Ryan Kelly Jersey

INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Kelly won a National Championship at Alabama.

In 2015, Kelly not only was on the undefeated National Champs, but he also took home the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s best center.

Yet, Kelly calls last season—one in which injuries limited him to 12 games played, and the Colts lost in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs—his favorite year in football.

And Kelly points to the continuity of this offensive line group returning every single player, except the retired Matt Slauson, as to why he loved last year so much.

“I think we have an incredible group,” Kelly says of his fellas in the trenches. “I give a lot of credit to coach Frank (Reich) and Chris (Ballard) for developing a room with high character guys.

“Last year was the most fun I’ve had playing football. I want to keep that rolling as much as I can.”

Kelly answered that question with a bit of an eyebrow raiser.

The fact that he went down that path with such an answer wasn’t expected when the question was asked.

The initial inquiry was about Kelly entering a critical season.

With a decision on Kelly’s rookie contract possibly being extended through 2020 due by May 3, the center must prove his durability this fall.

The fourth-year center says he is not too concerned about the pending second contract.

“You don’t come in this league playing for contracts,” Kelly says. “Maybe initially that’s what you are thinking, but once you get into that, you just want to be out there with your guys. At the end of the day, watching games from the sideline is not fun…”

“Obviously, a big thing for me will be going throughout the year and trying to be healthy the entire year.”

Kelly has missed 13 games over the last two seasons.

It’s no secret that the Colts are a much less effective offensive unit when their first-round center is out of the lineup.

A future Colts offense with Kelly snapping to Andrew Luck is exactly what Ryan Grigson envisioned back in 2016.

That pairing now is working together for the entire spring for their first time ever, forming a combination that needs to maintain their health for this team to continue its ascension.

“It’s huge,” Kelly says of working together with Luck this spring. “Obviously, you can never really replicate game day experience and having those valuable reps that we have had together but just in Phase II, we can start doing it on the field and kind of seeing things the way they are broken down. I know that we are always going to have something new. We do a lot of self-scouting so I know there are going to be some new routes, new concepts of what we put in and just being able to iron those out now, it kind of accelerates us for those OTA days that are going to come.”

Ryan Kelly says he’s playing in Saturday’s wild-card game versus the Houston Texans. The Colts can only hope.

Indianapolis’ starting center was in and out of the lineup in the second of half of last week’s playoff-clinching win against the Tennessee Titans because of a neck injury. He told reporters that the issue has made it difficult for him to snap the ball. But he was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, and when asked if he would be available to make his postseason debut this weekend, Kelly didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, I’m ready to go,” the third-year veteran said.

Kelly’s prowess in pass protection and as a run blocker makes him one of the Colts’ top linemen. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate in December. Kelly started in all 12 games he appeared in during the regular season, missing time because of neck and knee injuries.

Safety Clayton Geathers (knee) also returned to practice Wednesday, while wide receivers T.Y Hilton (ankle) and Ryan Grant (toe) were out.

Here are other injuries we’re monitoring around the league:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who exited Week 17’s game in the fourth quarter because of bruised ribs, told reporters he’s still feeling some soreness but that he’ll be good to go for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. The Eagles held a walkthrough Wednesday and Foles was listed as limited.

Linebacker D.J. Alexander (hamstring), defensive end Michael Bennett (foot) and cornerback Sidney Jones (hamstring) did not participate. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (knee), center Jason Kelce (knee), offensive tackle Jason Peters (quadricep), guard Isaac Seumalo (chest) and wide receiver Mike Wallace (ankle) were limited.

  1. Bears safety Eddie Jackson (ankle) told NFL Network’s Stacey Dales he is “most likely” playing Sunday versus the Eagles. Jackson has missed the past two games after spraining his ankle late in the Bears’ Week 15 victory against the Green Bay Packers. He did not practice Wednesday.

Linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) was also out. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and wide receivers Taylor Gabriel (ribs), Anthony Miller (shoulder) and Allen Robinson (ribs) were full participants.

  1. Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) and defensive end J.J. Watt (elbow/knee) were limited Wednesday. Wide receiver Keke Coutee (hamstring), defensive tackle Brandon Dunn (ankle) cornerback Johnathan Joseph (neck), linebacker Benardrick McKinney (heel) were full participants. Houston placed safety Mike Tyson (knee/ankle) on injured reserve.
  2. Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (groin) was limited in practice.
  3. Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tavon Young (groin) didn’t participate in practice.

Marlon Mack Jersey

While many believed the Colts would run a full-blown committee in Frank Reich’s offense, Mack took the majority of the work in the backfield upon his return in Week 6 from a nagging hamstring injury.

From what they saw from Mack in 2018, general manager Chris Ballard expressed his confidence in the third-year rusher to be the workhorse.

“He’s a pretty good back. I mean 1,200 yards – I think – through the playoffs. I mean there is not a lot of – and that is after missing four games,” Ballard said Wednesday at the NFL combine. So no, we think a lot of Marlon Mack. We think he can play on all three downs. We think he can carry the load.”

Behind an offensive line that found its groove throughout the season, Mack finished the season carrying the ball 195 times for 904 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry on the season and had four games with at least 118 rushing yards.

The Colts offense found a nice balance with Mack leading the backfield. He helped move the chains while additionally taking pressure off of quarterback Andrew Luck.

Reich’s offense will always be pass first as it should be with an elite quarterback in Luck, but having a player of Mack’s talent helps balance out the game plan, especially late in contests.

There is still a chance the Colts might add some depth to the running back room, but it seems that Mack is the workhorse until proven otherwise.

Since Joseph Addai’s 2007 campaign, the Indianapolis Colts have been vehemently searching for answers in their backfield. Donald Brown appeared to be the man for the job, but the former first-round pick never quite lived up to expectations in five years with the Colts. Then there was Brown, Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Frank Gore — all temporary solutions to the revolving door in Indianapolis. But now, Marlon Mack has the reins as his team enters its Divisional Round showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he’s proven he can be the one to break the mold.

Mack is putting up numbers that few Colts running backs have reached. Since at least 2006, no Colts running back with 150-plus attempts has a higher yards after contact average than Mack (3.04) — and that includes Addai, who had three 1000-yard seasons from 2006-2011. In the 2018 season alone (including playoffs), Mack’s 3.02 yards after contact average is the highest for a Colts running back since Donald Brown’s 2013 season (and since Mack himself recorded a 3.09 average just a season ago).

But aside from Mack being able to simply brute force his way past defenders, he’s been wildly efficient. His 58 first down runs in 2018 are the most by a Colts running back since Addai rumbled for 69 in 2007. And Addai accomplished that feat on 66 more carries than Mack currently has, so while Addai averaged a first down every 3.98 carries, Mack has done so every 3.77 carries. The difference between those averages appears insignificant, but NFL teams are well aware of how important even one extra first down is — and Mack is giving the Colts those drive extenders at an impressive rate.

And then there’s Mack’s ability to break away. A lot of what he’s been able to accomplish this year can be credited to a vastly improved front-five, which finished the regular season as PFF’s third-best offensive line. However, Mack’s 15 runs of 15 or more yards are the most by a Colts running back since at least 2006. In that year, the Colts had PFF’s fourth-ranked run blocking unit (83.0 grade), yet Addai managed only 12 runs of 15 or more yards on 303 carries. Mack accomplished his 2018 feat on just 219 attempts.

Despite Mack’s 70.8 overall grade through Wild Card weekend pitting him 34th among 59 running backs, he is exactly what the Colts need and have needed. A snapshot of the team’s past three years of run offense grades: 68.3, 56.5, 60.5. In 2018, they’ve graded out at 79.1 — their best mark since at least 2006 when PFF began grading.

It’s also worth noting that the Colts are 5-0 when Mack has rushed for 100-plus yards this season, which is to be expected. His success complements that of Andrew Luck’s — and it’s making for an offense that could become one of the NFL’s deadliest very soon.

All things considered, Mack is objectively the best running back the Colts have had in some time. And although those at the position rarely stay in the starting role with the same team for more than a few years, Mack might just be what Indianapolis needs to get past the prolific Kansas City Chiefs.

Tarell Basham Jersey

Last week, the Jets claimed edge defender Tarell Basham, a former third round pick, on waivers from the Colts. Today, we’re taking an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.

The 24-year old Basham is in his second season having been drafted last year. He played in 15 games last year in a reserve role and registered seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He was the MAC defensive player of the year in 2016 and is the all-time leader in sacks for the Ohio Bobcats.

Background

Having been a productive pass rusher in high school, Basham attended military school for a year before attending Ohio University and making an immediate impact as a true freshman. He was eventually a four year starter for the Bobcats, racking up a school record 29.5 sacks. His production improved year on year and he won the MAC defensive player of the year award as a senior in 2016, having recorded career bests in tackles (49) and sacks (11).

Basham had a decent performance at the scouting combine, but it was at the senior bowl where he really boosted his stock as he was dominant in drills all week. The Colts eventually drafted Basham with the 80th overall pick.

As a rookie, Basham saw action as a rotational outside linebacker and on special teams, but struggled to move up the depth chart. He had some positive flashes, including a couple of sacks, but overall his rookie year was considered a disappointment.

In the offseason, Basham was getting plenty of work with the first unit and seemed to be in the mix for a starting role, but a minor knee injury set him back and he got lost in the shuffle following a nondescript preseason.

Basham played in the opener this season, in a situational rusher role, but he only had one pressure and had been inactive ever since. The Jets claimed him off waivers last week.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Basham brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Usage

The Colts have switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense this year, which is one of the reasons Henry Anderson was no longer a fit for them. However, this is not the case with Basham.

In college and high school, Basham only ever played in four man fronts with his hand(s) in the dirt, so he wasn’t really a fit for them as a 3-4 outside linebacker, which explains some of his struggles last year and the optimism that he would show progress in 2018.

With the Colts last year, Basham lined up on both sides and played a mixture of linebacker and lineman roles. He didn’t play inside or off the ball very often, but this did happen occasionally.

Basham has also said he mostly lined up on the left in college, so playing on the right was an adjustment for him too.

Measurables/Athleticism

Basham is listed at 6-foot-4 and 266 pounds and has decent length and big hands. However, he might be lighter than that at the moment, because he told reporters in the offseason that he’d slimmed down from about 270 to 250 since the end of the previous year. The coaching staff praised him for getting into better shape than he had been as a rookie.

At the combine, Basham had some nice numbers with a 4.7 40-yard dash, 4.45 short shuttle and 119-inch broad jump. However, his three cone drill and vertical jump were below average and his bench press was poor (15 reps).

Basham worked out again at his pro day, but didn’t improve on any of his numbers, others than adding an inch to his vertical.

Motor

Basham is regarded as having a good motor as he works hard in the trenches to battle for position.

At the NFL level, he’s yet to play 30 snaps in a game, either in preseason or regular season action, but did play over 70 snaps in a game in his senior year, so he’s shown he can handle a good workload.

Run defense

Basham isn’t known for his run defense and his lack of functional strength would be a concern if playing on the line, especially with the weight he’s lost since last year.

Nevertheless, he showed some development against the run in college. In his first two years, he only had two tackles for loss against the run, but he had 9.5 in his last two years.

In pursuit, Basham can sometimes overpursue or react a beat late and has had issues with not getting upfield far enough when setting the edge in the past. He also needs to work on getting off blocks.

He makes a solid play against the run here as he shows some good hustle in backside pursuit.

Pass rush

Basham took his game to the next level in his senior year, as he almost doubled the amount of total pressure he created. However, at the NFL level, his pressure numbers have been modest at best, even in preseason action.

Basham has good initial burst and converts from speed to power well. In college he showed off some good pass rush moves, strong hands and an ability to bend the edge.

However, at the NFL level, he’s struggled to replicate this success. He seems too eager to engage with his blocker and doesn’t seem to exhibit many counter moves once his initial move is repelled. Of the pressure he has created, much of it has come from being unblocked or beating a tight end.

However, as noted, there have been flashes of potential. On this play, against an experienced starter in Jeremy Parnell, Basham’s speed off the edge is too much for the veteran.

Basham has a pretty good spin move based on his college film, but he hasn’t used this much at the NFL level.

Tackling

Basham hasn’t been a particularly productive tackler at the NFL level with just 18 tackles in 23 regular and preseason games. However, he racked up 49 in his best season at Ohio.

Missed tackles were sometimes an issue over the years, although he will usually wrap up and finish effectively. However, he will miss the occasional tackle, especially if faced with an elusive player in space.

Coverage skills

Basham doesn’t have a lot of experience of dropping into coverage and it shows whenever he’s asked to do it. On this play, a teammate had to tell him to stand up prior to the snap and he made no effort to disrupt the slot receiver’s route while looking very robotic in his backpedal.

He was targeted one other time last year, on a play where he dropped way off the line on 3rd-and-long and was able to get in on the tackle shy of the marker.

Basham had five passes defensed in college, all from batting passes down at the line.

Making reads/instincts

Basham has said he feels most comfortable in an attack-and-react style of defense. There is occasional hesitation in play-action and read-option type situations, but it looks like he did a better job of keeping his eyes up to see the play develop as the season progressed last year.

Technique

Basham has shown some ability to get off blocks at the NFL level, but this has mostly been against tight ends.

One thing he does well is extend his arms to get some separation from his blocker, but he doesn’t always translate that into a pass rush move to get off the block.

On this play, however, he extends his arms well and displays some power to drive veteran Andre Smith off his spot, gaining an outside leverage advantage. This time, he does get off the block, using his right hand to free himself from Smith’s outside arm to complete the sack.

Physicality

Basham displays some good power off the edge and can be an effective bull rusher. However, at times, he will engage his blocker in a battle for leverage rather than making an effort to shed the block.

His only penalty at the NFL level was a neutral zone infraction before a punt (on 4th-and-8).

Special teams

With Josh Martin on injured reserve, it would be useful if his replacement could show some potential on special teams and Basham has done that.

In his rookie year, he had four special teams tackles in preseason and, although he didn’t carry that production over into the regular season, he did contribute this punt block.

Basham has also fielded one kickoff and generated pressure on a field goal attempt.

Injuries

Injuries were not an issue for Basham at Ohio, as he played in 50 games over four seasons. In his rookie year with the Colts, the only game he missed was as a healthy scratch, although he did miss a few practices through illness and heat exhaustion.

During preseason, he had a minor knee injury, which was part of the reason he fell down the depth chart.

Attitude/Demeanor

Basham has admitted that, in college, he relied too much on his athleticism. He has found that, at the NFL level, you also need good technique and preparation to be successful.

General manager Chris Ballard praised the work Basham had put in during the offseason to get in shape and work on his technique, but obviously this wasn’t enough for him to retain his roster spot.

Scheme familiarity

As noted above, Basham is going to be most comfortable in four-man fronts and rushing from the left side with his hand in the dirt. With his struggles against the run, the most obvious use for him would be in subpackages as a situational rusher and that’s how the Colts used him in game one.

Anderson’s own success in the new system could make him a useful sounding board for Basham as he integrates himself in the new scheme.

Conclusions

Basham was an impressive college prospect with excellent tape, but has been slow to develop at the NFL level. The scheme changes in Indianapolis haven’t helped, but his main issue is that he needs to work on and improve his technique and approach.

The Jets can afford to be patient with Basham, whereas the Colts were pretty deep on the edges and already have some development projects with two rookies brought in this year. Ultimately, this should be a fun project for Kevin Greene. However, it might be overly optimistic to expect any immediate success.

Quincy Wilson Jersey

Starting in Week 10 of the 2018 season, Indianapolis Colts’ CB Quincy Wilson played 27-plus defensive snaps at outside corner in 10 consecutive games (including the postseason), and his play in his increased role bodes well for his future in the NFL.

Wilson, a second-round pick in 2017, allowed just a 65.2 passer rating and 0.73 yards per coverage snap in the Colts’ last 10 games of the season, ranking seventh in both respects among the 66 cornerbacks with 200-plus coverage snaps in said span. Also, when targeted 10 or more yards down the field, he allowed just a 9.3 passer rating and forced an incompletion on 27.3% of such targets, both marks ranking inside the top 10.

The positives in Wilson’s 2018 season were weighed down by his five missed tackles and high overall completion percentage allowed (73.2%), dragging his overall grade down to just 70.4. However, the flashes Wilson put forth correspond well with what we saw from the former Florida product while in Gainesville, a sign that such flashes could be sustainable in the future.

Wilson’s final three years with Florida were all very strong. His three-year coverage grade (90.6) ranked among the FBS’ best, and he ranked seventh in completion percentage allowed (43.2%), sixth in passer rating allowed (46.1) and second in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.70) behind just Minkah Fitzpatrick.

In his final season with the Gators, Wilson allowed receptions on just 16-of-43 targets and ranked fourth that season in completion percentage allowed (32.6%) among qualifiers. He also ranked third in passer rating allowed (29.9) that season, ranking just two spots behind Gareon Conley and a spot ahead on Marshon Lattimore.

Wilson should see his development continue at outside cornerback and chase his Florida stardom in Indy as a starter for the Colts’ defense in 2019.

The Indianapolis Colts were hoping to see some development with cornerback Quincy Wilson in his second season, and there was enough encouragement to warrant optimism entering the 2019 season.

Wilson has had an interesting career thus far as he hasn’t quite lived up to his draft stock as a second-round pick, but he carved out a role during the second half of the regular season and showed that his game is on the rise.

Wilson wound up playing 13 games (five starts) while recording 28 tackles (20 solo), two passes defended and one interception.

Working as the CB3 for the Colts behind Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir, Wilson wound up playing 41.6 percent of the defensive snaps throughout the 2018 season. Most of his consistent playing time came throughout the second half.

Over the final eight games of the regular season, Wilson played an average of 63.6 percent of the defensive snaps. For a CB3, that’s pretty significant.

The Florida product didn’t put up huge numbers in Year 2, but he did make strong developments in the preparation and mentality parts of his game, which goes a long way for a young player.

Wilson credits his turnaround to the mentorship of veteran safety Mike Mitchell. After Wilson saw Mitchell make an immediate impact the week he was signed, the young cornerback asked to be mentored.

It paid off as Wilson showed vast improvement working in zone coverage. Learning how to prepare each week while keeping a stable mentality is something that Wilson seemed to learn how to do in his second year.

Entering Year 3, Wilson is a prime candidate to make a jump. He had an encouraging second half but must prove he can continue his development during the 2019 season.

Malik Hooker Jersey

The 2018 Indianapolis Colts are a very young team that is hoping to build for the future. One thing that they desperately need from these young players is one to emerge as a star. The most likely candidate to breakout has been second year safety Malik Hooker. Hooker has been very quiet to this point in the season though, as he has accumulated just 25 tackles and one pass deflection in five games played.

This begs the question: Is the lack of statistical output a result of Hooker’s failure to develop after his strong rookie season or is Matt Eberflus’ new defensive scheme effecting Hooker’s numbers? After breaking down the film, I can confidently say that the lack of production from Hooker is primarily due to scheme.

The Colts primarily deploy a cover two base defense, a very new system for Hooker who has primarily played a center field role in man coverage base defenses. This is an entirely new defense to learn and there will be some hiccups. Despite the expected learning curve, I have seen signs of positive progress for Hooker from year one to year two in the NFL.

Let’s look at some film for examples.

A very underrated aspect of safety play is understanding run fits. When I say understanding run fits, I don’t mean being an excellent run defender or tackler. I mean being in the right position when the runner is coming downhill.

Ideally, every defender on the field understands their assignment in run defense and fills the necessary hole so that a tackle can be made before a big play happens. Once a player loses their run fit— or assignment— that is when the big plays occur.

Hooker really struggled with this his rookie year. Not really known as a run defender in college, Hooker came into the NFL with more of the mindset to avoid contact and try to make a play. This often resulted in a big play for the offense.

In this clip, we see improvement in that area. Notice that Hooker comes downhill and fills the run lane. As a rookie, he shied away from contact and let others make the play but here he gets involved. Physicality and form tackling are another matter, but this is a mark of improvement for a young safety.

In the following clip, Hooker comes downhill to fill a potential running lane. Again, as a rookie Hooker often sat back and relied on others to make this play. This year, in a new scheme, it is a positive sign to see him both willing and able to get downhill.

The biggest flaw I found in Hooker’s rookie film was terrible pursuit angles. Hooker too often relied on his natural athleticism and found himself giving up extra yards in pursuit. He seems to have matured in this area, and has been limiting big plays by taking much better support angles.

In our first clip, Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon has a ton of running room. Hooker— who starts the play on the midfield logo— comes all the way across the field and limits the damage to twenty yards. A twenty yard gain is not ideal but having a player with Hooker’s speed on the backend turns a back breaking touchdown into just big gain.

As a rookie, Hooker had this closing speed and burst but lacked the proper angles to make the play. Here, he shows signs of improvement.

Here’s another example. If Hooker takes a poor angle, it is a touchdown for Eagles’ running back Josh Adams. He is literally the last line of defense. He starts on an aggressive path that would have likely led to a missed tackle. Hooker adjusts to take the correct angle and makes a touchdown saving tackle. This is another sign of his growth and potential to become a well rounded safety.

Hooker is a gifted athlete. His natural speed and burst out of his backpedal will always be highly coveted. While much of this review focuses on areas he has shown improvement, I want to also take a look at the natural abilities that got him drafted in the first round.

This clip may look like a simple play but few have the physical ability to make it. Hooker (who is at the top of the screen) drops into his backpedal at the start of the play. Once he notices Deshaun Watson release the ball, Hooker bursts out of his backpedal and, like a blur, is tackling receiver Keke Coutee for a minimal gain. His closing speed to close the gap between him and his desired destination is absolutely incredible.

How does one talk about Malik Hooker and not mention his range? One of the most coveted traits in safeties and Hooker not only has it, he is borderline elite in this department. A combination of his athleticism and his understanding of routes, Hooker is able to make plays many safeties in the NFL can only dream of making. The range that he showed in college on a weekly basis is the main reason that he was selected so high in the 2017 draft.

This clip may see like a weird one to show for Hooker’s range. This is certainly a miscommunication by the defense as two players are streaking open down the field with only Hooker in deep coverage. What I want to focus on is how Hooker moves and how much ground he is able to cover on this play.

He initially opens his hips to assist in over the top coverage up the hash. He notices the wide open running back streaking behind him and flips his hips around in an instant to be in position to make a play on the pass catching running back. I understand that the running back falling prevented a potential touchdown here but Hooker’s ability to stay deep and flip his hips left him in a good position to make a play, even if the running back kept his balance.

This last clip is where his range and ball skills meet for a highlight reel type pass breakup. Hooker, starting on the bottom of the screen, notices the post route immediately off the line and opens his hips to the middle of the field. He breaks with Nelson Agholor across the field and at the last second is able to break on the ball and bat it away. The range he shows to track Agholor all the way across the field and then make a play on the ball is the reason why so many hyped up Hooker before the season.

These traits rare athletic traits, along with his development in run defense, have really made me hopeful for the rest of this year.

I’ve shown a few clips that display my concerns with Hooker and his tackling. He is just not a form tackler right now and really needs to improve. He is still an arm tackler who throws his shoulder at runners and hopes for the best. In the open field, Hooker struggles to break down and make the sure tackle. When he does contact runners, he is not nearly physical enough to get them down without a form tackle.

This clip shows an atrocious miss in the open field. Hooker gets to the receiver in a hurry but fails to properly break down and make the tackle, resulting in more yards. This cannot happen from your safeties. I understand that Hooker has mainly been a deep safety his entire life and hasn’t been asked to make many tackles like this in space but this is part of his growth as a safety. So far, I have not seen enough consistency in the open field to fully trust him as a tackler yet.

The last opportunity is more due to the scheme change than Hooker’s play. In this predominantly cover two scheme, what he is asked to do has increased dramatically. He is now playing as an interchangeable zone safety where his responsibility is a deep half of the field rather than just sitting over the top in man coverage. With that comes a lot more cerebral processing that Hooker just doesn’t have yet.

Here’s an example. The call by the Redskins is a deep flag route. Hooker— top of the screen— gets way too much depth in his back pedal and gives up the fifteen yard completion. A way to measure this is to look at Clayton Geathers on the other side of the screen. Notice how Geathers sits on the route and is in position to break on the ball if the ball is thrown his way. This is just a natural feel thing for Hooker. Once he realizes that he has the speed to turn and run with receivers, he will start sitting on more routes in deep coverage.

In this next clip, Hooker does the complete opposite, as he does not get enough depth in his coverage. Hooker— top of the screen— comes up into the box presumably to drop into zone coverage in the flats. Hooker’s first mistake is over-committing to the run which prevents him from getting into his drop at the snap. He then does not get enough depth which allows the comeback route to open. This again just shows Hooker’s inexperience as he has rarely played in the box in his football career.

So we’ve gone through enough clips now to where I think that we all have a good idea for what kind of player Malik Hooker is. He has the ability to be an absolute playmaker and showed that with his 3 interceptions and 4 pass deflections in just seven starts last season. So why does he have no interceptions five games into this season?

Well, it’s simply not what he’s asked to do in this new scheme.

This cover two scheme is dependent on Hooker doing his job, which is locking down his deep half of the field and preventing big plays while keeping the ball in front of him. For the most part, he has succeeded in doing that. Therefore, he is accomplishing his job in the realm of this defense.

Lets look at a clip or two to show this. Against the Redskins here, Hooker— top of the screen— is in deep coverage. Alex Smith’s main target appears to be one of the two receivers streaking downfield. Hooker plays the deep man then breaks off and comes down on the inside guy who is also streaking deep. Hooker taking away both of these option results in Smith having to come to his third option— late I may add— which nearly results in an interception for Pierre Desir.

This next clip shows Hooker’s role in Kenny Moore’s interception against the Bengals. Hooker— top of the screen— is playing his deep half of the field and backpedals to around the 45 yard line. The Bengals are trying to hit the deep post on the second play of the game. If Hooker was out of position or did not get proper depth, Andy Dalton is likely able to make this throw before the pass rush gets to him. Instead, Dalton recognizes that Hooker is the deep safety where he wants to go and elects to go to his check-down as he gets hit, resulting in an interception. Hooker’s reputation and being in the right position are two of the factors that led to this interception.

Nyheim Hines Jersey

INDIANAPOLIS — No beach, no vacation, none of that – instead, the lunch shift at a fast-food joint, hours before kickoff on a bustling college campus. It was chaotic. Stressful. One customer walked in and ordered $100 worth of food. Another told Nyheim Hines his fries were cold, begging for fresh ones. Plenty more saw his face peak out from under his Bojangles’ visor in the drive-thru window, and wondered why in the world an NFL running back was handing them their fried chicken.

“What are you doing here?” they’d ask.

Fair question, considering Hines’ day job is paying him $480,000 in base salary this year.

Hines is the youngest member of the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster. He’s the No. 2 rusher in a dynamic offense, a shifty scat back coach Frank Reich loves using in open space, a rookie this team expects to bloom in the seasons to come. He’s slated to make $2.4 million by the time his rookie deal is complete in 2021.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Nyheim Hines could have spent his first bye week hanging out in the Bahamas, Mexico or on the West Coast in Southern California relaxing and spending some of his $480,000 base salary.

The thing about Hines, though, is that there was no temptation to do those things. His eyes were on his future even though he’s only 22 years old and hopes for a long NFL career.

That’s why he spent part of his bye week on the NC State campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, getting weird looks from people wondering what the NFL player was doing behind the counter wearing a Bojangles visor and T-shirt. He was taking and passing out orders of fried chicken, cajun fries, sweet tea and their signature Bo Berry biscuits.

Hines knows his football career won’t last forever. In fact, he knows it could end at any moment because of a freakish injury. That’s why he has started the process of learning what it takes to be a restaurant owner.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing since high school,” he said. “I talked to [my] father (Darrin) a lot, and he mentioned a restaurant. I always thought to myself that if I do make it to the NFL I’ll have a lot of money. Enough money to change my family’s life, and if I do it right, enough money for future generations of my family. I want to run several Bojangles when I’m done playing.”

Why a fast food restaurant instead of being a real estate (another passion of his) entrepreneur? Because fast food restaurants don’t close outside of renovations, Hines said.

“And in order to run a restaurant you have to be able to know how to do everything,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy thing to do. People are spending money on food they expect to look, taste and be delivered a certain way. The day I was in there it was on a Saturday a few hours before NC State’s football team had a game. Somebody came in and ordered $100 worth of food. You had to take care of his order and everybody else’s, too.”

Hines, who averages about 10 touches per game and has scored three TDs for the Colts this season, said he chose Bojangles because it’s always been his favorite place to eat. He posted an Instagram story back in July prior to heading to Indianapolis for training camp saying he was going to “miss you guys” and tagging Bojangles in it.

Bojangles, which is predominately in the southeastern part of the United States, got in touch with Hines and sent him the location of the nearest restaurant in each city the Colts play in this season. He had a friend bring him some Bojangles when the team was in Washington to play the Redskins in Week 2.

That’s why it was a “no-brainer” to try to work at Bojangles during the team’s bye in Week 9.

“My initial reaction was ‘Wow,’ when Nyheim told me that’s what he wanted to do when the players had days off,” David Thornton, the Colts director of player of engagement, said. “He was taking the initiative to make it happen. That’s admirable for a rookie to start that process on the front end and take it beyond just football. We really try to get guys to think about things beyond just football. Understanding that football is a gift. They’re special in that way, but everybody has gifts beyond that, too.”

Being a restaurant owner is a 100-yard journey for Hines. He started as an IT major at NC State but switched to a business major later. He said he still has 18 credit hours to complete before he receives his degree.

“I plan to continue working with restaurants in the offseason,” Hines said. “[Former Colts linebacker] Gary Brackett is somebody who went from playing in the NFL to becoming a successful entrepreneur. I want to learn from as many people as possible to see how they made the transition.”

Tyquan Lewis Jersey

The Indianapolis Colts used one of their second-round picks on defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis envisioning him as a versatile piece that could work all over the defensive front.

While they were right about his versatility, Lewi’s rookie season was put on hold for the first half of the season as the Ohio State product battled a toe injury, which forced him to start the season on the PUP list.

He did return for the second half, though, and wound up playing eight games recording 2.0 sacks and eight quarterback hits.

A pass rusher that could play the three-technique and on the edge, the Colts fell in love with Lewis’ versatility. They touted his talents all summer before he had to miss time due to the toe injury.
As soon as Lewis was ready to return to the field, he claimed a starting role at defensive end opposite Jabaal Sheard. Lewis would play more on the edge than the interior mostly due to the solid play of Margus Hunt and Denico Autry.

Lewis showed promise during his rookie season, but he also showed there were inconsistencies in his game as there were with all of the defensive linemen in 2018 for the Colts.

The Colts have a solid foundation defensively, and Lewis is among the building blocks of the unit in the front seven after a solid rookie season.

The Indianapolis Colts are without a member of the defensive line in the AFC Divisional Round. After listing defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis (knee) as doubtful on Thursday’s injury report for Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts on Friday announced that Lewis was downgraded to out.

Lewis, who did not practice the entire week, suffered the injury in the final regular-season game against the Tennessee Titans. He did not play in the Colts’ opening game of the playoffs last week against the Houston Texans.

The Colts are also without running back Ryan Grant, who was previously ruled out Thursday with a toe injury.

Here are other injuries we’re following heading into the Divisional Round of the playoffs:

  1. As the Chargers head to New England, tight end Hunter Henry (knee) is questionable to play, while fullback Derek Watt (shoulder), corner back Brandon Facyson (concussion) and linebacker Kyle Wilson (concussion) are likewise questionable.
  2. To little surprise, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (back) was ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Saints. Offensive tackle Jason Peters and defensive end Michael Bennett (foot) are questionable, as are linebacker D.J. Alexander and receivers Shelton Gibson (hamstring) and Mike Wallace (ankle).
  3. Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley (ankle), who did not practice all week, is questionable to play against the Rams on Saturday. Also questionable are tight end Blake Jarwin (ankle), defensive tackle Maliek Collins (illness/ankle), guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (ankle) and safety Darian Thompson (groin). David Irving (ankle) has been ruled out.
  4. Rams running back Todd Gurley (knee), along with defensive back Blake Countess (concussion), were full participants Thursday after being limited the day before. Defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks (thigh) did not practice and is questionable for Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys.
  5. Chiefs safety Eric Berry (heel), receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) and running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) are questionable heading into Saturday’s game against the Colts.
  6. Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (pectoral) looks to be a go for Sunday’s playoff tilt against the Eagles as he practiced in full on Friday and had no game status, which indicates he is expected to play.
  7. Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise (ankle) was limited in practice on Friday and is doubtful against the Chargers. Wise was the only Patriot on Friday’s injury report.

Kemoko Turay Jersey

INDIANAPOLIS — Kemoko Turay’s rookie season has hit a snag.

For so long, the rookie out of Rutgers was like so many of the rest of the Colts’ rookie class, playing a key role on the defensive line and flashing the pass-rush ability that made him one of Chris Ballard’s four second-round picks in April.

But Turay’s playing time, and subsequently his impact, started to fall off some time around Thanksgiving. Active for nine of the first 10 games of his rookie season, Turay averaged 36.1 snaps.

Turay has averaged just 11.3 snaps in the four games since then, and his season hit a low point when he was active on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys but did not take a snap.

Injuries have played a factor. So has the return of fellow rookie Tyquan Lewis, who took over as the starter at right defensive end immediately after being activated off of injured reserve.

Put simply, though, the Indianapolis coaching staff needs to see more out of Turay on the practice field.

“If you hustle in practice and you rush the way you were supposed to rush, execute and have production in practice, we are obviously going to play those guys in the game,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “If you don’t have that, and you have situations where you are not executing the way we want to and at the standard we want to have, then you might not play as much.”

Turay’s talent is obvious. Freakishly long and athletic, blessed with speed and an excellent first step, Turay has four sacks and ranks second on the Colts with 12 quarterback hits, evidence of his raw ability to get to the quarterback.

But Turay has been battling a neck/shoulder injury and a hip injury since October, and he was forced to sit out the Colts’ first game against Jacksonville. Turay returned the next week and recorded a sack in 41 snaps against the Titans, but he wasn’t playing at full strength.

“It’s getting better,” Turay said. “I’m just trying to get right.”

The shoulder injury, in particular, has lingered. While Turay declined to offer details on the injury, the rookie did admit that the shoulder has good days and bad days. At times, he feels like it’s healed, and then the pain returns.

“I’m constantly staying on top of it, getting stronger, trying to maintain it, make sure you keep yourself from getting injured further,” Turay said. “As of right now, I’m feeling better, I’m feeling good.”

Lewis’ emergence also doesn’t necessarily mean Turay has to lose snaps. The other defensive lineman the Colts picked in the second round, Lewis has the versatility to play all over the line, and Indianapolis would like to get him more chances to rush from the interior. In the first game the two played together, Lewis started on the right side and took 50 snaps, but Turay still logged 41 plays against the Titans.

Turay’s snaps have largely gone to backup defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, a player the Colts claimed off of waivers from the Saints at the end of training camp. Muhammad has played 98 snaps in the last two games after rarely playing 20 on defense for most of the season.

To Turay’s credit, he’s heard the message the coaching staff has been telling him: Hard work can get you back in the lineup.

“You’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do to keep your job,” Turay said. “The (coaching staff) didn’t see the guy I was the first week, so I’ve got to constantly keep getting in the training room and do whatever possible.”

Eberflus, for his part, opened the week by saying he was confident Turay would put in the work to earn back a spot on a surging Colts defense. The rookie has his eyes set on getting back to where he was in the first half of the season:

Chasing quarterbacks.

“I’ve been practicing, fighting through what I’m going through, but that ain’t going to stop me,” Turay said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to make the coach want to play me. It’s up to them. I’m going to do what I can do to the best of my ability.”

Because when he’s playing to the best of his ability, Turay can be a force.

Braden Smith Jersey

For years, the Colts have been searching for answers at right tackle, a spot that has seen trade targets, free agents, draft picks and developmental players fail to match Anthony Castonzo’s rock-solid consistency on the left side.

For a decade, Auburn has fielded one of the SEC’s most powerful offensive lines and simultaneously struggled to produce successful linemen at an NFL level.

Braden Smith could be the man to buck both of those trends.

Indianapolis initially envisioned Smith as a guard, but that was before injuries kicked him out to right tackle during training camp, before injuries and tragedy forced Smith into the starting lineup at right tackle two weeks ago, before Smith held up well against both the Patriots and Jets.

“Right now, it’s looking like Braden’s spot, with the way he’s playing,” Colts coach Frank Reich said.

Indianapolis took something of a risk when it selected Smith in the second round of April’s draft.

Not because a team should never take two guards in the top 37 picks, although general manager Chris Ballard took considerable criticism from the outside for just that after Smith’s name was called on draft day. Not because of his physical tools; Smith was one of the strongest, most explosive blockers available.

Because of his school.

Auburn has a long, proud history of producing Pro Bowl offensive linemen, but the pipeline dried up a decade ago.

The Tigers hired their current head coach, Gus Malzahn, as the offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik in 2009. Under Malzahn’s offensive guidance, Auburn has produced a Heisman Trophy winner, a national title, a BCS runner-up and nine consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher. A program like that should be a factory for NFL offensive linemen, but only five Auburn offensive linemen have been picked in the draft since 2009, and the Tigers’ top picks at the position have struggled.

Left tackle Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, was a colossal bust for the Rams and is now on his third team. Robinson’s replacement, Shon Coleman, was a 2016 third-round pick by Cleveland, failed to win a starting role and was shipped off to San Francisco in August for a seventh-round pick.

The problem is Auburn’s offense.

Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle scheme is nothing like an NFL offense. Auburn rarely huddles. Offensive linemen operate mostly out of a two-point stance. Play calls are a picture on a board, rather than a long list of words, and Auburn rarely makes checks or audibles at the line of scrimmage, a staple of NFL offensive line play.

And the differences don’t stop after the ball is snapped. Auburn’s passing game is built around short, quick throws, limiting a lineman’s true pass-blocking snaps to a dozen or so per game. The tempo is so fast that defenses do not have time to change calls, disguise blitzes or rotate fresh personnel into the fight.

“It’s two different styles,” Smith said. “At Auburn, all we did was run the ball. It’s a pretty simple offense. It’s not too complex, which is the point of it, so we could go fast.”

Auburn is emblematic of a larger problem for NFL talent evaluators.

So many college programs run some version of the spread that there are fewer ready-made offensive linemen available in the draft than ever before. Programs that run pro-style offenses — schools such as Wisconsin, Iowa, Stanford — have become premier spots to find help on the line. The Colts went to one of those farms to get first-round pick Quenton Nelson; Notre Dame has produced five first- or second-round picks on the offensive line in the past five years.

Indianapolis believed Smith’s spread-offense background would not limit him as it has limited Robinson and Coleman. When the Colts finished evaluating Smith, the team felt confident that his skills were not “scheme-dependent,” according to director of college scouting Morocco Brown.

The physical gifts were clearly in place.

Darius Leonard Jersey

When Darius Leonard first arrived at South Carolina State, he was playing both sides of the ball as a wide receiver and linebacker. It was something he said he expected to do for all four years of his college career, but his coach, Oliver “Buddy” Pough, had other plans.

“He kind of threw me on defense and was, ‘Stay there,’ ” Leonard recalled.

The longtime football coach at South Carolina State chuckled at the thought – he can do that now – after reflecting on the player who set the career record for tackles (394) at the historically black college in Orangeburg and was selected 36th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL draft.

“He wanted to be a wide receiver here, and now looking back on it, I wish I had [played him at receiver] … I probably screwed that up,” said Pough, who is in his 17th season as head coach of the Bulldogs and has been a part of the program as a player, assistant coach or head coach for more than four decades.

“We had him redshirted as a freshman because he was, like, about 180, 185 pounds, somewhere in that neck of the woods — and we were laughing then that he was the best player on our team, and he wasn’t even playing. But [Darius] was one of those players who’s always been a little bit above what you think a player like that could be. But hindsight is always 20/20.”

It’s also clear Pough’s plan worked out just fine, too.

Leonard, in his first year in the NFL, leads the league with 54 tackles and has played a big role in improving a Colts defense that finished 30th out of 32 teams last season in total defense and allowed 367 yards per game.

“If you had told me that I’d be leading [the NFL] in tackles in my rookie year, I think I would have told you that I didn’t believe you,” said Leonard. “I’m just coming from a small school, and I thought I was [going to] take a little more time to actually get right.”

Leonard isn’t the only one surprised at his start; even those who’ve followed his trajectory – from high school to this point – admit to the same.

“I’m surprised that he’s been able to play at such a high level,” said Ernest Robinson, who called all of Leonard’s games as the play-by-play radio announcer for South Carolina State.

“We’ve seen him play that way before, we just didn’t think it would translate that quickly at that level. But what he does doesn’t surprise me from the standpoint of how hard he works. He puts in a lot of effort in everything that he does. He won’t be outworked, even at that level.”

“When I got drafted, there wasn’t a lot of praise of me going early, so I was just dying to still prove everybody wrong.”

Far from an imposing linebacker at 6 feet 2 inches and 234 pounds, Leonard is doing in the NFL what he did at South Carolina State, where he started all 43 games during his career, leading the team in tackles three times and earning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year his junior and senior years.

Unlike his college career, however, there was no doubt in the Colts’ mind as to where Leonard would play. A starter from the beginning, Leonard let the nation know who he was – and where he’s from – when he had 18 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the Colts’ 21-9 win against the Washington Redskins on Sept. 16.

“A star in the making,” is how veteran defensive lineman Al Woods described Leonard to ESPN.com’s Mike Wells. “Just a guy that comes to work every single day. He takes the good with the bad. Takes the coaching, he talks to the older cats, he always tells me to remind him about his alignment. He does a good job with everything. Everything you want out of a young player.”

South Carolina State wasn’t supposed to be the landing spot for Leonard – not in his mind, at least. The Lake View, South Carolina, native was dead set on attending Clemson, where his half-brother Anthony Waters played from 2002 to 2006 and later had a short NFL career with the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers.

Though he’d been on Clemson’s radar – Leonard attended football camps there as a high schooler – the scholarship offer never came. But Clemson’s loss would be Pough’s gain as Leonard would anchor his defense and, like most professional athletes, be driven by a desire to prove people wrong.

When the opportunity came to show the Tigers what they’d missed, Leonard responded with a 19-tackle performance when the Bulldogs met the Tigers during his junior season.

It’s the same fuel that drives him in the NFL now.

“When I got drafted, there wasn’t a lot of praise of me going early,” he said when discussing his breakout game against the Redskins, “so I was just dying to still prove everybody wrong.”

In a league that’s all about making adjustments, Leonard will have to contend with teams game-planning around him, something you can bet is already in the works with arguably the best at it: Bill Belichick, whose New England Patriots host Leonard’s Colts on Thursday night.

“Darius is going to have to do a lot of homework, because the NFL is all about homework,” explained Robinson. “And one of the things that Darius has in the NFL that he did not have at South Carolina State is access to video to seeing highlights and all the time studying on plays. Darius will do that – even though he didn’t have access to that in college, so from that standpoint, that’s new to him. So, as they prepare for him, he’ll be able to be that much more prepared.”

Before his first NFL game on Sept. 9, Leonard allowed himself a moment to reflect on his journey.

“That first game against Cincinnati I came out for warmups and I just felt a whole different vibe there and that’s when I kind of … took it all in,” explained Leonard, who had nine tackles (six solo) in that 23-34 loss to the Bengals.

“It was just a lot of emotions coming out. It was everything that I worked for, so just coming out of the tunnel … I was just kinda happy, emotional a lil’ bit, just ready to play.”

His college coach takes great pride in seeing Leonard blossom so soon.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, [but] I think he’s one of the top guys I’ve ever had a chance to coach, and I think he knows that,” explained the coach. “I just think we just kind of have to continue to see where we’re going to from here.”

For now, Leonard is representing his alma mater as well as can be. Few teammates even knew of his school with an undergraduate enrollment of 2,524, or that players from historically black colleges steadily ball out. Now, the entire league is on notice.

When asked about his goals for this season, it comes as no surprise that they’re lofty: “I want to win the Super Bowl, be the Defensive Player of the Year, and go to the Pro Bowl.”

He’s well on his way.