Over the next few weeks, we will be looking position by position at the current talent on the Indianapolis Colts' roster and previewing the battles that may take place in training camp. Today we look at the inside linebackers.
The inside linebacker position is one that will actually look familiar to Colts fans. The projected starters for 2012, Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner, each started 16 games for the Colts last season and each recorded over 100 tackles.
With so much change occurring this offseason, this position may be the most familiar of any. The two starting inside linebackers have both been contributing to the Colts for the past two seasons, and unlike Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, these familiar faces remain at their position.
But, of course, they too will have to adjust to playing in a 3-4 defense. That means they will be responsible for making most of the plays (along with Freeney and Mathis) and will also likely have to drop back into coverage more frequently.
Last year, Pat Angerer put up great numbers, making 148 tackles, and he was also the best Colts' linebacker in dropping back into coverage. He even intercepted a pass and batted down three more. Angerer still needs work, but for a young player he is exciting to watch and has great potential. This year, playing in a base 3-4 defense, he needs to continue to improve. I think he can, but again he will be playing in a new defense.
Kavell Conner often got overshadowed last season because of playing alongside Angerer, but he also had a solid year, recording 104 tackles. He is a work in progress, but from what he has shown in his first two years he seems to be a player who can continue to improve into a very good linebacker. Between Conner and Angerer, the Colts have two young players at the middle of the linebacking core, which is something they could really build on. If they continue to show improvement and produce in 2012, they will likely be the building blocks of the defense.
The starting spots are set in stone, and honestly the backup spots seem pretty easy to decide as well.
A.J. Edds was a fourth round pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2010, but tore his ACL in his rookie season. He was released the following season. The Patriots signed him and he was a practice squad member. The Colts signed him off of the Patriots practice squad on September 28, 2011. He made 13 tackles last season (in 11 games), recording 12 of them with the Colts (the other with the Patriots) while playing 9 games for the Colts. He notched a season high 9 tackles in the December 4th loss to New England. Also, just a note, he played at Iowa with Pat Angerer and reportedly is good friends with him.
Jerrell Freeman is a 26-year old who spent the past three seasons in the Canadian Football League. In 2008 he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans but was released before the season started. The following spring he signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL. In his first season, he made an excellent 25 special teams tackles, and in 2010 recorded 7 sacks. Then in 2011 he had a breakout season. Freeman led the CFL in tackles with 105 and he earned a contract with the Colts on January 16, 2012. In his CFL career, he made 144 tackles and 41 special teams tackles, along with 13 sacks and 3 interceptions. Freeman would certainly be a valuable player to have, if for no other reason than for special teams.
Mario Harvey was undrafted out of Marshall last season and never made it onto an active roster. He signed a reserve/future contract this offseason with the Colts, and figures to be nothing more than a camp body.
Scott Lutrus was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 but was released before the season started. He was signed to the St. Louis Rams practice squad, and then the Colts signed him on November 29, 2011.
Looking at these four linebackers, I was surprised at the gap between them. Edds and Freeman have the potential to be solid players, while Harvey and Lutrus both seem to be nothing more than camp bodies.
This position seems pretty set - Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner as the starters, and A.J. Edds and Jerrell Freeman as the backups. And that is an inside linebacking core that I would be very happy with.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner
BATTLING FOR STARTING SPOT: --
BATTLING FOR A ROSTER SPOT: A.J. Edds, Jerrell Freeman, Mario Harvey, Scott Lutrus