ColtsSpeak: Robert Solano

Phillip B. Wilson

PhilB: What are you thinking about your Indianapolis Colts today?

Robert: I’m thinking they’re making the right steps going forward. Andrew Luck suddenly retiring like that, dealt a big blow to the franchise. But when you have great management like (GM) Chris Ballard and (owner) Jim Irsay, who seems to be trusting the process of what’s going on at the moment, you can just look forward to the future and you see that this team is finally being built the same way (GM/president) Bill Polian built it through the draft. That’s exactly how you produce now and for the future.

PhilB: What did you like about the roster changes in the offseason?

Robert: Building the depth was very big for us. Especially in the last couple of Peyton Manning years, you could see where one player getting injured really hurt us. There was no clue of how to replace that. We never had the depth that we do now. I feel like it’s just a testament to what Ballard said when he first came here, ’We’re going to build. And we’re going to build. And we’re going to build.’ That’s just basically depth, depth, depth. That’s what we have now.

PhilB: Any one player you’re particularly excited to see?

Robert: For me, I’m really hoping to see what happens with E.J. Speed. I think they took the mold of Darius Leonard and realized that small-school players can make a big impact. I feel like the second year around, Speed should make those strides that hopefully are looking forward to getting from him. He played about a third of the snaps on special teams, which is typical for most first-year linebackers, especially late-round picks. But I feel like him working in the offseason and understanding football, especially since he’s a player who still played offense when he was in college, I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do for us.

PhilB: Who did you like in the NFL draft?

Robert: Well, before the draft, I think it was a big, big surprise to a lot of Colts fans when we traded our first-round pick, specifically because Ballard has always been known to typically trade down.

PhilB: Yes, he has. Every year.

Robert: Yeah, that kind of really shocked me a bit. But like you’ve said, you can’t find the talent, an All-Pro defensive tackle like DeForest Buckner. And me being an Oregon fan, I was obviously biased on the move. Outside of that, I loved the (second-round) pick of (running back) Jonathan Taylor. I feel like it’s the prototypical Ballard move. At the same time, in my opinion, he was the best player available. And in this league specifically, with (head coach) Frank Reich, where you look at his past offenses where it was multiple-back systems, I think this is just another testament of, ‘We have a plan. We’re sticking to it. This is it right here.’

PhilB: I loved the Buckner trade, and I predicted they would draft a running back. I didn’t know who they would get in the second round. Some people said they were surprised, but I said, ‘Folks, Marlon Mack is good, but he’s a fourth-round pick who has given you a good return but he’s also gotten hurt a lot and he’s entering a contract year. You need to have more depth.’ Nyheim Hines is a great third-down back, catching passes out of the backfield, but I think they needed Taylor. I really do. He’s a powerful back.

Robert: Exactly. At the same time, the running back position has shown us over the years that there’s a big reason why big contracts aren’t shelled out to everybody. At that position in general, you take a pounding, you’ve been taking a pounding since college.

PhilB: Truth.

Robert: Then you get to the league, and it only gets worse from there. That’s why so many teams, the successful teams in the past if you look at it, a lot of the teams have had at least two solid running backs. Not to mention when you mention Nyheim Hines, he’s the prototypical third-down back for us.

PhilB: I guess I’ve got to ask you the question I’ve asked everybody else. What’s your feeling on the quarterback position?

Robert: (Heavy sigh.)

PhilB: Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of people sigh. I’ve heard all the opinions. You can speak freely, sir. I know it’s 50-50 out there in fan opinion.

Robert: At this moment, as of right now, I’m still iffy. I can remember Philip Rivers taking us out of the playoffs at least three different times, and every single time, I can’t forget those. I can’t forget him and Vincent Jackson. I surely can’t forget him and Antonio Gates connecting on a few key downs. But I think it’s so easy to wash him away considering last season. Yeah, statistically, it wasn’t the greatest. But he also didn’t have the best support system behind him. And again, I’ve been riding with Ballard since day one. I think he’s hit on a lot of his moves, and if this is another one where he thinks Philip Rivers still has something, then I fully support it. At the same time, there were a lot of other quarterbacks who were available this year, some coming off injuries. Cam Newton, one to mention, I know a lot of people probably said they are paying Philip Rivers ‘X’ amount of money and they could have gotten Cam Newton at such a good bargain. It’s just one of those things where you have to believe in your team, specifically since the offense we’re currently running is one Philip Rivers is familiar with. There are some positive signs to take from it. The best you can hope for is he can stay healthy, because that is something that has hindered us, especially at the quarterback position. I think Jacoby Brissett got off to a great start last year, but health issues came into play. If Philip can stay healthy and if we can build some camaraderie before the season begins, I think we’ll be in good shape.

PhilB: What’s your season prediction for the Colts?

Robert: We can win the AFC South Division, honestly. There’s no doubt in my mind. When you have one of your bigger rivals (Houston) trade away in my opinion a top-five if not best wide receiver in the league (DeAndre Hopkins) …

PhilB: Yeah, I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Robert: I think everybody is. You hurt your quarterback. They trade for a running back who has proven that he’s probably not the running back we once knew in David Johnson. So that also is very helpful (to us). And you don’t have the greatest offensive line with the Texans. The Titans I think surprised everybody, but that just shows you what good football can do for you. I think we have a talented team. There’s no level on our team at any point, offense or defense, that makes me really concerned.

PhilB: I should ask you about the prospects of having an NFL season. There’s a lot of debate and concern about COVID-19. The NFL and NFLPA are disagreeing about preseason. What are your feelings about when or if games are played?

Robert: As a fan, obviously that stems from the word ‘fanatic,’ so obviously I would love for there to be a season no matter what. But as a human being, I think the well-being and the safety of everybody should be what comes first. Ultimately, we have to remember these players have families they have to take care of. They have children. If they don’t want to take that risk of playing and putting themselves in a position that could really hurt them, then I completely support them. Ultimately, that’s their God-given right. I’m OK with that.

PhilB: That’s a really mature point of view, Robert. A lot of people rip me every time I write we might not have an NFL season.

Robert: Of course, but it’s happening right now. The NBA is proposing creating that bubble in Orlando, Fla., and already you have the reports coming out that players who are part of the traveling team have tested positive. I just got the update maybe a half an hour ago that the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo has pulled out. That’s a big one, because one of the opinions I have is, it’s very easy to say that we’re having a season if your star players are all for it. So for the NBA, it’s LeBron James. If LeBron is a catalyst, people will follow. One thing I’ve always said is if other stars speak up and other stars start to say, ‘I’m not doing it,’ more people will follow. Victor is just the perfect example of that. He currently right now is Indiana basketball. And people will follow suit.

PhilB: I should have asked you earlier, but how did you become a Colts fan while living in New Jersey?

Robert: I used to have to stick to watching the local teams, the Jets, the Giants, the Steelers, and for whatever reason I had to watch the Bills. I remember telling myself I wanted a team that’s not from here. I want to be able to root for a team that I can get behind. I forgot what game it was, but I remember seeing Peyton Manning and him dropping back in the pocket, there was something about the way this man just commanded an offense, this is a guy who you just wanted. From there, I would keep watching games, keep watching games. I realized this was my team. Then I got my parents to buy me my first Peyton Manning jersey.

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