2018 was a pleasant surprise for the majority of Indianapolis Colts fans. Their team went 10-6, strolled through the wild card round like it was a Houston sightseeing tour, then lost to the Chiefs in the divisional round. Needless to say, those Colts outperformed nearly every fan, critic, analyst, and reporter’s expectations.
But it wasn’t just the play on the field that helped those pesky Colts overcome a 1-5 start. Many of these players were helping their teammates perform better, while they, themselves, were off the field. This is what we are going to dive into today, the Colts players that helped their compatriots, when they were not making first down plays, or stopping the other team from scoring. Locker room, sideline coaching, and film rooms were a norm for a few of these outstanding players. Going above and beyond what their contract said they had to do, to help each and every Colt be on the same page, and excel at what those players do.
The first on my list is Anthony Walker Jr. Yes, he is a MIKE linebacker, and yes, it is his job to study the offense and make sure the defense is in the right position to stop them. Yes, he has to be a locker room leader, because, without that, the defense won’t respect his call’s on the field. But to go in on a Monday morning (normally a day off for players, win or lose), and begin the arduous task of watching film on the next team he plays, is above and beyond. Without coaches beside him, he would break down QB’s and Rb’s, offensive line tendencies, and other intricacies that team did. Then, without hesitation, he would share this info with his fellow defensive players. Even explaining things to the young guy’s on the team, like Darius Leonard. Leonard himself had stated that Walker was a huge help to him developing into the 1st team All-Pro linebacker he became.
Are there awards for such behavior? No. Recognition? Nope. Cash incentive? Nada. Just the publicity that writer’s like I give when we hear about these types of acts. And to think, he knows that what he is doing, could indeed help usurp himself from his starter position some day. Does he worry? I sincerely doubt it. It is about winning, and when you are possessed of these type of leadership skills, it really helps your job security anyhow.
Next on my list is Mike Mitchell. The safety was a free agent until October 9th, 2018. This is when the Colts signed him on because of injuries to their secondary. They got a lot more than they bargained for. Not only did he step in right away and provided a physical presence to the secondary, but he also provided ‘spark’ plays that ignited the team to victory on a few occasions. But I digress, this is not about his on the field play, right? Nope, so what did he do to get put on this list? Took on a leadership role like I mentioned Walker had done as well.
The cornerback position, minus Desir, is a very young unit. Quincy Wilson was in his sophomore season as a Colts CB and was having troubles diagnosing things. College is a different animal than the pros, and he had issues breaking down tape, something he didn’t have to do much when he was a Florida Gator. When he saw the on-the-field play of Mitchell, he asked him for help, and Mitchell delivered.
Spending extra time in the film room with Wilson, Mike began teaching him how to break down tape. Watching quarterback tendencies so he knew when and where they would throw. This knowledge is key for any defensive back, it allows them to know where to position themselves when covering a receiver, and when to break on the play before it actually happens. Wilson’s on the field play after his study sessions with Mitchel improved dramatically. No longer was he a possible liability. He was breaking up passes, and jumping in front of back shoulder throw’s, picking them off, almost immediately afterward. Hooray for Mitchel! He may have single handily helped save Wilson’s career in the NFL.
Another unspoken hero was a massive (literally and figuratively speaking) help in the trenches. When the 2018 season started, Matt Slauson was the starting right guard. Known for being a people mover with a nastiness about him, Slauson was signed to do just that. But fate intervened. Around halftime on Thursday, October 8th, playing against the Patriots, Slauson suffered an unknown injury to his back. However, he pushed through this pain and played the rest of the game with the injury. Come to find out, Matt had a broken back! Two broken vertebrae didn’t stop the big, tough guy from finishing playing in the trenches of an NFL football game! But he was immediately put on injured reserve, following an MRI that showed exactly how close he was to being permanently paralyzed.
This still didn’t stop the big guy from helping where he could. After his procedure to repair the vertebrae, and got some healing done, he began showing up on the sidelines of games anyhow! What did Indy’s brass need to do to keep this guy off the field for his own safety?! Not to worry however, he wasn’t there to play, he was helping the young offensive line in a different way. With two rookies and a 3rd-year player, along with another, younger, free agent pick up from earlier in the season, he was there to give them advice, and help coach them.
Though he couldn’t play himself, he had a ton of knowledge from his nine-year career, and he wasn’t all about hoarding it for himself. In-game adjustments happen on the fly, and Slauson’s presence/knowledge was invaluable to those young linemen on the field. His words of wisdom helped turn the offensive line around, going on a five-game streak where Andrew Luck was never sacked. And Marlon Mack, and the rest of the run game began churning yards all over opposing defenses. That Line ended up being #1 in the NFL in 2018, giving up only 18 sacks on the season! And Mack had four 100+ yard games in the time span, after Slauson’s injury, during the regular season, (not including the 148-yard performance against the Texans in the playoff’s). He decided to retire after the season was over, and shot down coaching questions from the media shortly after. But his leadership on the sidelines and locker room, was definitely a help to the Colts success this past season.
The last guy on my list was not even on the Colts payroll and hasn’t been for a few years now. But ex-Colts wide receiver, turned NFL.com analyst, Reggie Wayne, showed up for training camp as a volunteer receiver’s coach! The future Hall of Famer came to Indy to help, even though he was in the midst of his own job and priorities. Teaching the young receivers a thing or two on how to be a success, on and off the field, and giving his many secrets that he has learned over the years as a wide receiver himself. Knowledge gained past coaches, former teammates (such as Marvin Harrison), and of course playing fourteen years at the highest level.
Rookies like Deon Cain and Daurice Fountain were there, soaking in any and all knowledge this role model would offer. Many people (including yours truly,) was taken aback by the loyalty to the Colts he showed by doing something as unselfish as this. It truly took me back down memory lane, imagining how the players could prosper from an opportunity such as this. Sadly though, Cain tore his ACL in his first preseason game. And Fountain was on the practice squad for the majority of the year. Hopes are still high with me that Cain returns fully healthy for this coming years training camp, and Fountain should be there as well.
Maybe we see an encore from Wayne this off-season? We’ll just have to wait and see, but I’m not counting anything out.