Given our depth at various positions, this seems like an area we should be OK at compared with other positions. The question here has little to do with depth and everything to do with how well this unit functions. OK will not cut it this year with the massive investment we made in this unit. Many traditionalists insist that the game is won and lost in the trenches. Pagano himself has preached stopping the run, and this unit better be able to do that especially given the question marks we have in the pass defense.
Things have to start with Arthur Jones. Jones has been a guy I've steadily kept my eye on the last couple of years and is someone who has emerged into a pretty damn good DL. He needs to be our version of Haloti Ngata, that guy that is constantly disrupting things and has to be accounted for on every down. He was our big splash in FA and we need him to stay healthy and make a difference for this unit to realize it's potential. My hope is he doesn't have to spend too much time at NT, as I think he can have a bigger impact at DE and DT.
Another huge piece is Josh Chapman. When you talk about the 3-4, the NT is a very important piece. The Colts have struggled with this position since switching defenses and solidifying it this year would go a long way in making this defense something to contend with. Chapman basically had some pretty unrealistic expectations last year. It was his first year back off major knee injury and he was taking some lumps as an inexperienced first year player. With another year removed from injury and the progression that should come after a year on the field, I'm kind of excited about what he can do this year. He showed enough flashes last year to lead me to believe that he can solidify things as the main man in the middle.
Redding's importance to this team cannot be understated. Not only has he been the best DL we have had for two years, he is a vocal and emotional leader of this team. Redding is getting a little long in the tooth, but if they can keep him fresh with the rotation and he can stay healthy, look for a good year from Cory. The guy is a professional and knows how to get it done and I think there are still enough physical tools left for him to be a good lineman for the Colts. Look for significantly less snaps this year.
RJF is another player that needs to step up. He was brought in last year and ended up being nothing special. With the addition of Jones, the hopeful progression of Chapman and the depth in this unit, the hope is he thrives in more of a rotational role this year. He seems like a guy who needs to have talent around him and we seem to finally have it this year. An additional year in the system cannot hurt.
Hughes is one of the most intriguing guys heading into this year. He sort of reminds me a little of a young Arthur Jones. Hopefully his career starts trending upwards like Jones' did and he makes an impact as a rotational guy this year. Hughes is very quick and agile for his size and has the potential to provide some pass rushing, which would be a welcome addition to a unit that is lacking in this area. This is one guy I look for to take significant steps forward this year and become a significan tpart of the rotation. I would be disappointed if he remained invisible.
The rest of the unit should be able to provide solid depth. McKinney would help solidify the NT if he can stay healthy. Unfortunately, knee issue have prevented him from taking snaps as a Colt. Kerr is another interesting option who could step up if McKinney cannot stay healthy. There is also the outside chance he beats him out. Pendleton played well last year as a DT and has a decent chance of sticking around for depth with the injury to Moala. Conway (DE), Hoover (DE) and Obukwelu (DE) are three dark hoarses whose best bets are the PS.
This unit is key for the Colts this year. They need to be good up front at holding up the LOS and let the LBers make plays. This unit must make running the ball difficult for opposing teams. They also must find a way to generate more of a pass rush. Having a formidable DL would go a long way to allowing this team to be serious contenders in the AFC. We'll have to wait and see if Grigson and Pagano's investment will pay off.