the Colts’ back up center? Deyshawn Bond or Joe Haeg?
Haeg will likely be competing for a starting job at right tackle. Even if he doesn’t win the job, he’ll likely be prioritized as depth at the guard and tackle positions. Expect Bond to take up backup center duties.
The Colts have a ton of tight ends. Will they roster four or five? Trade one?
The Colts have four very solid tight ends on the roster: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Erik Swoope, and Darrell Daniels. The Colts also have tight ends Mo Alie-Cox and Ross Travis but I doubt either make the roster. Doyle is obviously a lock at starting tight end. Ebron is very intriguing as a receiver and should see significant touches in the offense. Swoope hasn’t been able to be on the field but he’s shown flashes of brilliance as a receiver in his limited time. I also believe Daniels has significant upside as a runner and a blocker. Due to Frank Reich’s tight end-friendly offense, I expect the Colts to roster four tight ends.
Do the colts only carry five wide receivers because of tight end depth?
I only expect five wide receivers to make the roster: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Daurice Fountain, and Deon Cain. Expect guys like K.J. Brent, Krishawn Hogan, and Steve Ishmael to make the practice squad. Given Frank Reich’s scheme and Nick Sirianni’s propensity for developing receivers, I don’t think the Colts need more than five wideouts on the roster.
Any updates on Malik Hooker, Darius Leonard, and Marlon Mack? Are they expected to be ready-to-go for training camp?
I touched on Hooker earlier. Leonard’s been pestered by a hamstring injury all offseason but he hopes to be good to go for camp. He should be the starter at weakside linebacker if he’s healthy week 1. Mack underwent surgery for his torn labrum in the offseason and there’s a fair chance that he isn’t good to go for training camp. He still should be ready for week 1 but expect the Colts’ other backs to feature more in the offseason.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.