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, help Luck earn MVP consideration Colts star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton took the time to sit down with local radio personality John Michael Vincent (JMV) following training camp practice on Monday. Topics ranged from fast food, to comments about specific teammates, to trying to gain insight about the new look Colts offense. Hilton handled the questions with the kind of professionalism that you would expect, carefully choosing his words in most cases but there were some interesting pieces to take away from the interview.JMV spent some time discussing Andrew Luck’s return to the field and how it has impacted the team. Specifically, he asked if it was difficult to play without him — acknowledging that Jacoby Brissett made some nice plays in his absence. Hilton said:Reports out of camp have consistently supported that Luck and Hilton are right back on the same page, even after missing so much time. Hilton’s production took a considerable dip without him so there is no getting around the fact that Luck’s return is good for him.Regarding how they have built that chemistry, Hilton reflected on how long they’ve been together.This is the same kind of chemistry Colts fans were used to when they watched Peyton Manning play with Marvin Harrison. A glance out to Harrison from the pocket pre-snap, especially if he was calling an audible, meant impending doom for opposing defenses. Assuming Hilton and Luck can stay healthy, there is good reason to believe that they will produce at top levels again in 2018.Just how much should Colts fans expect from Hilton this year? Take it from the man himself:These are lofty expectations but Hilton leading the league in receiving yards should mean that the Colts offense is pretty effective. If the offense is clicking, we’ve already seen how far Andrew Luck can take a football team — including one that has glaring weaknesses all over the roster. JMV pressed Hilton on that exact topic. JMV said, “Then I am assuming, if that happens, Luck is probably getting talked about...” and Hilton interrupted him and said, “MVP. Hands down.”It is certainly nice to hear that Hilton has this level of confidence. It is not particularly surprising for a football player on any team in the league make bold predictions, so the comments can be taken with a grain of salt www.coltscheapshop.com
, but there is no doubt that Hilton and the Colts are excited about what Luck’s return means for the team’s future.When asked about the off-season and what he has done to get himself ready to perform at a high level, Hilton spoke mainly about his diet. He admitted to cutting out fast food and joked about cutting out Popeye’s, the same restaurant Pacers star Victor Oladipo eliminated from his diet to put up the best season of his career.Regarding his playing time in Thursday night’s preseason game, Hilton admitted that the coaching staff hasn’t shared specific expectations with the players yet. He said that he typically plays “a series or so” but doesn’t know anything more than that.When asked about his teammates at receiver, Hilton talked about Ryan Grant helping out with young players, specifically Deon Cain and Reece Fountain. He also complimented K.J. Brent when he said, “K.J. Brent is having a great camp so far.” While mentioning drafted rookies and a big free agent signing is not surprising in any way, mentioning Brent unprompted may be an indication that he is earning respect from his teammates. Brent is a player who fans should watch closely on Thursday night, and moving forward in training camp and the preseason.While this time of year is way to early to accurately predict how things will turn out for any NFL team, it is clear that T.Y. Hilton expects to benefit greatly from Andrew Luck’s return. The excitement level for all players who have seen Luck returning to his normal self in practices has be noted throughout all of training camp. The next step is getting live game action on Thursday night.Stampede Blue Q&A: Who will lead the Colts in sacks? Q: Who do you think will lead the Colts in sacks this year? Do the Colts finish with more total sacks than our opponents?A: It’s super early but I’ll say Jabaal Sheard. Margus Hunt is a smart choice here in that he’s been far more productive at defensive end than I would have predicted and because I believe he can move inside to defensive tackle and stay on the field more than most others on the team. More snaps means more opportunities so it isn’t a stretch to think that he ends up setting the pace.The reason I choose Sheard is because he is a more natural pass rusher. He certainly isn’t going to push to lead the league but he is a player who got hotter as the year went on in 2017. As the rest of the defensive line becomes more disruptive and gets off of the snap violently, Sheard will benefit from rushing off of the edge and stunting inside. I expect that his production will start picking up and Hunt will come back to earth a bit.As for net season total in sacks for versus sacks allowed, I will say that my answer relies upon health. Assuming Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Matt Slauson, Braden Smith, and Joe Heag can all remain healthy throughout the season Indianapolis Colts T-Shirt
, there is a reasonable chance. The quicker the team has Anthony Castonzo back at left tackle and Denzelle Good competing at right tackle, the better I like the odds. It helps that the line will have made it through the toughest part of the season schedule in terms of defensive line talent after the first quarter of the year. I’ll say that the Colts will have more net sacks than they give up in 2018 if the defensive line continues to get off at the snap the way they did against the Redskins.Q: Do we have an actual WR2 or are we going with a WR2 by committee?A: Ryan Grant is the WR2. He is our possession receiver who keeps the chains moving and find ways to get open on short routes. With that said, this offense doesn’t lend itself a great deal to the same kinds of labels as there might be on offensive skill players in other offenses. Who is RB1? Who is RB2? What determines that? Just carries? What about when and how the player is used?We have the same issue with wide receiver and tight end. Jack Doyle is clearly TE1 because he’s on the field much more than the others. However, Eric Ebron has been the most effective pass-catching TE this season. Does that makes him TE2 or WR2? I still give the label to Grant but answering that question in this offense isn’t particularly easy.Q: Besides Nelson/Leonard, who will be the best player from our 2018 class?A: Considering that Cain was lost for the season with an ACL injury, Tyquan Lewis is on the injured reserve, and Reece Fountain is working some things out on the practice squad, it’s a pretty difficult projection. However, I think that Jordan Wilkins could very well earn the “lead back” responsibilities in his sophomore season. Mack and Hines can be the change of pace players while he stays in the game for the vast majority of snaps and creates balance. I really like his running style, his patience and vision, and I think he can continue to improve if he has more time behind this offensive line, particularly if the line gets healthy.Q: Can Ballard quiet some of his harsher critics if this yea’rs rookie class plays well?A: I think any NFL general manager will quiet critics when their rookies play well. However, I think Ballard’s job is broader than just how the rookies play or develop. I think he will be judged primarily on the development of the team overall and an identity that fans can get behind.Every player who outperforms expectations, no matter how acquired, will help Ballard quiet critics. Here are a list of players who likely are giving Ballard some breathing room and driving some of the confidence for the future:DE/DT Margus Hunt, LB Darius Leonard Indianapolis Colts Hats
, CB Kenny Moore, CB Nate Hairston, TE Eric Ebron, OB Quenton Nelson, RB Jordan WilkinsThere are certainly other players who could be included here but each of these players is here because Ballard brought them here. Each has outperformed any reasonable expectations to this point in their Colts careers. There are 4 draft picks and three free agents in that small list.Q: What positions do you think the Colts will target in the 2019 draft?A: It really depends on Ballard’s approach to free agency. The only Colts wide receivers under contract in 2019 are T.Y. Hilton, Deon Cain, Reece Fountain, and James Wright. Chester Rogers will be a restricted free agent. Honestly, the projected free agent wide receiver class isn’t particularly inspiring. I could see him grabbing multiple wide receivers.I believe Ballard will continue concentrating on the trenches. He will likely look to bring in a player or two to represent the future at each offensive tackle spot. He will also likely look at a pass rushing prospect early on if one is available. Finding another true animal at linebacker would also create a potentially potent situation for the defense. Imagine pairing Darius Leonard with a similar impact player at the position. At this point in the season, the team needs look far better than what many would anticipate. I would place edge rusher, wide receiver, linebacker, and offensive tackle at the top of the list. Which of these positions, if any, are addressed in free agency? That will likely determine Ballard’s emphasis in the draft.