Monday, April 29, 2013

Hughes is gone, Sheppard and the UDFAs are in

As busy as I am, I was in a rush to post about the UDFAs until I found out the Colts had traded the Outlaw Jerry Hughes to the Bills. The reason I don’t rush to say who they traded him for is because I kinda don’t care. Just getting Hughes and his stupid contract out of town is good enough for me.

Lots of people (including me) were delighted when the Colts drafted Hughes in the first round of the 2010 draft. But since then, he’s been terrible on defense, worse on special teams and has demonstrated some very un-Colt-like behavior. He’s not a bad person, just not a Colt. Begone, I says, good riddance to ya.

In return, the Colts get inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Pressed into duty last year, he did okay. He looked pretty much like I thought he would (I see a lot of the Bills up here). A bit overwhelmed, but generally okay. He’s actually kind of the opposite of what you expect from inside guys in that he’s better in coverage and blitzing than he is in stuffing and shedding.

He may never amount to much, and the Colts are very deep at his position. But any return for Hughes at this point has to look like gravy.

So, onto the UDFAs:

Denodus O’Bryant HB Lindenwood
Numbers: 5085/194/4.44pd
2012 stats: 198-1,205-11 rushing, 38-537-3 receiving, 13-300-1 kick returns
It’s funny that the Colts added O’Bryant after drafting Utah State’s Kerwynn Williams because they are pretty much the same back. Both are compactly built guys who play much bigger than they are at halfback, and are excellent return men and good receivers. And, of course, neither is big enough for many reps and at halfback in the NFL and neither would be much help against a determined blitzer, either. To pick nits (and that’s what I do here), Williams is a more accomplished receiver, playing split wide or in the slot throughout much of career, while O’Bryant’s the better returner. I first noticed him in 2009 when he went a ridiculous 13-477-4 on kick returns and followed it up in 2010 when he went 11-384-2, while on his way to becoming the Lions’ primary ball carrier. His 18 reps and 38-inch vertical at his pro day helped, too. It appear that the Colts are looking for a dedicated return man who can also serve as a score-from-anywhere threat on offense.

Dan Moore FB Montana
Numbers: 5097/234/4.63
2012 stats: 76-413-4 rushing, 11-203-1 receiving
Moore’s a lot like the Stanley Havili, the fullback the Colts recently traded to get. Both are smaller, more athletic-style fullbacks who are more effective than devastating as blockers, but have good receiving skills and the ability to run the ball. Moore’s versatility — he played fullback, halfback and H-back in college, as well as special teams — make him valuable in the Colts’ offense. But like Havili, Moore’s had injury problems.

Jamal-Rashad Patterson WR Stanford
Numbers: 6020/209/4.55pd
2012 stats: 16-271-2 receiving, 4-59-0 rushing
What, another offensive player from Stanford? Well, Patterson’s more of a track guy who has yet to find himself in football. An occasional starter for the Cardinal, Patterson needs to develop in many aspects of the game before he’s an NFL-quality receiver, though. The fact that he’s not a return guy doesn’t help his cause, but familiarity with Andrew Luck and Pep Hamilton does.

Rodrick Rumble WR Idaho St.
Numbers: 6021/209/4.59pd
2012 stats: 74-1,006-6 receiving
The Colts signed another big, unheralded receiver. But, unlike Patterson who was unproductive at a big-time program, Rumble was very productive at a lower-status program. Another track guy, and an accomplished basketball player, Rumble will have his work cut out for him to make the team. Again, it’s unlikely he’ll play any part in the search for a return man.

Lanear Sampson WR Baylor
Numbers: 5111/204/4.40c4.38pd
2012 stats: 52-546-6 receiving
A reliable complementary guy in college, Sampson’s problems with getting off the line of scrimmage and being creative about getting open will probably be magnified in the pros. He has some kick return experience, but has not excelled at it. The key for Sampson would appear to be improving his toughness and strength.

Jerome Cunningham TE Southern Connecticut St.
Numbers: 6025/250/4.70pd
2012 stats: 29-337-2 receiving
So, the Colts have a big blocking tight end who can catch the odd outlet pass and goes by J. Cunningham? Make that two.

Emmett Cleary OT Boston College
Numbers: 6067/316/5.21c
2012 stats: Offensive line, dude
Anthony Castonzo’s pal, roommate and replacement at Boston College, Cleary is gifted with a big frame, but not with elite athleticism. He could develop into a swing backup tackle, though.

Jordan Bright DE Indiana St.
Numbers: 6060/294/5.19pd
2012 stats: 7 tackles, 16 assists, 5-19 tackles for loss, 1-9 sack, 2 hurries
This year’s token Sycamore is a 3-4 DE/4-3 DT-type who saw little action in college due to injuries and players ahead of him. A long shot.

C.O. Prime ILB Wagner
Numbers: 5112/255/4.90pd
2012 stats: 32 tackles, 66 assists, 2.5-6 tackles for loss, 0.5-2 sack, 1-12-0 interception, 3 pass deflections, 1-0-0 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles
An undersized small-college DE and DT, Prime will be given a short at inside linebacker with the Colts. He has the athleticism, but it will be quite a step up for this kid from football-crazy (trust me on this) Laval, Quebec.

Nigel Malone CB Kansas State
Numbers: 5102/184/4.47pd
2012 stats: 44 tackles, 7 assists, 5-102-0 interceptions, 23 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble
Remember the corners Bill Polian used to like? Talented in all ways, but so small they were pushed around with impunity? Well, Malone’s one of them. Still, he has the skills to be a pretty decent NFL slot corner.  

Sheldon Price CB UCLA
Numbers: 6020/190/4.46pd
2012 stats: 30 tackles, 7 assists, 0.5-0.5 tackles for loss, 4-8-0 interceptions, 14 passes deflected, 1 blocked kick
While Price looks the part and has all the measureables, he has not shown consistent cornerback play in college. His best hope is that the Colts coaching staff teach him something UCLA’s did not.

Daxton Swanson CB Sam Houston St.
Numbers: 5100/186/4.48c4.44pd
2012 stats: 33 tackles, 13 assists, 1.5-6 tackles for loss, 4-29-0 interceptions, 32 passes defelected, 1-0-0 fumble returns, 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked kick
Another undersized corner, Swanson is an excellent athlete who could emerge as an extra DB.

Nick Driskell S Mount Union
Numbers: 5084/197/4.53pd
2012 stats: 63 tackles, 38 assists, 3-23 sacks, 14.5-57 tackles for loss, 2-4-0 interceptions, 11 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles, 2 kicks blocked, 1-1-0 rushing, 2-53-1 punt returns
It wouldn't be the Colts if they didn't grab a guy from Mount Union. Driskill was an amazing do-everything guy for the Raiders, playing everywhere on the field on defense and special teams and even occasionally on offense. Guy’s a player, don’t count him out.

Michael Josifovski K Marian
Numbers: 6011/194/4.94pd
2012 stats: 15/26 field goals, 55/56 PAT, 83-5,103-35 kickoffs
Another local kid. Kicker is a weird situation for the Colts. Vinatieri is set to retire, and McAfee looks primed to replace him, but can he really handle punting AND kicking? And will he keep signing one-year tenders? The Colts need to audition. This kid’s got a decent leg, needs a bit of psychological toughness.

Brandon McManus K Temple
Numbers: 6034/201/4.80pd
2012 stats: 14-17 field goals, 32-33 PAT, 56-3,556-40 kickoffs, 54-2,433-17 punting
A bigger guy, a better athlete and a stronger leg than Josifovski, and he can punt. But does he have the stuff the realize that he’s facing two potential hall of famers for a roster spot?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Post-draft thoughts

The Colts draft is full of questions. Can Bjoern Werner play 3-4 OLB? Can Hugh Thornton convert back to guard? Can Khaled Holmes handle inside blitzes? Will Montari Holmes be dedicated enough to the game to contribute? Can John Boyett stay healthy? Is Kerwynn Williams big enough to play in the NFL? And is Justice Cunnigham ... actually, Cunningham’s pretty much a sure thing. Let’s take a look: 

1. Bjoern Werner OLB Florida State 
Wow. When draft-speculating season began, Werner was seen as a Top 5 pick. It was his college production that made teams want him so badly. As a frosh, he recorded 3.5 sacks, then 7 as a soph and a remarkable 13 as a junior before declaring for the draft. And he passed the eyeball test, showing great natural athleticism, discipline and technique far beyond his years. But then it kind of fell apart for him. At the combine, he ran poorly (4.81 and 4.83) and didn’t really impress in any other drills. But the game is not played in drills. Players like Emmitt Smith and Anquan Boldin had terrible forties, and it hardly held them back. Maybe Werner will get caught from behind on a long interception or fumble return, but I don’t see too many other holes in his game. 2013 expectation: Werner will probably beat out Erik Walden, Lawrence Sidbury and the Outlaw Jerry Hughes for the right to start opposite Robert Mathis. Though a natural 4-3 end, Werner has great athleticism, and should have no problem adapting to the Colts’ system. I think he could develop into a double-digit sacker relatively quickly, but they will come through his relentlessness, not explosion. 

3. Hugh Thornton G Illinois 
The tenacious wrestler with the troubled childhood doesn’t have the length to stay outside, and will play guard in the pros (that’s not too much of a challenge because he has started at guard in college). Quick and strong, he gets into position very quickly and fights to the whistle every play. A move inside would mask his biggest liability (lateral movement) and get the best out of his natural mauler tendency. 2013 expectation: While I think Donald Thomas is a shoo-in for the left guard spot, Thornton will fight Mike McGlynn, Joe Reitz, Jeff Linkenbach and maybe Ben Ijalana for the right-side job and could well win. 

4. Khaled Holmes C USC 
There’s a lot to like about Holmes as a natural offensive lineman. He’s quick and strong and has enviably long arms. But he has three major question marks that make him a project: 1) he has a great deal of difficulty recognizing interior blitzes, committing too quickly to a double-team and letting the blitzer go by untouched, 2) he has a long history of lingering injuries, and 3) he’s been inconsistent snapping the ball. Until he gets by those hurdles, don’t expect him to see much playing time on offense. His 13 bench-press reps at the Combine didn’t impress anyone, either; but that’s not always a great indicator of playing strength. 2013 expectation: I think Holmes will be a virtual redshirt as a rookie, learning and playing as a swing reserve before challenging for a bigger role in 2014. 

5. Montori Hughes NT Tennessee-Martin 
Hughes is an even bigger question mark than Holmes is. There is no doubting his gifts; he is simply a huge man with phenomenal strength and quick reflexes. But the problem lies between his ears. Years of poor decision-making and questionable commitment and work ethic have made Hughes, a first-round talent, a fifth-round gamble. First academics derailed him, then two drug arrests. Then, after transferring from Tennessee to Tennessee-Martin, he played well, but did not dominate the way he should have, relying more on brute strength and explosion without improving his technique. He’d go from one stellar play to jumping offside the next or being flattened by a man half his size and staying on the ground until the whistle. 2013 expectation: The Colts traded a 2014 fourth-round pick to get Hughes, so they must really like him. Although there is a great quantity of nose tackle options on the roster, all of them have major question marks. But like Holmes, Hughes will have to show he’s progressed enough to be reliable before he gets any snaps on defense. 

6. John Boyett S Oregon 
Here’s an easy-to-like pick. Injuries aside, Boyett showed early in his college career he is a pro-quality safety, delivering big hits and demonstrating solid coverage ability, particularly in zone. A former quarterback, he’s hard to fool. More important for the turnover-starved Colts, he has very soft hands for the position. 2013 expectation: Safety is a deep position on the Colts right now, and Boyett will struggle for playing time as a rookie on defense (although not on special teams). He could get a bigger role in 2014, especially if the Colts let incumbent free safety Antoine Bethea (set to become an unrestricted free agent) walk. 

7a. Kerwynn Williams HB Utah State 
And here’s the back I said they’d never draft. And that’s no dis on Williams, who is a talent, just not a fit. He’ll run between the tackles, but is hardly a fall-forward, drag-defenders kind of guy and — horrors! — he’s a major liability as a pass-blocker. But the Colts didn’t pick the kid’s name out of a hat. He’s a truly elusive runner, especially as a kick returner, and an excellent receiver, often splitting wide in college. 2013 expectation: I think the Colts will give Williams every chance to win the return specialist job. If he does, or shows enough promise that he could, he could also get some reps on offense, perhaps as a slot receiver and/or gadget-play guy. 

7b. Justice Cunningham TE South Carolina 
Another easy-to-like pick; Cunningham is a real load as a blocker, often used by the Gamecocks as a third tackle. Although he has soft hands and is a reliable receiver, his limited athleticism prevents him from getting off the line quickly or being effective against safeties (or even linebackers) on all but the shortest routes. Remember when the Colts drafted Brody Eldridge? They wanted a heavy-blocking tight end who could occasionally catch an emergency pass. It didn’t work out, but Cunningham seems like the guy they wanted then. 2013 expectation: Cunningham will compete against Weslye Saunders for the Colts’ blocking tight end job, and could well win.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I haven't posted because I've been super busy, but has anybody noticed how popular it's become to predict Carradine as the Colts' top pick once ColtPlay did. (Drops microphone, walks off stage.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Colts sign Josh McNary

Two years ago, Josh McNary was a very productive college defensive end and outside linebacker who had a few strikes against him, he was small (just under six feet tall, and about 230 pounds), played at a lower level of competition, and had committed to spend the next two years of his life in the Army.

But with those years done, McNary's the latest addition to the Colts roster. The good news is that he was ridiculously successful in college, recording 28 sacks and 49 tackles for loss. He was super-quick off the snap, had a variety of pass-rush moves and, as they say, a non-stop motor.

But that was two years ago. I'd love to see this kid make it,. but it's a real uphill battle for him.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Answering Roy

Roy is one of ColtPlay's readers, and he sent me a few questions. Let's see if I can answer them.

He pointed out that he feels Vick Ballard is pretty ordinary at halfback, and that a replacement or complement would be a good idea for the Colts.

I think "ordinary" is a bit harsh because Ballard has his special moments, and is well-suited to the Colts offense, but he could uses some help. An upgrade over Godamnit Donald Brown and Delone Carter in the backfield with Ballard should not be that hard to find.

I think we can safely rule out the acquisition of a "speedback" or change-of-pace runner. The offense works how it works, and I don't see the point in retooling it temporarily for a different type of back when Ballard's not in. The duties of the back in this offense are to help keep Luck safe as an outlet receiver and pass blocker and to grind out tough yards, falling forward and dragging defenders to beat them up, exhaust them and keep them from easing into nickel, dime and quarter formations. So you can forget about some 185-pound speedster who gets a 4.0 yards-per-carry average by mixing 20-yard bursts among losses and no gains.

The presence of and focus on Andrew Luck means it's not reasonable to think that the Colts will have a 1,600-yard back, but it's not out of the question that they could draft one in the first round. Alabama's Eddie Lacy is exactly the kind of back they like, and he'll likely to be available at No. 24. Some prefer North Carolina's Giovani Bernard, but don't count me among them. While Lacy would almost certainly be a top NFL back, pressing needs elsewhere could well preclude him becoming a Colt.

Later in the draft there are some interesting halfbacks, but they all kind of lack something. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is an outstanding talent, probably the best in this year's class, but his record of two season-ending ACL injuries in two years is kind of scary.

Stanford's Stepfan Taylor would appear to be tailor-made for the team after excelling in Pep Hamilton's offense in college, but his 4.76 forty is hard to ignore.

Then there's Christine Michael of Texas A&M. As gifted a back as you'll see, Michael doesn't have a head for the game. Maturity and effort issues, along with injuries, make him a question mark as well.

If the Colts grab Lacy, he probably opens camp at No. 1. If they draft anyone else, Ballard's the starter, and the other guy will fight to be No. 2.

Roy also points out that the Colts would be wise to protect their investment in Luck by drafting North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper in the first round if he's available. I would have no problem with that, although I think pass-rusher is a more pressing need. It's as simple as this: Are you more confident with Joe Reitz at right guard or Erik Walden at ROLB? The point may well be moot, though, because I can't see Cooper lasting until No. 24.

And finally, Roy asks if Darrius Heyword-Bey was the big signing Jim Irsay was hinting at on Twitter, or if it was just part of Irsay's dog and pony show. I'd have to say bit of both. I think the Colts intended to sign or trade for a big-name receiver, were shut out and signed DHB as a consolation prize. He is well known, but primarily for being something of a draft bust.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Well he is fast, and it's only a one-year deal

A few days ago, I was pretty impressed with the Colts for not signing Darrius Heyward-Bey. Then they signed him.

Oh well, it's a one-year deal, so if he doesn't work out, that's cool.

The big thing he brings is speed. DHB has run the forty in the 4.25-4.30 range, and plays fast. He's also a bigger guy, who is hard to press and knock off his routes. And, although this was a big complaint early in his career, he's actually become a pretty decent route runner. He's also become a pretty effective blocker for a wideout.

Now the bad. His hands aren't as awful as people have claimed, but they're not good, either. Last season he dropped six of the 47 passes he got his hands on. Despite all his speed, he's not really elusive and does not have many moves to make yards after the catch. And, although he's a pretty strong guy, he doesn't always play tough, fighting for balls in traffic, fighting for extra yards or making the big catch over the middle.

An appropriate simile for DHB would be one of those mega-horsepower muscle cars from the late 60s and early 70s that had remarkable straight-line speed, but weren't really good at doing anything else.

Because of DHB's ineffectiveness out of the slot, I think we'll see Reggie Wayne and TY Hilton as the starters in two-receiver sets, with DHB lining up wide and Hilton shifting over to the slot on three-receiver sets. That is, of course, if DHB can beat out LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and anybody else they bring to camp.

While I'm certainly of the opinion that he represents an upgrade over Donnie Avery, and that his almost legendary straight-line speed will probably inspire some defensive backs to play a bit deeper than they normally would, I'm not a huge fan of this signing. DHB seems a bit out of place in Pep's offense, and he does not have the potential to be the No. 1 guy the Colts will need when Wayne eventually slows down and/or retires.

It seems to me that the signing was more an attempt to make headlines and Twitter traffic by adding a big name, rather than a player who can make a real impact. I hope I'm wrong about that.

Still, DHB's presence probably means us fans can take wide receiver off our lists of positions we can consider for the first round in our mock drafts.

BG points out that the team still needs a right guard, corner; safety; edge rusher and third halfback, and wonders if they can solve the guard problem through free agency.

The only significant free agent left at guard is 10-year veteran Brandon Moore. I'm sure the Colts could make a run at him, although I hear the Cowboys are his most likely destination, but I'm not sure they will. Instead, I think they will throw Joe Reitz, Jeff Linkenbach, Mike McGlynn, Ben Ijalana and anyone who comes in the draft (although it's unlikely to be a first-round pick) into the fray and see who wins the job. My money's on Reitz.

Corner could be an option, although the Colts have a lot of money invested in their top three (Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler), and not an insignificant amount earmarked for their probable No. 4, Cassius Vaughn. The other three guys already in house (Josh Gordy, Marshay Green and Teddy Williams) should be able to give them a competent, developable No. 5. Of course, it's always a position you want to upgrade, but I can't see the Colts investing a first-round or even third-round pick at the position (unless they fall in love with somebody) because I can't see who the rookie would displace. An aside: Keep an eye on Williams. He's raw as sashimi, but is also one of the few humans who may actually be faster than DHB.

Safety is an interesting option, despite the presence of starters Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry and swingman/special-teams ace Joe Lefeged. Bethea is going to be an unrestricted free agent next season, and the team has made no movement toward signing him to a long-term contract yet, and I'm not sure he fits their concept of an ideal safety. Maybe he walks. If he does, the team needs to replace him.

Edge rusher, of course, is a crying need, despite the signings of Erik Walden and Lawrence Sidbury. If the Colts use their first-round pick at any other position, I'll be surprised if not totally disappointed.

As for halfback, I'm not totally in agreement with BG. Instead of a No. 3, I think the Colts need a No. 2 who could challenge to be No. 1A if not No. 1. In fact, it's one of the few positions that would actually make sense in teh first round if the team can't find a pass rusher they like enough.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Just a few Colts-related thoughts

Remember how everyone in Coltsland (except ColtPlay, natch) were telling us all about how interested the team was in Mike "Possum" Jenkins? Well, Jenkins has been a free agent for a while, and I don't think the Colts have dialed his number. Maybe his value was over-rated. The Jags offered him a one-year deal, and he turned it down. Now he's shopping his services to the Bills and Raiders, and nobody wants to play for the Bills or Raiders.

That reminds me of Carson Palmer, whose agents says that if he's cut (and he's almost certain to be), the guy the Raiders gave two first rounders (and more) for, would rather play for the 49ers than the Cardinals. While it's certainly true that the 49ers are a much better-run organization with a very good chance of winning a Super Bowl in the next few seasons and the Cardinals are not, it makes me wonder about the guy. Yes, he could get a ring with San Fran, but in Arizona, he'd actually be wearing a helmet, not a baseball cap. It's not like Matt Hasselbeck, who knew his starting days were behind him when he signed in Indy.

I'd love it if the Colts got a nice halfback in the draft to complement Vick Ballard, but all of them come with so many questions. Hard to be sure about any of them, but there sure is upside. I have a sneaking suspicion we'll see Christine Michael wearing a horseshoe next season.

There's precious little left in free agency, especially at the positions the Colts want. Anybody want to see Ryan Lilja again?

I like the trade for Stanley Havili. He's just a guy who can help in so many ways if he stays healthy. Obviously, his primary job on offense will be as a blitz pickup/outlet receiver, but he can also help on special teams in coverage (he had six special-teams tackles last season) and as a blocker.

I know Josh Chapman is still the future at nose tackle, but they didn't sign Aubrayo Franklin to sit. But that's okay. Franklin is getting on in years (but at a position that has seen lots of success by players well into their 30s) and will offer no pass rush, but he stops runners cold and annoys and occupies linemen, so it's all good.

Like everyone else, I'm pretty sure the Colts won't be able to find a decent starter out the Outlaw Jerry Hughes, Erik Walden or Lawrence Sidbury. To be perfectly honest, I believe that if all three were given the same number of snaps, Sidbury would be the most productive. Still, I'd love to know what made the Falcons bench him when he was so promising early in his career and they so desperately needed pass-rushers? And if was so serious, why didn't they cut him?

Interesting thing about Walden, although his contract is huge, the signing bonus was only $1 million and only his first year's salary is guaranteed. If he's not effective in his first season, cutting him would not leave behind a lot of dead money. Seems like the Colts like him, but are prepared to dump him pending his one-year audition. Similarly, Sidbury received no bonus at all.