By now you’ve likely seen the Indianapolis Colts initial depth chart for the 2017 season. Needless to say, the considerable shuffling between players and positions led us to believe that we could see some interesting changes heading into the regular season.
For example we saw T.J. Green get some considerable snaps at cornerback, and in fact Chris Ballard stated that he saw cornerback as Green’s best position for the future. However, he’s still listed as a safety on the depth chart. This isn’t all that surprising given the sheer numbers for each position currently on the roster.
On the other hand, two changes were surprising to me given preseason and training camp performances and/or positional finagling that took place.
First, it may seem simple on the surface, but the placement of Barkevious Mingo at strong side linebacker and Tarell Basham being used in the rush position seems curious given what they provided through the preseason. The two played together at times through the preseason, and each held differing roles when opposite others as well.
For Mingo, he struggled disengaging offensive linemen early on and began being used almost solely as the rush backer later in the preseason. Mingo did improve getting off of blocks but he got the call to go after the quarterback more regularly the longer he played.
His strength as an outside backer is his speed and twitch not necessarily the ability to hold the edge, which would make you think that his natural position would be at the rush position. However, he’s currently behind John Simon as a strong side backer. I am curious to see if this remains his role or if it changes as time goes on.
For similar reasons, Tarell Basham was seldom used as a rush option throughout the preseason. Now, I know that he was drafted to improve the pass rush, but that wasn’t the role he served in the bulk of his opportunities throughout the preseason.
He was often used to set the edge, to engage the linemen and peel to assist in the run game. He was seldom used to headhunt in a pass rushing role. It was so noticeable, at least in the first few games, that I began to wonder if they’d use him to rush the passer at all – or even if he lacked the burst to offer much in the way of an option to pressure the quarterback at all.
I doubt it makes a significant difference either way due to the fact that that all four outside linebackers will likely be used somewhat interchangeably. Still, Mingo and Basham are listed in the exact opposite role from what we’ve seen thus far so that is notable.
Another set of curiosities comes with how the offensive line shook out. We know that early on in the offseason program Jeremy Vujnovich was used at the left guard and tackle positions in the absence of Jack Mewhort and as a backup to Anthony Castonzo. Additionally, through camp we saw him eventually move over to the right side to get some reps at both positions as well.
Vujnovich ended up starting in place of Le’Raven Clark at right tackle, and Clark was shuffled over to left tackle which most envisioned as a demotion for Clark. It turns out that Clark did indeed lose his role as the starter at right tackle but he didn’t lose it to Vujnovich.
In the third preseason game, Denzelle Good started at right guard and then at right tackle in the finale which appeared to be an instance of getting Good additional reps at a position in case he had play it at some point pending injuries. Apparently that wasn’t the case at all. Good is now listed as the starter at right tackle.
He did play some right tackle in his rookie season and has always looked pretty comfortable there. The move to kick him inside to guard last season never really set well with me to begin with, and Good struggled for the better part of the season. Now that he’s back on the edge, I think we’ll see improvement from him — especially if he stays put and this isn’t a short-term trial by the coaching staff and Ballard.
Another curious case is that Joe Haeg had been the ‘unquestioned’ starter through preseason at left guard, after he and Jack Mewhort switched sides early in the off-season program. Haeg fought off some injuries through camp but we didn’t see a lot of maneuvering around with him that I can think of.
However, it seems as though Haeg has lost his starting gig to Vujnovich. Haeg was the utility guy for the line last season but Ballard made no bones about how he saw Haeg right from the jump, saying “he’s a guard” almost from his first day on the job in Indy. He may be, but now he’s not a starting guard anymore.
Though a lot of the faces are the same along the offensive line, the lineup from left to right and the starting cast just made a major turn off of the interstate. That’s not to say that this unit won’t be successful, because it’s far too early to suggest such a thing. But, it does fly in the face of what we hear from Pagano about continuity, continuity, continuity – and you know what, I love it.
Why? I’ve been telling you guys for as long as I can remember that chemistry trumps continuity every single day of the week. And this appears to be Ballard stepping in and forcing the coaching staff to evaluate the group in a different way. Sometimes you have to step out of the box, and add a piece that hasn’t been there before to see which combination helps the unit play best together.
Finding the ‘right mix’ is also something Ballard has preached time and time again. Normally, I’m not a fan of a GM stepping in and taking on any semblance of a coaching role, but I think Ballard feels the need to save what progression this unit has shown for the future by ‘suggesting’ some simple changes to find that chemistry that will help this line realize its potential.