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.