Early Monday morning, after giving the players a week off, the Colts announced they had activated receiver Griff Whalen from the practice squad, shutting down – at least for now – the explosion of trade speculation that has swirled around since Reggie Wayne’s heartbreaking ACL tear. (A trade could still happen, but for now, the Colts have their fourth WR)
Whalen, a former Stanford walk-on, is primarily a slot receiver and has made a name for himself in the preseason as a sure handed target. Considering Wayne, a reliable possession receiver, spent 70.7 percent of his snaps (per Pro Football Focus) in the slot, Whalen may be exactly the type of receiver the Colts need at this time.
The team also signed center Thomas Austin to the practice squad. From the Colts press release on both players:
Whalen has played in three games this season, catching two passes for 28 yards. He was originally signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent on April 30, 2012 and was signed to the practice squad on October 2, 2013.
Austin was originally signed by the Colts as a free agent on August 1, 2013 and was signed to the practice squad on September 1. He was then released from the practice squad on October 1. Austin has appeared in seven career games (one start) with the Carolina Panthers (2012) and Houston Texans (2011).
As for the depth chart, currently, the team lists LaVon Brazill as the starter alongside Darrius Heyward Bey, with T.Y. Hilton at number three and Whalen as the fourth receiver.
Brazill caught 11 passes, albeit on 24 targets, last year for 186 yards and one TD (a 42-yarder that helped spark the Colts’ dramatic comeback win over Detroit last season).
While the Colts like the former Ohio University receiver’s potential, many fans no doubt will be clamoring for Hilton to move to the outside as a starter. Before wringing your hands in anger over Hilton remaining in the slot, remember that Wayne essentially led the team in receptions from the slot.
What may happen when Hilton checks in is he may move to the outside, as he often did while Wayne was healthy, with DHB sliding into the slot. That could be very effective as Hilton, who’s only been in the slot 25.5% of the time (PFF) is the team’s second leading receiver, and DHB actually leads the team in yards per route run from the slot (also from PFF).
No one can simply replace Wayne, but the group that will see the field could find themselves in position to be effective, depending on the success of Brazill/Whalen.
Give Griff a shot, and see how he performs in the slot. Hilton and DHB on the outside, and Fleener down the middle to keep the safeties honest. I thought Rodgers was also going to get a shot to see what he brings to the table.
I like Griff, let him play the slot, and see what production you get out of him. I think he can make the short catches over the middle, and pick up first downs in short yardage. If you could bring in a dependable tight end as well to help in short yardage. Look for the running backs to catch a lot of balls out of the backfield and screens.
Is it physically possible to have all 4 WRs line up in the slot? What would that require, TE/RB split wide on the line? I know... we'll go from a 9 FB alignment to a 9 slot WR alignment. Man, that Pep is flexible!
I'm happy to see Griff on the roster. He'll have to make the most of his opportunities though. Not many plays for the 4th WR.
Perhaps we are looking at this all wrong. Maybe, just maybe, it was the aging Wayne that was holding us back.
Now we can have DHB, Hilton and Brazil flying all over the field and just run an Oregon Ducks like spread attack.
Or read option baby! With Luck running the ball 15 to 20 times a game. Make that kid earn his money.
@MarcusDugan I don't know. He's our only true slot receiver right now, and the player with the right physicality and skill set to fill in for what we'll miss without Wayne: the third-down conversions and other over-the-middle, physical routes.
(It goes without saying that I love this move infinitely more than trading or pulling someone in from off the street.)
@DougEngland so long as it doesn't involve even more use of the FB I'm down.