Indianapolis Colts Rookie Report: Week 4 vs. Houston Texans Injuries continue to plague the Indianapolis Colts. This certainly places more pressure on rookies and second-year players to impact the outcome of football games. The bad news is that this will sometimes breed some inconsistencies and growing pains. The good news is that the Colts rookie class has continued to handle the heavy workload quite well and all of this early experience could payoff considerably down the road due to intensive player development.As has been the case all season Indianapolis Colts T-Shirt
, young Colts played a major role in the outcome of Sunday’s home divisional game against the Texans. Let’s take a look at their contributions and see how their impact is changing.OffenseThe offensive contributions are still heavily influenced by Quenton Nelson and running backs Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines. Nelson has still played every down in 2018 and has established himself as a building block for the unit’s future. He was visibly abused on a stunt by Jadeveon Clowney on Sunday but is still the best young lineman on the team.The running game is starting to fall off entirely in Indianapolis. This is certainly impacting the role and production for rookie rushers Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines. Wilkins only carried the ball 8 times for 16 yards and Hines rushed 4 times for 10 yards. Neither player was particularly effective but when the play-calling balance is 62 passes to 14 runs (excluding quarterback scrambles), it won’t be easy to get things going.Indianapolis fell behind early in the first half that saw little signs of offensive life. This certainly changed the game plan and the half time adjustment was to put the team on Andrew Luck’s shoulders and move the ball through the air. No player was a greater beneficiary of the new game plan than Hines. This was a breakout game for him as a receiver and as a facet of the passing offense. He caught a team high 9 passes on a team high 11 targets for 63 yards and 2 touchdowns.With second-year running back Marlon Mack still on the sideline and veteran Robert Turbin serving the final game of his suspension, Wilkins and Hines dominates the offensive snaps. Hines was in the game for 68% of offensive snaps with Wilkins gathering 35% of the opportunities. The only other running back to take a snap was Jeremy McNichols with 2 total.DefenseThe Colts run defense has continued to look strong through four games but the pass defense struggled against the Texans. This could be partially due to injuries keeping Quincy Wilson out of the game and ending Kenny Moore’s day early but Houston was able to effectively move the ball through the air. I think it’s fair to point out that fans might be overlooking at least 14 points that Houston scored that were essentially due to offensive mistakes in the first half — meaning that the defense was far better than the score indicates — but the final passing play in overtime was a prime example of some of the struggles the unit faced.Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard didn’t have a signature play this week but he did continue to set the tone for all of the defense. He missed his first snap of the season after hobbling off of the field but was immediately back in, gathering 99% of the defensive snaps. He led the team with 13 tackles, including 8 solos and 1 sack. Through four weeks, Leonard’s 54 tackles is 8 more than any other player this season and one of the highest four week totals in history. Also this:There is nothing more fans can ask from Leonard to this point in the season. He has vastly outperformed any legitimate expectation and has to be considered a front runner for NFL defensive rookie of the year. It is exciting to imagine what he will be able to accomplish if he can stay healthy the rest of the way. The other rookie defensive contributor is edge rusher Kemoko Turay. He followed up a breakout performance against the Eagles by adding another half sack on an impressive play against the Texans. He has been visibly improving and has created pressure on the quarterback for much of the season. His stat sheet also included another quarterback hit. He led all other rookies with 36% of the defensive snaps.The only other rookie to see the field on defense was linebacker Zaire Franklin who took five total snaps and continued to out-pace veteran Najee Goode who took only 1.Second-year contributors, Malik Hooker and Nate Hairston continued to be relied upon for a full days work on defense, taking every snap. Linebacker Anthony Walker took 84% of the defensive snaps with Kenny Moore behind him at 37%. Moore left the field with concussion early in the game and did not return.Of the second-year players, the biggest contribution came from Anthony Walker who finished the game with 10 tackles, including 9 solos, a sack, and 2 tackles for a loss. He continues to play a bigger and bigger role in the Colts new defense and has been promising since he returned from injury. Hooker finished the game with 2 tackles, Hairston with 4, and Moore with 3. The Indianapolis Colts entered the season asking a lot from their first- and second-year players. The team has gone from the oldest in the NFL to one of the youngest very quickly under Chris Ballard and the plan to develop “home grown” players internally has been in full effect. Some of these young players have played so much this season that it almost doesn’t feel like it is fair to call them rookies. They’re slowly progressing into NFL veterans and the first- or second-year jitters seem mostly played out of their systems.The only concern now is if the team starts to see young players hit that rookie wall. The NFL season is demanding and a significant transition from a college schedule. This doesn’t hit everyone the same but is common enough to keep an eye on it. For now, it appears that none of the young players are slowing down.OFFENSERookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith continue to play pretty much every offensive snap. They have played an important role in keeping Andrew Luck clean in the pocket Indianapolis Colts Hats
, allowing zero sacks in the last four games. It is hard to quantify just how important both players have been to an offensive explosion in recent weeks.Rookie rushers Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins continue to play an active role on offense. They are taking a backseat to second-year back Marlon Mack, but prior to the game Chris Ballard and the Colts released Robert Turbin, which should tell you about all you need to know about his confidence in the rookies. Hines played on 36% of the offensive snaps and carried the ball three times for three yards, with 3 receptions for 19 yards. He had a big drop that could have gone for a long gain in the second half that he will need to not repeat if he wants to stay in favor. Wilkins was only on the field for 5 offensive snaps but carried the ball on one of those snaps for 53 yards.Mack has been lighting the world on fire for the last two and a half games but came down to earth. He carried the ball 12 times for 29 yards, a 2.4 yards per carry average. He also caught 2 passes for 9 yards.Second-year tight end Mo Alie-Cox has also stepped forward after going undrafted in 2017. He was on the field for 41% of the offensive snaps — 2 snaps more than Eric Ebron — and caught 2 passes for 28 yards and a touchdown. He also had a huge drop that was deflected into the air off of his chest and into the hands of Telvin Smith for an interception.DEFENSEWhile rookie linebacker Darius Leonard spent much of the day relatively quiet, it is hard to complain when “quiet” is 8 tackles and one tackle for a loss. It wasn’t quite up to his expectations, to be sure, but he still was on the field for 99% of defensive snaps.Rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay missed the game with a neck injury. Naturally, the Colts activated rookie Tyquan Lewis to take his place. In his first NFL game, Lewis saw the field for 71% of the defensive snaps and tallied 3 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and a pass defensed that arguably saved the game. Not a horrible way to start your NFL career.Rookie linebackers Matthew Adams, Skai Moore, and Zaire Franklin all saw the field on defense. Adams led the way with 15 snaps, Moore had 14 Indianapolis Colts Hoodie
, and Franklin saw the field for 10 plays. Only Adams tallied a defensive stat, with one tackle.Rookie safety George Odum added 2 offensive snaps and one tackle.Second-year safety Malik Hooker was also on the field for 99% of the defense snaps, tallying four tackles and a game-sealing fumble recovery. He also missed a tackle in the first quarter against former Colts receive Donte Moncrief, who went on to score a touchdown. Hooker was joined by Kenny Moore who played on 96% of the defensive opportunities. Moore was the best Colts defensive player to take the field, generating 6 tackles, a tackle for a loss, two passes defensed, and the game-sealing forced fumble late in the fourth quarter.Sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson played on 67% of the defensive snaps, tallying 6 tackles. He had a dismal game overall, looking lost and out of place and being personally responsible for a number of plays in his direction. Linebacker Anthony Walker, on the other hand, played on 59% of the defensive snaps and led the team with 10 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss. In terms of the front seven, Walker was all over the field shutting things down and pestering Jaguars ball carriers on the ground.Second-year defensive lineman Grover Stewart played on 30% of the defensive snaps and added 3 tackles with one tackle for a loss. He was banged up during the game but is expected to recover and be ready to go against the Titans.