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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This wasn’t a career move Authentic Xavier Rhodes Jersey planned, or saw coming.

His “fresh start’’ with the Indianapolis Colts was suddenly, shockingly thrust on him.

“It was a surprise to me,’’ he said.

That was the Minnesota Vikings informing their 2013 first-round draft pick, defensive mainstay and three-time Pro Bowl selection his services were no longer needed.

It was tantamount to a blindside block.

“I didn’t know in the beginning the Vikings wanted to move on,’’ Rhodes said in a Monday video conference call. “It’s an eye-opener to the point you don’t have a job for a couple of days, a couple of weeks.

“It’s like, ‘That ain’t right.’’’

Then, the reality check was delivered.

Xavier Rhodes was unemployed. The $10 million base salary from the five-year, $70 million extension he signed in 2017 that made him one of the NFL’s highest-paid cornerbacks went Poof!

“I never thought I’d be to this point, but then again, you have to realize where you’re at,’’ he said. “This is the NFL. It’s a business.

“I just accepted the fact and moved on, and I’m ready to play for Indy.’’

Data pix.
Andrew Luck & T.Y. Hilton urge Hoosiers to be responsible
At 29 and after seven productive seasons with the Vikings, Rhodes is ready for that fresh start.

No sooner had Chris Ballard released veteran cornerback Pierre Desir in a cost-cutting move – that freed up roughly $6.8 million against the salary cap – than he replaced him with Rhodes. Financial details are not yet known, but it’s believed the one-year deal is worth approximately $5 million and can increase with incentives.

Despite Rhodes’ decorated career with the Vikings, the team saw a player on the decline. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2019 despite enduring – by his own admission – a pair of subpar seasons due to injuries. He dealt with a hamstring injury in ’18 and an ankle issue last season.

In a week 13 meeting with Seattle, Rhodes was involved as the Vikings’ secondary yielded Russell Wilson’s 60-yard touchdown pass to David Moore. In the immediate aftermath, Rhodes and coach Mike Zimmer exchanged words.

“It’s been a battle,’’ Rhodes said, adding, “it’s football, you go out there and play. You can’t make excuses for yourself.

“Last year wasn’t my best season. I accepted that. The Vikings moved on and I’m playing with the Colts.’’

With the Vikings, Rhodes had 10 interceptions, 73 defended passes and 372 tackles. Always a willing and physical tackler, the 6-1, 218-pounder piled up a career-high 63 tackles last season but failed to have an interception for the first time since his rookie season.

He missed only eight of a possible 112 regular-season games.

Rhodes wasn’t certain if his release by the Vikings was a “humbling’’ experience.

“You don’t go in thinking you’re going to be cut,’’ he said. “When you’re on a team where you achieve so much . . . you think it’s going to be that way forever. Then there’s a reality check.

“It’s a business, and at the end of the day, no one’s safe no matter who you are, no matter what player you are. It’s just a reality check to the point no one’s irreplaceable in this league.’’

Sheldon Day: Coming Home
The Colts have long been must-see TV for the Day family, most notably for Sheldon. He honed what would be NFL-level skills at Warren Central High School.

“Oh man, Sunday’s were Colts days,’’ Day said Monday. “Every Sunday after church we tried to rush home and beat the church traffic to make sure we got home to watch the Colts game. It was really big in my household.’’

And now, the hometown kid is playing for his hometown team. After Ballard acquired defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, he signed Day – Buckner’s teammate for four seasons – to a one-year free-agent contract.

“Just the opportunity to go put on the horseshoe and play for the hometown team is something special,’’ Day said. “It’s something I’m looking forward to. Exciting times.’’

Day, 25, has remained active in the local community. He hosts a youth camp every year at Warren Central and has taken fourth-through-sixth grades to Notre Dame, his alma mater, for similar camps.

“I teach them about life skills, and then I also throw in a little sports mix as well,’’ Day said.

In four seasons with the 49ers, Day developed into an important defensive line rotational component. He appeared in 56 regular-season games, starting two, then started alongside Buckner in San Francisco’s three playoff games last season.

Relocating to Indy, he insisted, “was a no-brainer.’’

“They reached out, and there was an interest, and I think it kind of got down to the nitty-gritty,’’ Day said. “Everybody was trying to figure out the numbers and all the other type of stuff, but ultimately I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.’’

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INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts today signed free agent defensive tackle Caraun Reid and placed defensive end Authentic Jegs Jegede Jersey on the Injured Reserve list.

Reid, 6-2, 305 pounds, has played in 44 career games (13 starts) in his time with the Dallas Cowboys (2018), Colts (2017), Washington Redskins (2017), Detroit Lions (2014-15, 2017) and San Diego Chargers (2016) and has compiled 46 tackles (34 solo), 10.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. In 2018, he saw action in 10 games (one start) with the Cowboys and tallied 10 tackles (six solo), 1.0 tackle for loss, half a sack and one forced fumble. Reid participated in 2018 training camp with Indianapolis before being waived during final cuts.

Jegede, 6-5, 273 pounds, was signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent on May 3, 2019. He appeared in 24 games at Valdosta State and finished with 37 tackles (20 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, one pass defensed and three blocked kicks. Prior to transferring to Valdosta State, Jegede played two seasons of basketball at the College of Central Florida. As a freshman, he received Mid-Florida Conference honorable mention recognition and was named to the Mid-Florida Conference All-Academic Team.

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The analysis from those producing content on does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.

INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL’s “legal tampering period” for free agency is now under way as of noon ET on Monday, paving the way for all teams to begin contract discussions with outside free agents.

With this important domino falling — as well as Monday’s deadline to designate players with the franchise or transition tag — there’s no better time than now to visit what teams’ roster needs are.

The Indianapolis Colts sit in a great position as far as salary cap space goes, possessing among the most in the league. However, that space is about to begin getting distributed to some players whose contracts are set to expire, whether they were already with the Colts or not. What positions may be getting some of that money? Let’s take a look.

Here’s what could be considered the Colts’ top three areas to be addressed, listed in depth chart order.

Under contract in 2020:

QB — Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly | WR — T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Steve Ishmael, Chad Williams, Artavis Scott, Malik Henry, Rodney Adams | TE — Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Xavier Grimble, Billy Brown, Ian Bunting, Matt Lengel
2020 free agents:

QB — None | WR — Devin Funchess (UFA), Dontrelle Inman (UFA), Chester Rogers (UFA), Marcus Johnson (RFA), Daurice Fountain (ERFA) | TE — Eric Ebron (UFA)

Players that could fit the Colts in free agency:

QB — Tom Brady (New England Patriots), Teddy Bridgewater (New Orleans Saints), Philip Rivers (Los Angeles Chargers), Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) | WR — Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia Eagles), Amari Cooper (Dallas Cowboys; reported deal with Dallas Cowboys), Breshad Perriman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Demarcus Robinson (Kansas City Chiefs), Tajae Sharpe (Tennessee Titans) | TE — Austin Hooper (Atlanta Falcons; reported deal with Cleveland Browns)
Players that could fit the Colts early in the draft:

QB — Jacob Eason, Anthony Gordon, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Jordan Love | WR — Brandon Aiyuk, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Denzel Mims, Henry Ruggs III | TE — Hunter Bryant, Brycen Hopkins, Cole Kmet, Albert Okwuegbunam, Adam Trautman
The Colts’ passing offense finished third from the bottom in 2019 after averaging just 194.2 yards per game. There were plenty of injuries to very important players that contributed to their issues, but you have to be able to perform regardless of circumstance. The Colts are not only facing last year’s struggles, but they also have several key players due to hit free agency in Devin Funchess, Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers. They have to replenish the cupboard as well as keep in mind that star receiver T.Y. Hilton is turning 31 years old during the season. They could be looking at reloading in the passing game, which is good timing considering this year’s NFL Draft is potentially historically deep at the receiver position.

Under contract in 2020:

OT — Authentic Anthony Castonzo Jersey, Authentic Braden Smith Jersey, Authentic Andrew Donnal Jersey, Authentic Cedrick Lang Jersey, Authentic Brandon Hitner Jersey, Authentic Travis Vornkahl Jersey | IOL — Authentic Quenton Nelson Jersey, Authentic Ryan Kelly Jersey, Authentic Mark Glowinski Jersey, Authentic Jake Eldrenkamp Jersey, Authentic Javon Patterson Jersey, Authentic Chaz Green Jersey
2020 free agents:

OT — Le’Raven Clark (UFA) | IOL — Josh Andrews (UFA), Joe Haeg (UFA)
Players that could fit the Colts in free agency:

OT — TBD | IOL — Graham Glasgow (Detroit Lions; reported deal with Denver Broncos), Ted Karras (New England Patriots), Connor McGovern (Denver Broncos), Michael Schofield (Los Angeles Chargers)
Players that could fit the Colts early in the draft:

OT — Hakeem Adeniji, Austin Jackson, Josh Jones, Lucas Niang, Prince Tego Wanogho | IOL — Tyler Biadasz, Ben Bredeson, Kevin Dotson, Jonah Jackson, Cesar Ruiz
The Colts were able to get a commitment from left tackle Anthony Castonzo that he’d not only continue playing football, but that he’d also re-sign with them. With that sigh of relief, the team still has its top two reserve tackles set to hit free agency in Le’Raven Clark and Joe Haeg. The pair also provide depth at guard, so their versatility is critical for the Colts’ offensive line depth. This year’s offensive tackle group in the draft is a good one, which is a big positive considering the free agent tackle class has a mix of quite a few older veterans and players who have primarily been starters throughout their careers (the latter of which the Colts don’t really need). That doesn’t quite fit, as the Colts may likely be more in the market for quality depth players, so we’ll revisit potential candidates after the free agency frenzy is through.

Under contract in 2020:

DE — Justin Houston, Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Ben Banogu, Gerri Green, Jegs Jegede | DT — Denico Autry, Grover Stewart, Tyquan Lewis

2020 free agents:

DE — Jabaal Sheard (UFA) | DT — Trevon Coley (RFA)
Players that could fit the Colts in free agency:

DE — Jadeveon Clowney (Seattle Seahawks), Dante Fowler Jr. (Los Angeles Rams), Yannick Ngakoue* (FT, Jacksonville Jaguars), Robert Quinn (Dallas Cowboys) | DT — Javon Hargrave (Pittsburgh Steelers; reported deal with Philadelphia Eagles), D.J. Reader (Houston Texans), Shelby Harris (Denver Broncos)
Players that could fit the Colts early in the draft:

DE — K’Lavon Chaisson, A.J. Epenesa, Yetur Gross-Matos, Terrell Lewis, Julian Okwara | DT — Marlon Davidson, Ross Blacklock, Derrick Brown, Neville Gallimore, Javon Kinlaw
The Colts finished tied for 15th in sacks in 2019 with 41, which isn’t bad, but is off the mark for where they’d like to rank in league standings. The team often stresses the importance of not only having a strong pass rush, but having depth there as well so that pressure may come in waves. With Jabaal Sheard set to hit free agency, the Colts would need to ensure they have a starting left defensive end who can not only provide pressure, but who can seal the edge against the run at a high level as Sheard does. Their top edge rusher, Justin Houston, is also turning 32 after the regular season. This offseason, there are some high-quality options potentially available in both free agency and the draft.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today elevated safety Rolan Milligan to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and signed running back Authentic Bruce Anderson Jersey to the practice squad.

Milligan, 5-10, 200 pounds, was signed to the Colts practice squad on September 4, 2019. He participated in Indianapolis’ 2019 offseason program and training camp before being waived on September 2. Milligan spent time on the Colts’ active roster and practice squad last season. He also spent time on the Detroit Lions practice squad in 2018. In 2017, Authentic Rolan Milligan Jersey spent time on the Lions’ active roster and practice squad but did not see game action. He participated in the Dallas Cowboys’ 2016 offseason program and training camp before being waived on August 16, 2016. Milligan was originally signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent on May 9, 2016.

Anderson III, 5-11, 210 pounds, spent time on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad this season. He participated in the Buccaneers’ 2019 offseason program and training camp before being waived during final cuts on August 31 and signed to the practice squad the next day. Anderson III originally signed with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent on May 10, 2019. Collegiately, he played in 52 games (16 starts) at North Dakota State (2015-18) and totaled 486 carries for 2,896 yards and 24 touchdowns, 32 receptions for 448 yards and seven touchdowns and 52 kickoff returns for 1,360 yards and two touchdowns. Anderson III helped lead the Bison to three FCS National Championships (2015, 2017 and 2018) and finished fifth in program history in all-purpose yards (4,704).

Authentic Nike Colts Philip Rivers Jersey 2020 Sale

The Indianapolis Colts brought in quarterback Authentic Philip Rivers Jersey, which should bring about better results for fantasy football. This is especially true for wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.

Having dealt with injuries over the last two seasons, Hilton hasn’t been able to keep up with being a WR1 (top-12). His 2019 season was riddled with injuries, and the lack of a stable passing attack really downed the entire offense from a fantasy perspective.

But now Hilton is (hopefully) healthy and he has a quarterback willing to throw the ball downfield. Those two aspects alone won’t bring him into the WR1 tier, but it does give reason for optimism when targeting him for the 2020 season.

Target share

There is no denying Authentic T.Y. Hilton Jersey will be the alpha in the wide receiver room. When healthy, the passing offense runs through him and that’s not going to change with Rivers under center. If anything, Hilton being the No. 1 should boost his opportunity with Rivers.

Throughout his career, Rivers has had some solid WR1s. Lately, it has been in the form of Keenan Allen. Despite strong weapons being present in the Chargers offense, Allen has held a strong presence in terms of target share.

In 2019, Keenan Allen had 25.9% target share of the offense, good for seventh-highest in the NFL. He also was responsible for 53.9% of Chargers wide receiver fantasy points, which was good for third-most in the NFL—per the Fantasy Footballers.

Hilton’s numbers are a bit skewed having played only 10 games this season. His total target share numbers come out to be a 14% target share in the offense while being responsible for 29% of the team’s wide receiver fantasy points.

However, in games that Hilton played, he held a 22.9% target share. Having that in a bad passing offense with an inconsistent passer in Brissett means there is a lot of room for growth to be one of the top target shareholders in the NFL.

Deep passing return?

To say the Cotls didn’t throw downfield in 2019 is an understatement. Hilton saw just 29 targets on throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air, per Pro Football Focus. With Rivers, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Rivers finished the 2019 season with the third-most intended air-yards and the 12th-highest average depth of target. Compare that to Brissett, who was 21st and 23rd respectively in those categories.

Any help?

Outside of Hilton, there aren’t a lot of strong options in the passing game for the Colts. There is certainly promise and upside but Hilton is a sure thing. It wouldn’t be a shock at all to see Rivers and Hilton get on the same page quickly given the lack of high-end talent in the passing game.

There’s upside with Nyheim Hines, who could be a special fantasy asset in 2020. There’s also some upside with Authentic Parris Campbell Jersey if he can stay healthy. However, no one will bring the juice like Hilton if he’s able to stay healthy. And that lack of help around him will secure him furthermore as the alpha in the offense.


Hilton’s days as a locked and loaded WR1 are probably behind him. He’s still an electric talent capable of carrying a passing offense, but his injury history has caught up to him recently.

That said, the addition of Rivers will do wonders for Hilton’s fantasy outlook. He might not be a WR1 but given his skill set, target share and overall role in the offense, Ghost should return to a solid WR2 tier while having WR1 upside in certain weeks.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have received a good deal of praise, and rightfully so, for their ability to find talented playmakers through the NFL Draft in recent seasons.

But perhaps one of the more underrated parts of the scouting process is the ability to uncover the unheralded gems — the guys who don’t have the luxury of being a draft pick — and seeing them also compete for roster spots year in and year out.

The Colts, as it turns out, have been among the league’s best in this area now going on two decades.

Last year, the team decided to keep linebacker Skai Moore and safety George Odum coming out of training camp and the preseason, which represented the 20th straight season in which the Colts have had at least one undrafted rookie free agent make their initial 53-man roster.

So about this time each year it’s become a tradition to ask: will the Colts make it 21 straight years in 2019?

For an outsiders’ perspective, Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox last month assigned grades to all 32 teams based on their 2019 undrafted free agent haul; the Colts received a “B,” and Knox was especially intrigued by Georgia State wide receiver Penny Hart. He wrote:

“Hart is the highlight of Indianapolis’ UDFA class, and he could be a legitimate offensive weapon in year one. He has the speed to stretch the field as a fourth or fifth receiver, and he brings ability as a return specialist. He averaged 19.9 and 17.6 yards per kick and punt return, respectively, in 2018.”

We’re yet to really see Hart in a practice setting with the Colts due to the fact that he sat out rookie minicamp, OTAs and veteran minicamp with an undisclosed injury. But we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for him whenever he is able to return.

But who are the other candidates hoping to catch the coaching staff’s eye and make the Week 1 roster as undrafted rookies? Here are some capsules on the rest of the bunch, courtesy of Colts Communications:

» Ashton Dulin, wide receiver: Dulin, 6-1, 215 pounds, played in 39 career games (29 starts) at Malone University and compiled 189 receptions for 3,188 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 53 times for 387 yards and three touchdowns. As a returner, Dulin totaled 77 kickoff returns for 1,847 yards and three touchdowns and five punt returns for 33 yards. He finished as the program’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, all-purpose yards and kickoff return touchdowns. Dulin ranked second in all-time receiving touchdowns and third in total touchdowns in Malone history. As a senior in 2018, he earned numerous awards, including Great Midwest Athletic Conference Offensive Back of the Year, G-MAC Special Teams Player of the Year, First Team All-G-MAC, Second Team All-Super Region 1 (as a return specialist) and was a nominee for the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II College Football Player of the Year). In 2018, Dulin started all 10 games and caught 61 passes for 984 yards and 11 touchdowns. He registered 13 rushes for 120 yards and one touchdown as well as 28 kickoff returns for 836 yards and three touchdowns. Dulin ranked second among all players in Division II and led all wide receivers in NCAA football (FBS, FCS, DII or DIII) with 194.7 all-purpose yards per game. His three kickoff return touchdowns were the most in Division II. In 2017, Dulin earned First Team All-G-MAC honors after starting all 10 games and compiling 59 receptions for 1,050 yards and 10 touchdowns. He started all nine games in 2016 and caught 50 passes for 825 yards and four touchdowns. As a freshman in 2015, Dulin saw action in all 10 games and tallied 19 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
» Cole Hedlund, kicker: Hedlund, 5-9, 162 pounds, saw action in 35 games at North Texas (2018) and Arkansas (2014-17) and converted 33-of-46 field goals and 142-of-145 PATs. In 2018, he made 19-of-22 field goals and 51-of-54 PATs to rank 24th in the nation in scoring with 108 points. Hedlund was a First Team All-Conference USA selection and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which annually recognizes college football’s top kicker. Prior to transferring to North Texas, he spent four seasons at Arkansas, where he converted 14-of-24 field goals and 91-of-91 PATs. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Hedlund tied a school record for PATs made in a season (58) and was one of four SEC kickers to make all of his PATs (minimum of 50 attempts).

» Hale Hentges, tight end: Hentges, 6-4, 254 pounds, saw action in 58 games (27 starts) at Alabama and compiled 15 receptions for 124 yards and six touchdowns while playing primarily as a blocking tight end. As a senior in 2018, he played in all 15 games (nine starts) and caught four passes for 34 yards and three touchdowns while serving as one of the Crimson Tide’s four permanent team captains. Hentges was selected as the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year by the conference’s coaches and earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors. He was also a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award and a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best in the country for his academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership. Hentges saw action in all 14 games (13 starts) in 2017 and tallied seven receptions for 75 yards and three touchdowns. In 2016, he appeared in all 15 games (three starts) and collected three catches for 10 yards. As a freshman in 2015, Hentges saw action in 14 games (two starts) and caught one pass for five yards.

» Sterling Shippy, defensive tackle: Shippy, 5-11, 295 pounds, played in 34 games at Alcorn State (2016-18) and totaled 94 tackles (42 solo), 32.5 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, two passes defensed, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. In 2018, he was a Second Team AFCA All-America selection after appearing in 13 games and registering 38 tackles (17 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, one pass defensed, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Shippy saw action in 11 games in 2017 and tallied 17 tackles (eight solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, half a sack and one pass defensed. In 2016, he played in 10 games and finished with 39 tackles (17 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

» Shakial Taylor, cornerback: Taylor, 5-11, 175 pounds, saw action in 21 games at Kansas (2017-18) and compiled 55 tackles (46 solo), 1.0 tackle for loss, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), eight passes defensed and one forced fumble. In 2018, he appeared in 12 games and finished with 33 tackles (28 solo), 1.0 tackle for loss, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), five passes defensed and one forced fumble. Taylor played in nine games in 2017 and recorded 22 tackles (18 solo) and three passes defensed. He played the 2016 season at Mesa Community College, where he saw action in 11 games and collected 42 tackles, half a tackle for loss, one interception and 18 passes defensed. In 2015, Taylor played in 11 games at South Dakota State and tallied seven tackles and one pass defensed.

» Tre Thomas, linebacker: Thomas, 6-1, 221 pounds, played in 51 games (24 starts) at Colorado State (2014-18) and totaled 218 tackles (111 solo), 18.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, six passes defensed and one fumble recovery. His 51 career games tied for fourth in program history. In 2018, Thomas saw action in all 12 games (10 starts) and compiled 101 tackles (42 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, four passes defensed and one fumble recovery. He appeared in all 13 games (one start) in 2017 and registered 41 tackles (23 solo), 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and two passes defensed. Thomas played in all 13 games (10 starts) in 2016 and tallied 38 tackles (22 solo), 7.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. In 2015, he appeared in all 13 games (three starts) and collected 38 tackles (24 solo) and 5.0 tackles for loss. Thomas redshirted as a true freshman in 2014.

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The pass-happy nature of college football has made finding NFL-ready interior offensive linemen more difficult. That’s what made Quenton Nelson so valuable to the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL Draft.

General Manager Chris Ballard explained Thursday his decision to rebuff trade offers and draft Nelson, a guard from Notre Dame, sixth overall.

“(That kind of player is) hard to find,” Ballard said Thursday on PFT Live, noting that colleges employ fast-tempo pass-first offenses more frequently than the NFL. “You don’t find them as ready-made in the draft as we used to.”

Ballard also heard from someone he trusts — former Notre Dame line coach Harry Hiestand — that Nelson is a cut above.

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More: Check out some of Quenton Nelson’s nastier blocks

“He’s a big man that can move,” Ballard said. “(Hiestand) had made a comment to me that (Nelson) could be the best of all of them. He’s consistently productive. He’s consistently dominant. When you see him practice, you see the same thing. That’s when you know you have the chance to have something really special.”
Ballard acknowledged the Colts got calls from teams wishing to move up to No. 6 once they were on the clock.

“We started getting a couple calls, and I just (said), ‘Turn in the pick,’” the GM said, adding that they likely turned it in before the TV networks covering the event wanted.

Ballard added that addressing the offensive line has been a focus this offseason. They have added veterans Austin Howard and Matt Slauson, and also drafted guard Braden Smith in the second round.

“This year, going in, we knew we wanted to address the offensive line,” Ballard said.

He added: “I thought (left tackle Anthony) Castonzo played one of his best seasons (in 2017).”
Indianapolis Colts first round draft pick Quenton Nelson met with the media today April 27, 2018. Clark Wade/IndyStar

What Ballard also addressed:

Defense: “We’re going to be young, especially at inside linebacker and cornerback. There’s still some areas that need to be addressed.”

The Colts drafted linebackers Darius Leonard (second round), Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin (both seventh round).

Andrew Luck: “He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do. He’s got a program specifically laid out that puts his timeline to be back at training camp. He didn’t want to skip a step.

“I don’t know if he skipped a step last year, but he felt the pressure of coming back. … He couldn’t get back right.

“He looks the best I’ve seen him. His body looks great. His arm feels really good. He’s just taking it step by step.”

Team culture: Ballard noted that coach Frank Reich and strength coach Rusty Jones will develop players and keep them healthy because the NFL is “a battle of attrition.”

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — What happened to Marcus Mariota? This was supposed to be his superstar year. The year he would finally stay healthy. The year he would take the next step and join the next generation of elite quarterbacks. The year every NFL defense would fear playing the dangerous, silent assassin.

But as Mariota underthrew Harry Douglas on a crossing route Sunday for his sixth interception in two games, it finally sank in that this probably won’t be his superstar year. Mariota, who is certainly the Tennessee Titans’ franchise quarterback, already has a career-high 12 interceptions compared to nine passing touchdowns. His 79.1 passer rating ranks 29th in the NFL.

The Titans are 7-4, winners of five of their past six, and lead the AFC South. But their defense, not Mariota, has been the primary reason.

It’s not that Mariota has been terrible. He leads the NFL with four fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks this season. That has helped the Titans just about taste their first playoff appearance since 2008.
The Titans are surging despite the struggles of Marcus Mariota, who has thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes this season. Andy Lyons/Getty Images
But Mariota hasn’t had the Year 3 that many of us expected. After two solid, injury-shortened seasons, Mariota appears to have taken a step back instead of forward. Let’s examine why.

First, Mariota is not Russell Wilson. And that’s OK, because there are very few NFL quarterbacks who can transcend an offense like Wilson. Mariota hasn’t proven, with consistent accuracy and health, that he can put the entire team on his shoulders quite yet.

Mariota’s struggles have shown us that he needs solid contributions from those around him to be a potential superstar-level quarterback.

But when diving into what’s gone wrong with Mariota, you should first look at what’s going on around him.

The Titans were built to be the smashmouth offense that had a ton of success last season: run first, with an elite offensive line paving the way for DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to power through defenses. An infusion of receiver talent had many believing Mariota finally had the weapons to make the Titans a complete offensive juggernaut.

Instead, the run game has taken a major step back. The Titans have rushed for fewer than 100 yards in seven of their 11 contests. They had four such games last season. The offensive line has regressed and struggled, particularly in the middle. Injuries have sapped Murray’s burst. The Titans also did not have an adequate replacement for blocking tight end Anthony Fasano, who left for Miami in free agency, but still have a scheme meant for him.

The results have been ugly, such as last week, when Delanie Walker pulled to block Colts nose tackle Al Woods (predictably didn’t work) or when Jonnu Smith and Phillip Supernaw lost some one-on-one battles against blitzing Steelers linebackers the week before.

The rookie receiving additions — Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor — have made some mistakes, Eric Decker hasn’t made a big impact, and there’s a speed-and-separation element missing from the position groups.

Walker has repeatedly said the blame can’t all be put on Mariota, and that is true. Execution could be a lot better throughout the offense.

Put that all together and it makes sense as to why Mariota appears to be undergoing some of the same growing pains that Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is realizing without Ezekiel Elliott.

The Titans’ offense is also a contrast to a lot of the spread schemes Mariota ran at Oregon. It’s not college anymore, and Mariota has had a lot of success in this scheme (26 TDs to nine interceptions in 2016), but there are times when he looks uncomfortable. Titans coach Mike Mularkey loves multi-tight end sets and condensed formations. That works well when the run game is churning, but when it doesn’t, it leads to one- or two-route combinations.

To Mariota’s credit — and detriment — he hasn’t been shy firing into tight windows. He makes at least one throw a game that deserves consideration for pass of the year, like his beautiful 37-yard drop-in-the-bucket pass to Walker against the Colts despite trailing triple coverage and a defender over the top.

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But a combination of ambitious routes and a receiving corps of primarily possession receivers has forced Mariota to be consistently precise with his accuracy. When he hasn’t been, interceptions often occur. Mariota hasn’t played nearly as bad as his touchdown-to-interception ratio would indicate.

Easy throws early in the game could help develop a rhythm. Getting Mariota more run-pass options, which have been successful, seem to be an ideal way to do that. Mariota also is a play-action savant. The Titans have increased the use of play-action recently, but they can still utilize it more. Mariota is 11th among NFL QBs with 86 play-action dropbacks (Wilson and Case Keenum lead the NFL with 108 and 105, respectively).

Play-Action A Positive For Marcus Mariota
The Titans’ quarterback has excelled in his 86 play-action dropbacks this season as opposed to his 248 non-play-action dropbacks:
Play-action 70.5 (T-3) 882 (5) 11.31 (1) 7 1 132.5 (1)
Non-Play-Action 60.5 (23) 1,391 (26) 6.1 (30) 2 11 60.8 (35)
*NFL ranking in parentheses
That’s part of the issue, but it’s not the whole story. It’s an organization’s job to make sure its franchise quarterback is in the best position to succeed, but that quarterback also holds responsibility in stepping up.

Mariota’s accuracy has been a roller-coaster this season. His recent string of interceptions — eight in the past four contests — is the culmination of being randomly off on a handful of passes each game.

“It’s just coming down to throwing. I’m missing — either I’m sailing it or leaving the ball behind,” Mariota said. “I gotta find ways to improve. I gotta get better. I can’t keep hurting this team. And I will — I’ll definitely get better at it.”

Those are great words to hear for Titans fans because that sounds like a man who truly understands that his issues can’t solely be blamed on the scheme or players around him. It’s also a huge positive that Mariota continues to bounce back and show great confidence and resolve after mistakes. On the deciding fourth-quarter drive against the Colts, Mariota completed a clutch tight-window throw to Davis after two earlier interceptions.

“There’s a lot of guys that can’t overcome those,” Mularkey said. “I’ve yet to see him let that affect his play.”

There’s some thought that Mariota’s recent injuries (Week 4 hamstring strain, late 2016 broken leg) might be impacting his mechanics. A weakened hamstring can affect a quarterback’s balance and footwork. But Mularkey said Mariota is healthy, and the quarterback won’t use his weekly bumps and bruises as an excuse for his play.

His recovery from the broken leg likely had an impact on his progression because he didn’t get to spend his offseason improving footwork as he was trying to rehab.

This past offseason, Mariota and Titans quarterbacks coach Jason Michael identified footwork, rhythm and ball security as three areas to seek the most improvement.

Mariota still has a tendency not to set his feet when throwing. He also has a tendency to arm-throw instead of stepping into throws and generating power from his lower body. This occurs when he’s pressured and when he has a clean pocket.

The biggest example of this has been his puzzling overthrows, such as the one he threw 10 yards over Rishard Matthews’ head for the first of four interceptions against the Steelers. Mariota has 42 overthrown passes, per ESPN’s Stats & Info, and four of those have turned into interceptions. Mariota had just two overthrown interceptions in his first two NFL seasons.

These appear to be fixable issues and Mariota is just 24, so these struggles are not unusual. It would be an overreaction to say he’s broken or not fit to be a franchise quarterback. But he has slumped significantly in Year 3. The question now is if he can get out of it in time to help the Titans potentially make noise in the playoffs.

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INDIANAPOLIS — In a time when injuries and inconsistent play have been the norm, the Indianapolis Colts finally had a member of their rookie class step to the forefront and give an indication that he could have an impact this season.

First-round pick Malik Hooker? Nope, he’s been dinged up so far. Second-round Quincy Wilson? He left Saturday’s preseason game at Dallas with a knee injury. Third-round pick Tarell Basham? There’s glaring need for pass-rushers, but Basham has yet to seize the opportunity.

It’s running back Marlon Mack.

The fourth-round pick out of the University of South Florida rushed for 45 yards on five carries against the Cowboys. What made Mack’s debut even more impressive was that he had runs of 10, 13 and 23 yards.

“It was great — my first NFL game,” Mack said. “Coach has been waiting on me. He’s telling me that I need to go out there and show what I’ve got, show my talent, and that’s what I did.”


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Mack was one of the few bright spots for an offense that continues to sputter along without starting quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder) during the preseason. Mack, who also had two receptions for 14 yards, missed the preseason opener against Detroit on Aug. 13 with a shoulder injury.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Pagano said. “He’s going to be a heck of a football player, whether he’s running the football — I think he averaged nine yards a carry, made a couple of nice catches. (He had a) screen called back because of a foolish holding penalty again on (offensive tackle La’Raven Clark).”

Mack gives the Colts a different dimension in the backfield to go with veterans Frank Gore and Robert Turbin, who are more power backs. Mack is an explosive runner who proved Saturday that he can find holes and make big plays. The longer the offense struggles without Luck, the more the Colts could use chunk plays.

Mack will likely get more snaps — he had 17 against Dallas — in the final two preseason games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But this isn’t about just today for Mack and the Colts. It’s also about the future for them at running back. Gore, the steady professional throughout his career, is 34 years old and in the final year of his contract, so the ideal situation would be for the Colts to start preparing to find his replacement for down the road.

“Anytime you’re out there on the field in a game showing people your talent is good for me,” Mack said. You’re just trying to get over these injuries and get out there and perform. Hopefully I can show the coaches I can do a lot. I’m just trying to go out there and perform well.”

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Hue Jackson is not at all surprised with the way Deshaun Watson is playing as a rookie.

“I think what I saw from Deshaun [Sunday] is what I anticipated he would be,” Jackson said on a conference call Monday, one day after Watson and the Houston Texans sent the Browns to an embarrassing loss and an 0-6 record.

Watson has thrown more touchdowns through six games than any rookie since the AFL-NFL merger, and the Texans have set a team record with four games in a row of at least 30 points with Watson starting. While he does that, the Browns continue their search for their quarterback.

The most galling reality: The Browns could have drafted Watson with the 12th pick. Instead, they traded the pick to the Texans.

“He is a good football player,” Jackson said. “They have a good system for him. He is playing good football. Obviously, we had some other chances to get our hands on balls. We didn’t finish those, but obviously, he did some great things. You throw three touchdowns, and what is it … [12] touchdowns in three games?

“He is off to a fast start. I am not surprised by what he is doing.”

Which begs the question: If Jackson thought that highly of Watson and he’s not surprised that he’s playing record-setting football, why the heck didn’t the team that doesn’t have a quarterback draft Watson when he was right there to be taken?
DeShaun Watson’s 15 passing touchdowns are the most by a rookie quarterback through six games since the NFL-AFL merger. Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
“We made a decision,” Jackson said. “He is in Houston. They picked him. We made the pick that we decided to take. That is how that works. He is not on our football team. He is on the Houston Texans team and we didn’t pick him.”

In a sense, it’s not fair to expect Jackson to explain these picks. In the Browns’ hierarchy, vice president of football operations Sashi Brown has final say on the roster and draft picks.

Jackson has input and the group continually says they work well together, and all decisions are collaborative. (Collaborative is a big word in the Browns’ offices these past few years.) Jackson has to answer the questions because during the season the coach is the team spokesperson.

But if the coach liked Watson as much as he says — and he said often Monday how much he liked him — it raises the question mark flag to wonder how they bypassed him.

Brown addressed the question on Oct. 4.

“Those decisions are always difficult,” he said. “I talked about this, I think, with you guys on draft night, after Thursday night. Whenever you trade back, there’s a host of players that you would have liked to actually have on your roster that aren’t going to be available to you when you actually select.

“Now at the same time, we add Jabrill [Peppers] and David [Njoku] in the first round and that came from sliding back the year prior. But we understand that’s part of trading back, that there’s going to be players there that you miss on, some of them will go on to have great careers, some of them won’t. That’s just the realities of that decision.”

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In fairness, teams routinely pass on guys they are fond of to get the guys they want. Nobody would argue with the choice of Myles Garrett, and at No. 12 the Browns decided a trade down for an extra first-round pick in 2018 was worth doing. Second-guessing a draft is low-hanging fruit. It’s even a question who Jackson favored with that pick. reported after the draft that Watson was Jackson’s highest-rated quarterback, but at No. 12 he hoped for safety Malik Hooker. Instead, the Browns traded down and took Peppers. Few criticized their draft and many praised it.

But the non-choice of Watson by Cleveland stands out now for four reasons:

The Browns needed a quarterback.

They could have had Garrett and Watson without a trade down, which in theory would have solved the quarterback problem and lessened the need for the No. 1 in 2018.

They missed the previous year on a quarterback when they traded the pick used to take Carson Wentz to the Eagles; that would have seemingly highlighted the need to add one in 2017.

Watson just drilled the Browns on the field.
There were questions on Watson coming out of the read-option system at Clemson, but when the coach thinks highly of him, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher to trade out of a position of need.

“There were other quarterbacks, obviously, that we were into, too,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to go into what the thinking was on draft day or any of that because I don’t think any of that matters. He is not on our football team. He plays for the Houston Texans. We made the decision to take DeShone Kizer. I think that is the end of that discussion.”

When it was pointed out to Jackson that the question is relevant because it calls into question the team’s ability to judge and evaluate quarterbacks, he did not flinch.

“I hear what you are saying and I respect what you are saying,” Jackson said. “At the same time, we make decisions for our football team and where we are. I think that is what is important. We all come together and make decisions with what we think is best for our organization and that is where we are.”