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Continuity could play a big role in Colts’ success in 2020

Carolina Panthers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Continuity is discussed every season as important for teams who make a deep run into the playoffs. Offensive lines who stick together, for instance, tend to outperform those that never find a rhythm. Losing starters or having a mid-season change at a key position like quarterback could derail an otherwise talented group.

The same can be said for teams across seasons. Keeping the front office and coaching staff in place, for instance, means there is a collective understanding of what a team is looking for in players and what kind of locker room or identity a team is building toward. Similarly, if a team returns most of its starters from a previous season, it likely will benefit from additional time playing together.

ESPN’s Mike Wells wrote about the Colts as a team enjoying considerably continuity as it enters 2020. The team ranked third in the NFL with 82.7% of last year’s snaps still on the roster. Only the Bills and Chiefs are returning more snaps.

The Colts will undergo a change at the quarterback position with Philip Rivers replacing Jacoby Brissett as starter. Rivers returns to an offensive system he knows and is expected to be a clear upgrade. Moving Brissett back into a backup role and adding rookie Jacob Eason to the group appears like an upgrade at every level.

The Colts return their trio of primary backs from 2019. Starter Marlon Mack rushed for over 1,000 yards a season ago. Nyheim Hines is the kind of backfield weapon Rivers has used his entire career. Jonathan Taylor will join the group and likely push for plenty of opportunities as a rookie. Any backfield that has a player as skilled and efficient as Jordan Wilkins on the bubble is grossly talented.

Indianapolis has continued to look for solutions at wide receiver. Veteran T.Y. Hilton is a dominant threat when healthy but has suffered from lingering injuries the last two seasons. Free agent additions have regularly not panned out, with Devin Funchess failing to make it through even his first game. Former undrafted free agent Zach Pascal had to step up as the team’s primary receiving option for a considerable portion of the season in 2019.

Pascal and Hilton will be the primary returning snaps, with second-year receiver Parris Campbell as the de facto third option. Adding Michael Pittman Jr. to replace Chester Rogers and Funchess will likely result in new snaps but a probable upgrade in talent. In fact, if Campbell and Hilton can stay healthy, having Pascal on the field as the third or fourth option should represent a drastic improvement at wide receiver.

Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox return to the tight end room for Indianapolis. They were used quite a bit as players who present match up problems in the passing game and excel as blockers in both phases. Trey Burton will step in for Eric Ebron. While he is new to the team, he’s not new to Frank Reich or his offensive system. He will need to change his career trajectory in Indianapolis if he hopes to be a sound replacement for Ebron but there is reason to think that catching passes from Rivers and not Trubisky will help considerably.

The entire starting offensive line is set to return. The depth along the offensive line is far less experienced and likely not as talented as the 2019 team but when the starting offensive line plays almost every snap, those players don’t play a big role.

The defensive line has been emphasized heavily by Chris Ballard since he joined the team in 2017. Justin Houston will likely serve as one starting defensive end but the other positions will undergo change. Denico Autry may move into a rotational role on passing downs along the interior and could get opportunities at defensive end in base sets. He will be replaced by All-Pro DeForest Buckner in the starting rotation. Grover Stewart and Sheldon Day will rotate at 1-tech in place of Margus Hunt. The youth at defensive end has threatened to break out and will get more opportunities to do so if Jabaal Sheard signs elsewhere.

Another position with a lot of talent and continuity for the Colts is at linebacker. Darius Leonard is a back-to-back All-Pro selection. Anthony Walker is likely one of the most underappreciated players on defense. Bobby Okereke flashed in his rookie season and could take a second-year leap. Even late-round pick E.J. Speed will be intriguing to watch. When your depth includes players like Matthews Adams and Zaire Franklin on the fringes of the roster, you have to feel pretty good.

The biggest change in the secondary will be replacing Pierre Desir with Xavier Rhodes or another young member of the team. Rock Ya-Sin played good football in the back half of his rookie season and could be ready for a big season. Kenny Moore is arguably the best nickel corner in the NFL. Marvell Tell III showed a lot of positive signs last season and he could work with veteran T.J. Carrie to backup the starters.

While this is a make-or-break year for Malik Hooker at free safety, he returns to play alongside second-year safety Khari Willis. The tandem projects to be a better unit than the Colts have had on the back end for some time. Losing Clayton Geathers could weaken the run stopping presence at the position but he has struggled to return to form after a serious neck surgery disrupted his career.

There will be an interesting camp competition for starting opportunities at place kicker as well. It appears unlikely Adam Vinatieri will be returning to Indianapolis and the leaves Chase McLaughlin to battle it out with rookie Rodrigo Blankenship. In either case, they have a chance to stabilize the position. Vinatieri’s stuggles in 2019 were partially responsible for the team’s record.

Things are looking good for the Colts, assuming the season moves forward. There are key improvements, few meaningful areas the team is weaker, and a ton of continuity. This tends to be a recipe for good things ahead.