The Indianapolis Colts head into the bye week with a record of 3-2. While it hasn’t been pretty, this year still beats last season’s abysmal 1-4 start through five games. As the Colts head into this weekend without a game on the schedule, now is a perfect time to reflect on some of the stand out players this season. In today’s film room article, we will be taking a look at the five players who have shown the most improvement on film from last season.
Honorable Mention: Malik Hooker, Safety
So, technically I am cheating by starting with an honorable mention, but Malik Hooker would be on this list if it wasn’t for his meniscus injury he suffered in week three. In 2018, Hooker had quite a frustrating year as teams elected to not throw his way a majority of the time. Playing in the Colts’ cover two defense, he would shut down his side of the field in coverage and as a result, he didn’t have the statistical production we all hoped to see from him. With that in mind, though, he could have improved a bit more on his tackling and willingness in the run game. He finished 2018 with a stat line of 44 tackles, 4 pass deflections, and 1 interception.
Entering this season, Hooker finally had his first healthy offseason with the team, and it was evident on the field. Appearing much faster and stronger, he looked like a new player on the backend. The passive plays and mistakes that occurred on film last season appeared to be gone as he was flying downhill in coverage and showing a willingness to hit players. He even started making those big plays that he was known for in college (the one handed interception against the Chargers). He may just be an honorable mention because he hasn’t played these last few weeks but I think we are finally seeing the talented safety hit his potential. Hopefully he doesn’t miss a beat when he returns to action after the bye week.
5.) Zach Pascal, Wide Receiver
A bit of a journeyman in the NFL, Zach Pascal couldn’t stick with the Washington Redskins or Tennessee Titans to start his career. He came into camp in 2018 with a lot to prove as there were many players ahead of him on the depth chart. Luckily, he was able to make the 53 man roster after a strong preseason and showing his willingness to play special teams. When the Colts faced injuries early in the year, Pascal was forced into action and flashed some ability as a receiver. His biggest issue on film, though, were drops and unrefined routes where he couldn’t get separation. If those issues continued, he would never be anything more than a special teamer in the NFL.
Early in this 2019 season, Pascal has shown that he can be much more than just a special teams guy. He has shown major improvement in both his route running and his hands and he is becoming a reliable target on the outside. He also brings a lot to the Colts’ running game as he is an excellent run blocker. Already in 2019, Pascal is on pace to nearly double his receiving yards, yards per catch, and touchdowns from a season ago. He may not be a star on this offense, but Pascal has shown that he can be someone to be counted to do anything to help the team win.
4.) Anthony Castonzo, Offensive Tackle
This next one is a bit of a stretch because Anthony Castonzo didn’t play poorly by any means in 2018. He missed most of the Colts’ offseason in 2018 dealing with a hamstring injury that took a long time to heal. Once he got healthy and back on the field, he helped anchor one of the best offensive lines in football. While last year was one of his better seasons as a pro, he did have some miscues. He struggled at times against top pass rushers and was a bit inconsistent overall.
Heading into 2019 at 31 years old, one would think that Castonzo couldn’t really improve on his game. However, the 31 year old left tackle has proven any and all doubters wrong as he is off to the best start of his career. With tough match-ups against Frank Clark, Melvin Ingram, and Harold Landry to start the year, Castonzo has done more than enough to help his team win. He looks stronger and quicker than ever and he is playing with great confidence having the All-Pro Quenton Nelson on his side. On the year, he has allowed 0 sacks and only one quarterback hit through five games according to Pro Football Focus. If he can continue this high level of play, he should be able to receive his first career Pro Bowl nod in 2019.
3.) Kemoko Turay, Defensive End
Kemoko Turay has had quite an NFL career up to this point. He started off strong as a rookie in 2018 racking up four sacks and a forced fumble in his first nine games. After that strong start, though, his snap counts dropped below 40% for the rest of the season in favor of defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad due to his run defense. Turay showed off great burst and bend in those games but he just wasn’t able to put it together. He was inconsistent week to week and— as I mentioned above— he really struggled to defend the run.
Entering a critical year two with the Colts, Turay looked completely different. He looked even quicker and faster on the edge and for the first time in his career, he always had a plan. In just four games played this season, he was already up to two sacks and a forced fumble. He constantly lived in the opponent’s backfield and looked to finally be breaking out. Unfortunately, Turay broke his ankle last Sunday and will be out for the season. While this is crushing news, it was a great sign seeing how much progress he had made from year one to year two. Hopefully he can continue that projection going into year three.
2.) Jacoby Brissett, Quarterback
The new starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts for 2019 has had a long journey up to this point. After initially being drafted by the New England Patriots, the Colts traded former first round pick Phillip Dorsett for him prior to the 2017 season. With very little time to prepare, and surrounded by one of the worst rosters in the NFL, Brissett wasn’t great that season. While he didn’t turn the ball over much, he left a lot to be desired in terms of mechanics, footwork, accuracy, and much more. The quarterback that Brissett was in 2017 was not an NFL starter by any means as he struggled in many areas of the position.
The good news is, Brissett is a different quarterback now. He looks much more poised and confident in the pocket and his happy feet appear to be gone. As for his mechanics, he looks to have improved his throwing motion and throwing angles by a great deal which is likely due to the work he has done with quarterback guru Tom House. Even his accuracy appears to be much better as he isn’t missing targets as badly as he was in 2017. He has had a solid year for the Colts and even though there are some areas he needs to improve in, he is playing winning football for the team.
1.) Marlon Mack, Running Back
Marlon Mack has finally taken over the reigns as the starting running back for the Colts and he looks every bit the part. Last season, Mack was phenomenal down the stretch in 2018 as he carried the team through some tough offensive spots. He finished last season with 908 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns in just 12 games played. While statistically he was great, there were a few areas that he needed to improve on before taking that next step as a running back. In the running game, his vision wasn’t great and he left yards on the field with his poor contact balance. In the passing game, he was basically a non factor as he dropped numerous passes and was the team’s worst graded pass blocker.
Five games into 2019, Mack looks even better than last season. Coming off his first healthy offseason with the team, he looks stronger and more explosive than he has in years past. His vision and patience look to be improved and his contact balance has taken a major step forward. He is no longer just getting yards from open holes on the line, he is now creating yards and big plays. In the pass game he has also shown some improvement in pass blocking and catching, although those areas are a work in progress. Overall, he has grown from a running back taking what his line gives him to a star player on this team in 2019.