INDIANAPOLIS – Instead of sneaking into the Zoom like he did during the 2020 Draft, Nick Sirianni was the center of (virtual) attention on Monday morning.
Sirianni, along with fellow coordinator Matt Eberflus, met with the media for the first time during the 2020 offseason.
What were some of the highlights from Sirianni?
–On 30-year-old T.Y. Hilton entering his 9th NFL season: “I expect a great bounce back from a year he had a lot of injuries with. I expect the 2018 version of him, and stay healthy through the year. If T.Y. stays healthy through the year, there’s no doubt in my mind that’s what we’ll see. He’s highly competitive, he’s highly intelligent and he’s going to take advantage of his opportunities. He’s definitely still the main piece to this offense. T.Y. Hilton is who this pass offense runs through. Things will be schemed to get him the football. I know he’s worked hard on his body and worked hard through the offseason. He’s our lead guy. He’s our dog, our alpha dog. If he stays healthy, the sky is the limit for him.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Sirianni sounded like a little kid dreaming about being a professional athlete one day in describing his imagination of Hilton and Philip Rivers working together. The offensive coordinator talked about very specific routes Rivers has had success with that can showcase Hilton’s speed (both over the top and underneath). Sirianni doesn’t mince words about what he thinks Hilton means to this offense. Will that lead to a third (and final?) contract for Hilton in Indianapolis?
–On the role for Nyheim Hines with Philip Rivers: “Where I think Philip is really outstanding is he has this great ability to find the running back out of the backfield, whether we are scheming for that guy or it just happens where he goes through his progressions and finds that back. For sure, Nyheim will benefit from that. Just like we had Danny Woodhead, when Frank I were together with the Chargers and (in 2015) Danny had 80 catches. So, yeah, Nyheim is going to benefit big time from playing with Philip Rivers. There’s no question about that.”
Bowen’s Analysis: It certainly sounds like Nyheim Hines is going to maintain that third-down presence, while Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack do the heavy lifting on the earlier downs. Rivers has had a propensity of seeking out the shiftier/smaller backs in Woodhead, Darren Sproles or even Austin Ekeler last year. And Sirianni clearly feels that Hines will be a beneficiary of just that.
–On the confidence level of getting Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor enough carries: “Very confident. We know we want to run the football. We know that a lot of the good running teams in the past have had good 1-2 punches. It feels like it’s just a 1-1 punch though because we have two exceptional backs. We’ve seen it work in the NFL so much, where you have different styles of guys. Both of these guys can do multiple things though, Jonathan is a little different than Marlon, but they both have exceptional speed and they both have ability to make you miss, and they both have the ability to break arm tackles and run with power. They have some different running styles, but they are both complete backs and I think that’s a fantastic problem to have, to have two guys like that, that you can feed the football to. It’s only going to help our running game.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Earlier on Monday, I posted a piece on rookie playing time that highlighted a possible rep/carry count for the Colts running backs in 2020. It’s been some time since we’ve seen a true 1-2 (or 1-1) punch at the top of the running back depth chart. Will this be a series to series thing for Mack and Taylor, with the two of them trading drives off in when they are on the field?
–On what Sirianni saw in looking at film of Rivers since the coach left the Chargers in 2017: “It’s been two years since I’ve been there and when I’m watching his tape (now), I didn’t see any drop off in play. You could argue 2018 might have been the best season he’s had. I agree with what Frank said about 2019. (Rivers) had some interceptions, but that’s a product of playing from behind and he’s a fighter and is never going to quit. That’s what makes him special.”
Bowen’s Analysis: The Colts are projecting a better offensive line, more committed rushing attack and an improved defense will have Rivers quarterbacking more with leads, versus the 17 (of 20) interceptions he threw when his team was behind or tied last season. On a different note, Sirianni mentioned how close Rivers was with his backup quarterbacks in San Diego. He’s expecting a similar relationship between Rivers and Jacoby Brissett.
–On what attracted to Rivers to coming to the Colts: “A big part of Philip being here is Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith. Those guys are studs. That was something he kept mentioning, after we signed him, of how valuable those guys were to him.”
Bowen’s Analysis: While there are fair questions about the Colts not having the same amount of skill talent that Rivers had with the Chargers, Indy has the upper hand in the trenches. It’s also another reason why that group really needs to stay healthy, due to concerns over the OL depth and Rivers’ lack of mobility .
-On what Sirianni saw from Michael Pittman besides his receiving production: “We watched everything you could imagine, the blocking tapes, the press tapes, where (the ball) is not always going to him. That’s where we fell in love with this guy. Not only did he impress on his target tape, with 110 catches his senior year, but it’s the other stuff that he does. It’s the Zach Pascal/Jack Doyle stuff that he does, the toughness, the consistency. That was what was exciting. Obviously, he’s a great, phenomenal football player, with the ball in his hands and when the ball is coming to him, but a lot of special qualities that he has that separated him from other wideouts that we evaluated, when the ball wasn’t coming to him.”
Bowen’s Analysis: This was an interesting question and another piece into the reasoning behind Michael Pittman being a guy the Colts had so high on their board. That’s high praise from Sirianni in placing Pittman into a Pascal/Doyle ‘dirty work’ type of category. At 6-4 and 223 pounds, Pittman has the frame to be an effective blocker.
–On what was on the pre-snap plate for Jacob Eason in college: “I really look at Washington’s program and Coach (Chris) Petersen and he’s a phenomenal coach. Great offensive mind. We really get to see that more and more each day, when we are with (offensive line coach) Chris Strausser, who worked under Petersen for a long time, and (assistant offensive line coach) Klayton Adams, who played and coached for Coach Petersen. So Jacob has been exposed to a lot because he was coached so well by Coach Petersen and his offensive staff. As we are going through these virtual meetings, we are seeing his intelligence, his ability to process, and what he’s been exposed to. He’s definitely ahead of the curve, so that’s been exciting.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Coming out of Washington (and having started for just one season over the last three years), Jacob Eason’s mental aptitude when it comes to handling a lot of responsibilities pre-snap has been a question. Sirianni likes what he’s seen from Eason so far in some early meetings. It will be interesting to watch this translate eventually on the field, with the Colts offense. It’ll be a bigger key to monitor in Eason’s development.
–On Parris Campbell entering Year Two after 4 different injuries and playing just 7 games as a rookie: “I have high hopes for Parris to stay healthy and have the type of season this year that we all know he is capable of. Coming out of Ohio State, the thing that we liked the most about Parris, besides the player, besides the speed, besides the dynamic plays he made, it was this guy is a leader. He’s a hard worker. Parris understands that and we’ve talked about keeping his body healthy. A few of his injuries last year were obviously freak injuries that he wants to get past. I can promise you that he’s working as hard as anybody to get past that. I have so much faith in Parris the person, to get past this adversity, and excel in his future because of it. That’s just the type of kid that he is. That’s why we drafted him. He just fit what we envision a Colt being like.”
Bowen’s Analysis: There was more to the Campbell draft selection than just his 4.3 40-yard dash speed and major big-play ability. This will be a storyline to watch in 2020 because Campbell establishing himself on a consistent basis would do wonders for the Colts offense taking another step. It’s also important for the future outlook of this position group.