PhilB: What are you thinking today about your Colts?
Jaysn: I got to tell ya, I’m pretty excited with the direction the organization is headed. I’m a big (GM) Chris Ballard fan, a big (head coach) Frank Reich fan. I think they have the team headed in the right direction with the youth, then this year, bringing on some veteran leadership. I’m kind of intrigued to see what the rookies from last year do in this upcoming season, Parris Campbell and Rock Ya-Sin. I’m really intrigued to see if Marvell Tell III can get on the field. And then I want to see some of our younger pass rushers and linebackers. Then, of course, I absolutely love watching Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson play. I’m very excited to see what kind of progression they can continue to make. I know last year, Darius started off a little slow, but I think that comes with the territory when you have such a breakout season as a rookie. Overall, I’m excited. I think this year’s draft class, I’m intrigued to see how much playing time they can get with the youth from top to bottom that we have on the team, but also with the playing time what they do on the field.
PhilB: Yeah, the Colts have a lot of young stars who should give you reason to be excited. I’ve noticed a lot of pub for the young players. Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard get a lot of attention, and rightfully so. But you’re not just name-dropping here. There are guys you listed that people around the league really like. I’m curious to see about Parris Campbell. I just finished a story and video on him, wondering what he can do in year two after his injuries as a rookie. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, I know he got a lot of penalties, I thought he handled himself well. You’re going to have adjustment periods as a rookie, but I think he’s got upside. That’s probably the buzz word for this team, a lot of young players with upside, right?
Jaysn: That’s the truth. It’s so hard to pinpoint one area of the team where I’m most excited. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic. I think last year, I bought into the hype around the receivers we had with Deon Cain and seeing what T.Y. Hilton could do and Eric Ebron. Everything kind of fizzled out throughout the year, so I’m trying to temper my expectations a little bit. If I look across the board at our offense, our offensive line is arguably one of the best in the NFL, then you look at our running back room, that just excites me. You have Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines. With the addition of quarterback Philip Rivers — the big question is does he still have enough in the tank — but Nyheim Hines is going to eat those passes out of the backfield. His rookie year, he played a lot of slot and caught a lot of balls. I could see him, Parris Campbell and T.Y. with (rookie) Michael Pittman Jr. out there, man, I get excited, the thought about it. I think the people who watch the Colts appreciate (tight end) Jack Doyle, but he is under-appreciated with fan bases around the league. Him, Mo-Alie Cox, and we got Trey Burton from the Bears. Then we added Roosevelt Nix as a fullback. I think our offense just has the possibility to be exceptional. It just depends on Philip Rivers and what he has.
I look at the defense, too, and our defensive line with DeForest Buckner, which I think that’s a no-brainer trade in my opinion, right? You bring in a 26-year-old All-Pro onto the team for a first-round draft pick, who you could only hope at No. 13 you get an All-Pro in a couple of years. You add him, eating up some of those linemen so they don’t get to Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker at linebacker. One thing that surprises me, though, is the decision to not extend safety Malik Hooker. I’m intrigued to see how well he plays this year. I don’t know if there was a little bit of negative sentiment in the team’s decision to extend him or not, but I know Chris Ballard loves his prove-it deals. Him and (safety) Khari Willis, it’s exciting. Then you look at special teams and we’ll see what happens at kicker. Nyheim Hines, as a punt returner, he had a few exceptional games late in the season. I know I keep saying I’m excited, but I’ve been a Colts fan for as long as I can remember and this is probably one of the few offseasons where I’m going into the season thinking, ‘Man, this is going to be good.’ If our youth steps up and plays well and we stay healthy, we should be able to shock some people, given where we finished (at 7-9) last year, a little bit of a disappointment.
PhilB: The Rivers question gets asked each week because I’m always curious where fans are on Philip. There’s always a division of opinion. So here’s your chance to give a definitive statement on Philip Rivers.
Jaysn: (Laughs.) That’s a tough one. I think early on when the rumors started, I was unsure about it. My experience with Philip Rivers is just watching the Colts play against the Chargers. He’s a fiery guy, right? I love the competitive spirit. I think you add him to some of the other players on the team from a competitive spirit perspective, one thing I’m thinking about is Quenton Nelson, I know that guy’s a monster and when he’s on the field he just goes to battle, so I think from a cultural perspective (Rivers) is a fantastic fit. Now the thing I’m not sure about is last year he had those 20 picks. But I think I read a stat recently where five or six of them were at the end of the game when his team was trailing. It’s tough, right? You put a quarterback in a position where he has to throw the ball a lot, picks are going to happen. But I trust Frank Reich. If Philip Rivers still has the arm to throw it down the field, I think that’s one thing I’m interested to see with all the speed we have on offense. So I’m cautiously optimistic about it. But it’s so weird. Some players can play, every year they show up and produce well physically as they age, then you turn around and one year the guy turns 38 or 39 and they kind of look like they’ve lost a little step or a little bit of power. I think the first few games will be telling. And, of course, he’s standing behind that amazing offensive line, so he shouldn’t be hit as much. It will be good. I’m happy about the pickup. I’m trying not to think about next year with no quarterbacks on the roster except Jacob Eason, who could be a good developmental player that we can start in a few years or he could be someone who was low-risk, high-reward. For this year, I’m happy we’ve got Philip Rivers. Nothing against Jacoby Brissett, but I think he’s still developing. So we’ll see how it plays out.
PhilB: You’re optimistic. What are you thinking in terms of record and how far this team can go?
Jaysn: It’s so hard this early in the year, right? It wouldn’t surprise me if they won 11 or 12 games. I think they’re ahead in the AFC South Division. The Houston Texans, I know I’m not the only one who’s kind of scratching the head wondering what they’re doing in Texas. Tennessee will still be competitive. Head coach Mike Vrabel is doing a fantastic job. But I think the Colts edge out Tennessee and win the division. When you look at the AFC, hopefully the approach that Ballard is taking in terms of drafting explosive, athletic guys on defense will help us when we play the Chiefs or the Ravens come playoff time. I know we play the Ravens in the season. I could see us making a little bit of a run in the playoffs. I don’t know if we’re quite there to be Super Bowl contenders yet, but it’s so hard to tell with how everything shakes out in a season. I think we’re probably a second-tier team, so I could see us making a playoff run.
PhilB: That sounds very optimistic.
Jaysn: The one thing I was talking to my buddy about is the approach that the Colts are taking in how they’ve built their offense, heavy up-front, and our running back room. You get late in the season, it’s cold in the playoffs, it’s rainy and snowing, we should be able to just pound the rock. I think there are very few teams who would line up with us for four quarters and be able to beat our offensive line. That’s just my opinion. It’s hard to tell what happens in the playoffs when you start running the ball, teams are tired, and there are some injuries. I’m cautiously optimistic, but we’ll see what happens.
PhilB: Any weak spots you’re worried about?
Jaysn: The secondary’s youth, that’s probably the biggest area. I’ve got to see what happens on the field, if Rock Ya-Sin continues trending upward and (cornerback) Xavier Rhodes plays well, but that’s a question mark. He had a down year last year, so we’ll see if this prove-it deal motivates him. We lost cornerback Pierre Desir. That was a tough loss, even though he kind of had a rough year last year. So I think the secondary is probably a place where there’s more room for error, especially with the moves teams are making in throwing the ball and it’s a hard spot to play.
PhilB: I know they’re trying to piece that secondary together. I wrote recently that’s probably the team’s thinnest position group, the one I wonder about the most. I think the front seven on defense is going to be much better. Then I wonder about safety Malik Hooker, how motivated he will be. I know he’s got talent, I just don’t know if he fits the scheme. If he has a good year, he gets played well. Can Rock Ya-Sin play better? I guess maybe the wildcard in all of this is Xavier Rhodes. Can he get back to what he was in Minnesota? Was it injuries or was it just his play fell off? We’re going to find out in a hurry.
Jaysn: It’s so hard to tell.
PhilB: I also ask every fan about what their feelings are on the season in terms of the NFL being able to pull it off. How worried are you about the coronavirus pandemic?
Jaysn: That’s a tough one, right? First and foremost, the 100,000 people who have passed away, my thoughts are with them and their families. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of research going on with the virus. I’m very hopeful that not just the NFL but other sports leagues are able to have their games, have their matches safely. I know it would be a big loss if the NFL games were held without fans. That might be the right way to go, but it might not be the right direction. I’m hopeful the season spins up and everything starts to die down with the pandemic. Hopefully, they’re taking the research and the data that’s being presented and are able to make intelligent decisions with that information. But I’m such a diehard Colts fan, my fingers are crossed that the season starts when it’s supposed to.
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