A number of things jump out at Colts fans "in the know" regarding Defensive End in Indianapolis. First, it is easily one of the most important positions in a cover-2 defensive scheme, as players at this position hold the greatest level of responsibility in generating a pass rush. Second, injuries to our defensive ends over the past three seasons have severely limited the team's ability to continue generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and a lack of depth at the position leaves the Colts in a sensitive position. Third, with the release of Raheem Brock, the most experienced and dynamic of the Colts defensive lineman, along with the gradual aging of tandem Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, infusing some young blood seems like an absolute certainty in the upcoming draft.
What will surprise many fans, even the most avid and informed, is that the Colts have done some scouting homework during the season that has landed them potential replacements and potentially a greater level of depth at the position than it has had in some time.
Two players have a great deal of potential in the defensive tackle/defensive end roll to not only replace Raheem Brock, but possibly push Keyunta Dawson off of the roster altogether.
The first player, John Gill, is someone the Colts showed interest in prior to the 2009 NFL Draft but could not acquire until well into the pre-season. Once acquired, Gill played both defensive tackle and defensive end in the final pre-season game and found his way onto the practice squad, where he would stay throughout the entire regular season. It seems clear that the Colts have are interested in his development and that he is a prospect to fill the hybrid defensive tackle-defensive end position vacated by Brock.
The second player is new to the Colts but not to professional football, having played the entire 2009 season in the CFL, earning the defensive player of the year award. As a defensive end for the Roughriders (former home of Kenton Keith), John Chick tallied 32 tackles, 11 sacks, forced two fumbles, and added two special teams tackles. At 6'4" Chick would fall in line with the Colts stated desire to get bigger on both lines but he is only listed at 248 pounds (a weight I find highly suspect when I look at him on tape). He is tall enough and aware enough to knock down passes, fast enough to turn the corner on tackles, strong enough to bull rush, and aware enough of the ball to work back inside. Don't be surprised if you hear more about him as training camp and pre-season roll around.
If you add to the mix defensive tackle Eric Foster, who spent some time outside during the year, J.D. Skolnitsky, who was added to the roster at the end of the season, and Mitch King (YOU DECIDE 2009), who will likely have the physical skills and prior experience to play inside and outside on the Colts defensive line... and you start to see the defensive end position in a different light.
Honestly, I started the off-season with the feelings that the Colts would use their first round pick to draft a defensive end, and liked Brandon Graham of Michigan to be the possible pick. Now, though, I feel like the position isn't as weak as I previously thought and feel that Polian and Company are in a position to pick BPA with the thirty-first pick and not worry about drastic consequences to depth along the defensive line.