INDIANAPOLIS – Exhale, Kevin.
Below you will find 53 questions on the Colts (going off the magic roster cut down number of 53) heading into training camp at Grand Park.
With camp report day on Tuesday and the first practice coming Wednesday, here’s 53 questions to watch heading into Shane Steichen’s first season with the Colts:
1. How will the quarterback reps be divided up? This will be the biggest question early in camp, gauging how the Colts view the starting reps for Gardner Minshew compared to Anthony Richardson. Of course, as the first preseason game nears on August 12th, more and more attention will be paid in seeing how the Colts will handle their Week 1 starter.
2. When will Shaquille Leonard return to practice, game action? Ugh. How can anyone with confidence say Leonard is unquestionably going to be back starting the season opener. Even Jim Irsay was very careful about his public comments on Leonard earlier this month. If Leonard opens training camp on the physical unable to perform list, that will further cloud an already muddy situation. Leonard is doing some on-field work as camp arrives this week.
3. Will Jonathan Taylor receive a new contract extension this summer? This storyline is going to be one with plenty of NFL eyes on it, too. Just take a look at social media, and Taylor, reacting to the lack of running back extensions handed out last week on franchise tag deadline day. How long is the extension for Taylor? How much guaranteed money will he be getting? Is there any chance the two sides don’t come to an agreement this summer, meaning Taylor would play out the final year of his rookie contract?
4. How high is the urgency to sign a veteran cornerback? So far, things have been quiet on this front. How deep into camp do the Colts want to get, while getting a look at the young cornerbacks, before they reassess this topic?
5. Who wins the right guard job? Entering camp, Will Fries has to be viewed as the overwhelming favorite to retain his starting right guard job. But of all the starting offensive line positions, right guard is the one with some possible competition. Emil Ekiyor Jr? Danny Pinter? A free agent addition?
6. How much playing time for Anthony Richardson this preseason? We are down to three preseason games in the NFL nowadays, so playing time in the preseason becomes a bit more precious. And for the 2023 Colts, that could be even more limited with the joint practices scheduled right before their 2nd and 3rd preseason games. Should/will the Colts treat Anthony Richardson any differently with preseason playing time?
7. Is a second-year jump in store for Bernhard Raimann? One of the very few bright spots in the final months of last season was Raimann’s (necessary) development. When the Colts took Raimann in the 3rd round last spring, they knew living through some playing growing pains was a must. Some of that certainly occurred in Raimann’s rookie season. But will that lead to a long-term answer at left tackle?
8. Which rookie will play the most in 2023? Many will, obviously, hope it’s going to be Anthony Richardson. But have some other strong bets in CB-JuJu Brents and WR-Josh Downs. Honestly, in those 3 guys, you could be looking at a trio of full-time (or close to) starters in their rookie campaigns.
9. When will Jonathan Taylor return to action? It was off-season ankle surgery for Taylor that kept him sidelined for the spring. This injury isn’t supposed to be anything lingering, but it’s worth noting given Taylor’s remarkable bill of health. Jim Irsay said earlier this month that Taylor was ‘healed up.’
10. Is Kwity Paye ready for a double-digit sack season? Health is the main thing Paye points to for this third NFL season. He’s shown some promise, but he did miss 5 games last season. A strong season from Paye should lead to the Colts picking up his 5th year rookie option, and keep that hope alive he can finally end the decade-long search for the next lead pass rusher in Indy.
11. How will the Colts handle the 3rd down running back role? In years past, this was obvious. It was the role for Nyheim Hines. In 2023 though, Zack Moss seems to be too similar to Jonathan Taylor for a role centered around pass-catching. Does that mean rookie 5th round pick Evan Hull is the favorite for Year One duties on third down? Is Deon Jackson still in the mix?
12. How healthy is Rigoberto Sanchez? Oh yeah, the Colts elite punter tore his Achilles running sprints at training camp last year! That gets lost in the wildness last season was for the Colts. Sanchez said back in June he had started to do some punting and was grateful the injury occurred in his kicking leg, and not his planting leg. The Colts haven’t signed another punter this offseason so clearly, they feel good about Sanchez returning in 2023.
13. Is Samson Ebukam ready for a jump in playing time? Easily the Colts biggest free agent splash the Colts made this offseason (non kicker division) was signing defensive end Samson Ebukam. While Ebukam has started 40 games over the last three years, the Colts are ready to increase his playing time even more, thinking they can get even more out of him in a 3-down role. The Colts did something similar with Denico Autry in 2018 and it worked out very well for them.
14. How physical will the Colts go in camp? This question has taken on a much different answer over the last decade or so all around the NFL. Still the arrival of a new coach brings the question again. Shane Steichen has opted for a shorter training camp schedule (by 3 practices from last year), but more joint practice sessions. Is this a more intense practice focus, without the higher number of sessions of recent years?
15. Is Josh Downs the new name at the slot receiver? The Colts believe Josh Downs is an ideal complement for the big bodies they have in their wide receiver room. Downs tore up the ACC as a slot receiver over the last two seasons. On paper, that’s the definite fit for Downs here at the professional level.
16. When will Michael Pittman return to action? A lingering hip injury kept Michael Pittman Jr. off the field this spring. With that, it meant valuable missed time for Pittman working with the new Colts quarterbacks. Will he be full-go at the start of camp as the Colts try to ramp up that chemistry as quickly as possible?
17. Is there more coming for Mo Alie-Cox? All of a sudden, Mo Alie-Cox is the longest tenured Colts skill player. But his security on the roster isn’t some slam dunk. Still, Alie-Cox has proven to be an adequate blocker so he serves value at a spot the Colts struggled a bit last season.
18. Is there an undrafted free agent to make the team on offense? Indy native Emil Ekiyor Jr. has to be the favorite to check this box, when you combine his draft projection and the questions at right guard. Zavier Scott is an undrafted free agent on offense who lined up at both running back and wide receiver this past spring, so his usage in camp could be something to keep an eye on.
19. How beneficial will two joint practice sessions be? A wrinkle to Shane Steichen’s first training camp as head coach of the Colts will be holding three joint practice sessions, with two different teams. For many coaches, these practice days bring more actual value than the preseason contests. It’ll start with the Colts/Bears for two joint sessions on August 16th and 17th, and then a trip to the Eagles for a joint practice with the Eagles on August 22nd.
20. Who makes up the third-down pass rush package? One would think this has 3 definite names among a 4-man rushing group. Those 3 would be DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye and Sampson Ebukam. But the 4th name leads to some debate. Tyquan Lewis? Dayo Odeyingbo? Is Grover Stewart serious about having a 3-down role and not coming off the field?
21. Who will round out the crowded tight end position? On paper, I would say tight end is the most crowded position group on the roster. How that position is handled at cut downs offers some intrigue. Is Mo Alie-Cox an unquestioned lock?
22. How different will a Shane Steichen training camp be? More physicality? More 1s vs 1s reps? More time for rookies? More veteran rest days? All the trends we see with NFL training camps in 2023 are now decisions that Shane Steichen will oversee as he runs Colts practices. With the practice times announced for camp (8 practices in the morning, 4 at night, 1 in the afternoon), it’s clear Steichen prefers for the Colts to get their practice work for the day done in the morning (no “circadian rhythm” message like we heard from the Colts last year and their 1:00 practice times).
23. How will Alec Pierce’s game develop in Year Two? Fine-tuning how Pierce comes out of breaks and nailing down a more complete route tree are areas he is looking to improve in Year Two. Pierce showed as a rookie he can be a big play guy at this level, but there’s still room to grow to become a more complete wideout.
24. Are we going to see anyone push the ‘in-pencil’ starting offensive line? Exiting the spring, the Colts seemed pretty content in sticking with the starting offensive line that ended last season: LT-Bernhard Raimann, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Will Fries, RT-Braden Smith. And, honestly, given the off-season moves made by the Colts, right guard would be the only real position battle, if any up front. Is that even a battle?
25. Will Nick Cross push for playing time? It was a roller coaster of a rookie season for Nick Cross. The Colts knew the selection of Cross was a look towards the future as he was just 20 years old when drafted. In 2023, Cross looks to be entering camp behind the starting safety duo of Rodney Thomas II at free safety and Julian Blackmon at strong safety. If Cross is going to challenge for a starting job (maybe at strong safety?) he’s got a lot of ground to make up in camp.
26. How will the cornerback reps play out? Outside of Kenny Moore, the playing time at corner for the Colts in 2023 is anyone’s guess. Dallis Flowers has to be viewed as a favorite to start. But that important 3rd cornerback role is really up in the air. For a position teams often rely on a handful of bodies to play a decent amount throughout a year, the Colts have little definites outside of Moore.
27. Is this it for Mike Strachan? Any year 3 for a former Day 3 draft picks brings a bit of a ‘now or never’ mindset. It seems like Mike Strachan could be there, after he’s barely made the team in each of the last two years. Strachan has 5 total catches in 193 career offensive snaps.
28. Over under 1.5 rookie starters at cornerback? It’s probably under, but you are going to have legitimate chances for JuJu Brents and Darius Rush, and possibly even Jaylon Jones to play early on. With Brents sidelined for all of the spring, and Rush missing multiple weeks, that greatly benefitted Dallis Flowers securing an early lead for one of those 3 starting jobs (assuming nickel personnel grouping gets the most time in 2023).
29. How will Julian Blackmon react to a position change in a contract year? It’s been quite the 3 years for Julian Blackmon in the NFL. He defied torn ACL odds in starting 14 games during his COVID rookie season. He then tore his Achilles nearing the mid-way point of his second season. And now is on his third different position as he plays in a contract year. Is Blackmon at strong safety a marriage that works for a second contract in Indy?
30. Will Michael Pittman receive a new contract extension this summer? It’s quite possible we see Michael Pittman Jr. play this season out in a contract year. Recent second-round wideouts have really cashed in on that second contract, but you have to debate on how legit of a No. 1 wideout Pittman is in this league. But given the need to support Anthony Richardson at all costs, doesn’t Pittman have some leverage here with Indy?
31. What’s the Year Three outlook for Dayo Odeyingbo? Time flies when you think Dayo Odeyingbo is 6 months away from being in a contract year. Year Three is always an extra critical one for non first-round picks. Odeyingbo had some flash this spring, as he should be fully removed from any Achilles injury question. Is he the top reserve defensive lineman, looking to carve out a role on third down?
32. What’s the plan for E.J. Speed? We know the Colts, and Gus Bradley, are very high on Speed. But the real question comes from the health/return of Shaquille Leonard. Whatever happens with Leonard will certainly impact the amount of playing time for Speed. Even if Leonard is fully healthy though, real intrigue is there for Speed.
33. How will the veteran offensive line respond from a disappointing season? It’s not hyperbole to say no NFL position group underperformed more last season than the Colts offensive line. Specifically, you need bounce back years (to varying degrees) from Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. Is new position coach Tony Sparano Jr. the difference maker for an offensive line that had hardly any personnel changes this offseason?
34. How much should the camp accuracy numbers for Anthony Richardson matter? As always, we will be charting the quarterback passing numbers in camp. And more scrutiny will be there for Anthony Richardson as he enters the NFL as a 54 percent passer in college. That number has to rise, so seeing steps in that direction during camp will be key.
35. How will Kenny Moore react from a step back from last season? It’s not often you have a player labeled as one of the most disappointing players from a previous season show up on one of the most indispensable lists the next season. Moore said all the right things this spring. Both the Colts and him really need to see No. 23 get back to playing like a Pro Bowler.
36. Will the Colts alter their approach to preseason games? This question has a wrinkle to it in 2023. Why? Because the Colts will have 3 total joint sessions leading into their final two preseason games (remember only 3 total preseason games now). If the Colts follow normal NFL precedent, that will mean very scaled back playing time in those games. Will Shane Steichen follow that in his first year with the Colts?
37. Is there a starting battle at right guard? I don’t think so. But let’s see. Will Fries was the starter at right guard throughout spring. Do we see any push from undrafted free agent Emil Ekiyor Jr. and/or Danny Pinter? If there’s any position along the offensive line expected to sniff a potential starting battle, it’s right guard.
38. Will Jelani Woods have a breakout season? By his own admission, Jelani Woods had some up and down moments leading into his first NFL season. But he was one of the few late-season sparks, with a breakout performance in a Monday Night game last November. The Colts followed that up though by scaling Woods’ playing time back in the next two games. It was odd. Does Year Two bring a more consistent role/more production for Woods?
39. Who will make up the defensive line depth? Chris Ballard always wants to rely heavily on defensive line depth. Assuming the starting D-line is a 4-man group of Kwity Paye, Samson Ebukam, DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart the Colts will have some depth decisions to make. Names to ponder for those DL depth spots: Tyquan Lewis, Dayo Odeyingbo, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Taven Bryan, Eric Johnson.
40. Which Day 3 draft pick will play the most in Year One? This is a hard one to peg down. The smart bet is probably on cornerback Darius Rush. You have 4th round picks in OT-Blake Freeland and DT- Adetomiwa Adebawore likely in reserve roles to begin. Is TE-Will Mallory or RB-Evan Hull in line to push for some early playing time?
41. Will we see more press coverage from the cornerback group? Gus Bradley has totally re-tooled the look of a Colts cornerback. Elite height and length are non-starters for Bradley’s cornerbacks. The hope is the Colts are going to play some more press coverage moving forward. Will that lead to more disruption?
42. Is there an undrafted free agent to make the team on defense? Last year we saw the Colts keep an undrafted linebacker (JoJo Domann) on their 53-man roster, and that position group seems to be a possibility again this year for a UDFA (Houston’s Donovan Mutin?). No one jumps off the page in the secondary, but those back-end roster spots there don’t have lot of definities.
43. Which offensive skill player will benefit the most from Shane Steichen? Anytime you bring in a new head coach, and in this case a new offensive play caller, the entire personnel gets a bit of a fresh start. Who benefits the most? A young guy who flashed late last year and many are pegging for a breakout second season is tight end Jelani Woods.
44. Is Isaiah McKenzie the “gadget” player for the Colts? It almost seems like we forgot about the signing of McKenzie. The Colts haven’t had a player like this in quite some time. Shane Steichen’s usage of McKenzie will be interesting to watch. Of course, McKenzie’s massive inconsistency has held back a bigger role.
45. How will Kylen Granson build off of a strong spring? It might be too much of a stretch to call the spring Kylen Granson just had a ‘great one.’ But he definitely had some nice moments in front of the media, and liked his performance from the spring. Granson needs a strong season, with a new coaching staff in place and is in Year Three of his four-year rookie contract.
46. How will fans react to the intrigue of Anthony Richardson? Aren’t crowds at Grand Park going to be at its height this camp, given the presence of seeing Anthony Richardson in person? This isn’t the first time the Colts will head to Westfield with a new quarterback, but it is the first time that QB will be a 21-year-old rookie with salivating traits, who started just 13 college games.
47. Is there more to the game of Zaire Franklin? One of the very few bright spots from last season came with Zaire Franklin going from ‘nice story’ to franchise leader in tackles for a single season. Do we see more playmaking from Franklin in his second season as a full-time starter? More is on Franklin’s plate again in 2023 with Bobby Okereke gone, and the continued uncertainty around Shaquille Leonard.
48. Will we see any changes to the return men? The Colts will need to find new full-time returners in Isaiah Rodgers (kick returner) and Nyheim Hines (punt returner). Dallis Flowers took over for Rodgers late last season, but does a growing defensive role for him alter those returning plans? At punt returner, Isaiah McKenzie and Josh Downs have to be viewed as the top options there.
49. Is Sam Ehlinger safe as the team’s 3rd quarterback? The new NFL rule change allows for teams to carry a third quarterback on their game-day roster in 2023. Is that good news for Sam Ehlinger? One would think so. The Colts enter camp with 3 quarterbacks on their 90-man roster
50. How quickly does Shaquille Leonard get back to his All-Pro self, if at all? Even asking such a question is probably premature, given how little we’ve seen of Leonard over the last year. But let’s say Leonard does practice consistently at camp, does he start to look like his old playmaking self or are those days over from The Maniac?
51. Is good luck in the health department finally in store for Tyquan Lewis? No one has had worse injury luck over the last two years than Lewis. Playing in contract years each of the last two seasons, Lewis has torn his patellar, in each knee. Both injuries have occurred near the mid-way point of promising seasons for the 2018 second-round pick. Lewis deserves a break in the health department.
52. Any need for a defensive free agent signing in camp? Cornerback is the obvious position group where this question immediately goes to. But what about linebacker if Shaquille Leonard isn’t ready to go? Or safety now that Rodney McLeod isn’t returning, and rookie Daniel Scott has torn his ACL?
53. Do the Colts have a Pro Bowl-level kicker in Matt Gay? Isn’t it almost forgotten the Colts gave out an eye-popping contract this offseason for a new kicker? The Colts made a huge splash in free agency in trying to really upgrade their placekicking situation. We will see how much the Colts feel the impact of Gay this season when drives stall out.
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