INDIANAPOLIS – Spring tradition of talking with Colts assistants coaches for the first time in the offseason continued virtually on Thursday.
Quarterback coach Marcus Brady, running backs coach Tom Rathman, wide receivers coach Mike Groh, defensive line coach Brian Baker were the four assistants who hopped on Zoom to chat with the media.
Here are 10 takeaways from what the assistants had to say:
1. Brady on the 20 interceptions that Philip Rivers threw last season: “We went back and watched every single interception. A lot of those came in desperate situations. They were down two scores in the 4th quarter and on two-minute drives late in the games, so he’s pushing the ball down the field, because he had to, or else the game was going to get away from. I would say that’s about half of them. Were there some throws in there that he shouldn’t have made and had bad reads? Yes. But, overall, the accuracy was still there. He was deadly accurate. Still makes good decisions and he just has a wealth of knowledge. I think he’ll fit well in our system. I think what will help, and everybody has talked about, is our offensive line and is our run game. It’s going to take some pressure off of him.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Of the 20 interceptions for Rivers last season, 15 of those came when the Chargers were trailing, and 9 of them came in the 4th quarter (10 did come in the first half). As Brady points out, the Colts really feel that they have a better team around Rivers, so that he won’t be needing to constantly try and lead comebacks. Rivers averaged 41 pass attempts per game in the final three weeks last season. Obviously, given the Colts’ commitment and strength on the ground, they want to make sure that number is the far outlier in their weekly game plans.
2. Rathman on rookie RB-Jonathan Taylor having 18 fumbles in 3 years at Wisconsin: “We’ve talked about it. We’ve talked about our four points of pressure and the way that we carry the football. I think it’s just the fundamentals of the game and the way you carry the football. He can improve the way he carries the football. Looking at film, he understands that, and he understands what we are asking our players to do when we talk about ball security and how important it is. I don’t really think there’s an issue there and I think that he’ll get it corrected with the development of basic fundamentals that we harp on every day.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Rathman, a former NFL fullback, doesn’t mess around when it comes to instilling the need to protect the football to his running backs. While Taylor did carry the ball a ton at Wisconsin, his fumble per touch number was still a bit alarming, particularly when comparing it to the top NFL rushers from last year. Plus, you know Taylor will get hit more, and earlier in plays in the NFL. Good news for Taylor though? Rathman’s running backs combined for just 1 fumble in 469 touches last season.
3. Rathman on how the running back by committee will play out: “It’ll play itself out.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Honestly, and you understand it, there wasn’t a ton of transparency from Rathman on how the Colts will plan to split the carries. It will be a fluid thing that will likely vary week-to-week. Rathman was adamant that whoever shows the most consistency will earn the most playing time. Whether we see one guy start a series (Marlon Mack) and then the next guy (Jonathan Taylor) begin the next series, or subbing those two within drives, remains to be seen. What we do know is this: Marlon Mack will likely get the first crack at starting, Jonathan Taylor is going to play some notable role early on 1st and 2nd down and Nyheim Hines will primarily be used on 3rd down.
4. Rathman on the transition of Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin to the NFL: “The thing that will help him adjust to our game is that at Wisconsin they were well coached in different schemes. He’s been running in gap schemes, outside zone, inside zone. So whatever we throw at him, he’s going to basically know what the understanding of the concept is.
Bowen’s Analysis: This is an aspect to Taylor’s transition to the pro game that we haven’t hit on as much. But it’s key, especially with the Colts likely not having an in-person spring offseason program, which Rathman does think will hinder Taylor a bit. This is not a guy coming from some spread offense who you are worrying about fitting into more of a pro system. Taylor should be able to handle what the Colts want from their running backs on the early downs.
5. Groh on having complementary skillsets within the wideout group: “When you are putting together a receiver group, you are looking to put together a group of guys with different skillsets. If you can get guys that all do the same thing really well, then you are a little bit easier to defend. Putting our group together, we are looking for guys that have unique skillsets. I’ve used the analogy of a basketball team in the past—you want guys that can obviously bring the ball up, you want guys that can score off the dribble and shoot the three, post up. When you get that complementary group of guys, I think that’s when you have the ability to create 1-on-1 matchups and that makes it really hard to defend as a defense.”
Bowen’s Analysis: The Colts feel good about the diversity they have within their wideout group. You have the proven No. 1 in T.Y. Hilton. You have the big body option in Michael Pittman. And you have a burner in Parris Campbell. As Groh points out, it’s really important to have different types of chess pieces in a league where matchups are the name of the game. The Colts don’t have a one-trick wideout group, and that’s key.
6. Groh on the development of Parris Campbell: “I really think his best football and becoming a complete receiver is still out in front of him. He’s extremely bright and tough and willing to do anything that is required of him, in whatever role we need him to play. He’s somebody that the defense needs to be aware of because he can get behind you and score in one play.”
Bowen’s Analysis: That last sentence is so important when looking at the 2020 Colts. How many offensive players strike fear in the opponents, and the opposing game plan? The Colts need more of those guys and Campbell is someone who is capable of producing just that. If Campbell proves his big play ability, it’s going to force the defense to respect that speed, and that should open things up for other parts of the Colts offense.
7. Baker on his thoughts when he heard the Colts were trading for DeForest Buckner: “Holy cow, I couldn’t believe it. It was like Christmas.”
Bowen’s Analysis: When Baker, who came to the Colts after 4 years in the SEC, following a 19-year stint coaching in the NFL, took over the defensive line group in January he had concern over the defensive tackle depth. Well, so did Chris Ballard. That major point of emphasis led to the Colts making a big splash with Buckner.
8. Baker on third-year defensive end Kemoko Turay: “He just has to stay healthy. He’s proven that he has a unique skillset to rush the passer.”
Bowen’s Analysis: There wasn’t a specific question about Turay, but Baker covered many of his personnel, unprompted. Clearly, even to a newcomer, Turay jumps off the film in what he can bring off the edge. That first part is so much to Turay’s development though. He’s played in just 18 of 32 games in his two NFL seasons.
9. Baker on defensive tackle Grover Stewart: “He does play like a barroom brawler. Grover is a big, explosive guy. He does ‘snot bubble’ guys. He has a unique, athletic skillset where he can hit guys and get off, and still penetrate and make plays. He’s our bouncer of the group. I call him the rottweiler, where those other guys are greyhounds.”
Bowen’s Analysis: As you are seeing, Baker loves him some Stewart. The long-time coach joked that his Colts players are already calling Stewart the favorite of the new D-line coach. I did find it interesting that Baker mentioned two starting jobs are locked up right now for the Colts—DeForest Buckner at DT and Justin Houston at DE. In my opinion, Stewart has to the favorite to start alongside Buckner and play on the run downs. At well north of 300 pounds, Stewart brings a much different, and needed, body type to the defensive front. Perhaps Sheldon Day factors into things?
10. Baker on versatile parts Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis: “Denico has proven that he can be a successful end in this league. He’s proven he can be a successful tackle in this league. (The Buckner trade) gives us a chance to train (Lewis) both inside and outside and find out where he can be best productive with his skillset.”
Bowen’s Analysis: This falls in line to what we wrote about earlier in the week about the Colts trying to replace Jabaal Sheard. The Colts can experiment a bit with some of their versatile guys up front. Al-Quadin Muhammad, who is known for his ability against the run, and second-year end Ben Banogu, will get a chance to earn some consistent playing time, as well.