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Stampede Mailbag: What is the ceiling, floor for the Colts new-look defense?

Detroit Lions v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Camp is only a few short days down the road and the excitement is building. There’s a fine line between being cautiously optimistic and expecting the very worst with all of the storylines that surround the team right now.

Thank you all for submitting your questions for our Colts Cast mailbag addition last week, and I appreciate the newest ones for this week’s version as well. Let’s jump right in.

Billy Smith

Matt, with all the attention given to Geather's return, I have heard nothing about Malik's return. When is he supposed to be ready to go, and did we know the severity of his injury when we drafted him? Thanks, LifeLong Colt

Hey Billy, I myself can’t think of anything concrete, or official being released about when Hooker will be returning. But, the common assumption is that he’ll be ready for camp and we haven’t heard anything in contrast to that either so I suppose it still leaves some questions left to be answered. I choose to believe he will be ready by camp until we hear otherwise.

Yes, Chris Ballard and the Colts knew that Hooker had his surgery due to the fact that he didn’t work out at the combine, but I think it’s safe to assume that they knew exactly what they were getting into. I tend to be a bit more concerned about Hooker’s hip than his sports hernia, just because of the nature of the position and what he’ll be asked to do.

Hooker is still a young buck though, and we should assume that the Colts have had him seeing the best of the best in the medical field to expedite his health, and a safe return to the field.

Matt Hubenthal

I love Stampede Blue. I check it at least three times a day. I love the new way things are going. I believe that Marlon Mack is going to be the next Dominic Rhodes, sure Rhodes wasn't drafted, but he never got the big contract he deserved. He left us for the Raiders, then came back, he over shadowed Addai, big time. Addai was a bust.

Also, I am being a negative guy here, but I don’t believe Hooker is up to the hype. He is not going to be even close to what Mike Adams was in his prime. He is going to just be another 1st round pick, that thinks he can do it all, then once in the NFL, he is gonna sink real fast. Then us true Colts fans are gonna say, he ain’t worth the hype. We want Bob Sanders back, even though he was hurt a lot, Bob showed what defense was all about!

Thanks Matt, I appreciate that you’re enjoying the site, and I know Brett appreciates it too. Now, this is a lot to digest, but if I may offer my rebuttal to your statements.

I have a hard time with the comparison between Mack and Rhodes strictly on body type and style of play. I was a big fan of Rhodes when he was able to play within a complementary role to a starter. Mack is quite a bit bigger than Rhodes was and he projects more as a well-rounded back as a three-down runner and pass catcher.

I wasn’t a big Addai guy myself, however, but I certainly don’t qualify him as a bust any more than I do as a franchise back. Both were serviceable guys in their own rite, but neither were consistent throughout their careers.

As far as Hooker goes, I also have a hard time determining what kind of player he’ll be before he’s even been on the field for camp. We can all project, but a safety with his ball skills and instincts is a guys who will have a place in our secondary any day.

Many are overplaying his lack of tackling skills, but he’s just not a hitter, never has been and wasn’t drafted to be one either. I think Hooker has a ton of potential and I’m excited to see what he can offer the team, but I’m certainly not going to question his personal approach to the game being that I’ve never met him or seen him play in-person.

You’re not the only one who misses Sanders. He was a special player when he was healthy, but those don’t come around all that often and the last big hitter we brought in to be a ‘game-wrecker’ was a joke. In today’s NFL, I prefer to have an option deep who can do a little bit of everything.

Steve Houston

Hey Matt, i’m curious to see what you think about the potential of this defense. On paper it looks like it could be pretty stout at all three levels if we can get and stay healthy. What would you say is the ceiling for this unit, as well as the floor, in terms of final defensive rankings (yards allowed, tds allowed)?

Steve, I love the way our defense looks right now. Even though we don’t know what they’ll look like when they’re all on the field together, the ideal pieces have been brought in to bolster the areas of need and the talent is what we’ve been lacking without question.

We’ve got better ball skills in the secondary, better natural coverage ability from our linebackers and the line has been improved, both, in top-level talent and depth. What’s not to like, right? When looking at the potential for this group I think it’s fair to assume that most of the net result depends on health and chemistry with so many new faces.

Strangely enough, so long as health isn’t an issue, I think the ceiling and floor are remarkably close for this group. I think they’ll be a middle of the pack crew statistically, but the improvement from what we’ve seen in the past is great considering we’ve seen some bottom feeder defenses.

Specifically, I would like to see them top out at allowing 20 points per game, and somewhere between 330 and 340 yards per game. Those would put them in pretty good shape for the offense to win a ton of games.

Ty Gaston

Hey Matt I’m a huge Colts fan from West Virginia and I’m a little worried about Luck’s shoulder this close to training camp. I can’t decide if I’m unnecessarily worried, or if everyone else is hopelessly optimistic since he hasn’t thrown a football since his surgery.

I’ve heard you say on your podcast that it doesn’t bother you and that you think our backups are good enough to fill in. Does any of this worry you yet, and if not then when would it be time to be getting worried?

Ty, first, thanks for checking out the podcast I sincerely hope you’re digging it. But, when it comes to Luck – at least for what we know right now – I’m not too worried. While we as fans don’t know a great deal about his rehab and how it’s going, we’ve gotten some little hints that he is doing fine if we’re considering long term health.

My first, and only priority for Luck would be to make sure that he is taken along slowly in order for him to continue to be the Colts quarterback for the next 10 years. Rushing him back would be a major mistake and it looks like the team is taking the right approach.

I tend not to be worried because of the stage the Colts rebuild is currently in. I don’t think the Colts are a Super Bowl contender at this point, maybe just barely a playoff contender, but most likely just a dark horse for right now. A lot has to go right for the Colts to get to that point in the rebuild this quickly, so if Luck has to sit out a couple weeks of the regular season it’s fine by me.

The Colts have started 0-2 the past three seasons, and one of those years they won 11 games. Scott Tolzien or Stephen Morris could fill in just fine for a game or two and hold the ship afloat. I guess I just don’t see it as any sort of a make-or-break time for the team. Conversely, if Luck starts the season on the PUP list that’s a completely different story – then it’s time to worry if we’re hoping for much success for the season.

J’Nease Billings

I’ve been asking my friends who are Colts fans this but I only get an answer with no reasoning. Gore isn’t a workhorse anymore, Turbin never has been and the rookie Mack has a lot to learn before he can step in as the top guy in the backfield. If you could only use one of them all year which would you pick and why?

J’Nease, I love this question. If I could only have one I would have to go with Marlon Mack. I agree in a sense that Frank Gore may be set for a significant decline, but he’s also about as durable as they come for the position. Just the same, his numbers even last year don’t really reflect how good he was, rather how well the offensive line blocked for him.

I really wanted to go with Turbin here, though, because I think he offers the best combination of youth, experience and the ability to, both, run and catch the ball effectively. Instead, Mack is my guy. I really liked his tape from college, his ability to open up a monster play is unmatched on the roster. He can run inside or outside and has great size as well.

I absolutely agree that he has a long way to go to be completely ready for the big time, however, I’ve only got one back and I want to see what my rookie has. Pushing all of my chips to the center of the table on my newest investment.

Aaron Moses

Say luck's shoulder isn't ready and he's on PUP to start the regular season: what do the Colts do? Stick with Tolzien or go after, say, Colin K? Considering all the new faces, what's our record by the time Luck sees action if this is the case?

Aaron, that’s pretty interesting, and completely frightening, to think about to be perfectly honest. The last thing any Colts fan wants is for Luck to be forced to sit out for the first 6 weeks of the season. However, I don’t think Colin Kaepernick would be a terrible addition, but I also don’t see the point.

I’m not particularly high on Tolzien, but from what I saw of Morris last season his skillset is more than adequate for what the Colts would need and is similar to what Kaepernick would bring. I think Morris fits more than Tolzien for what he can do out of the pocket.

He has a bigger arm, is more accurate and would give a larger downfield threat. But, whoever between Tolzien and Morris would be the guy, they’d be fine between the two of them going forward.

I think if the Colts thought there was a legit possibility that Luck would be starting on PUP that they would have already been scouring for a veteran to bring into camp. But, for argument’s sake, if the Colts had to go 6 weeks without Luck, and looking at their schedule, I’ll go with a 2-4 start to the season.

Certainly not ideal, but I think two wins against the three-team field of the Cleveland Browns, L.A. Rams and the San Francisco 49ers within those first 6 weeks would be feasible.

Thank you all for your questions and comments for our weekly mailbag. You can drop your submissions at for next week’s edition.