Yesterday we continued our series looking at the biggest needs for the Colts to address this offseason by examining the inside linebacker position, and it's no secret that I find the position one of the biggest needs for the team moving forward.
First, however, let's take a look back at the 2014 season and look at how the inside linebackers on the roster did this past year. This was a position in which the starters were clearly entrenched, as D'Qwell Jackson started all 16 regular season games and all three playoff games and Jerrell Freeman started 12 regular season games as well as the three playoff games.
Before we begin taking this look, however, I must offer up this disclaimer that I wish I didn't even have to write. Unfortunately, the inside linebacker position has been one that has had a number of issues this offseason. Josh McNary was arrested and charged with rape in January, Andrew Jackson was arrested for DUI last week, and D'Qwell Jackson was arrested for assault this week after punching a pizza delivery driver. It's inexcusable and embarrassing and I'm in no way making light of those situations nor ignoring them, but for the purposes of this article, we're going to be looking purely at their play on the field in 2014, not the off-field issues that surround them currently.
Jackson was brought in as a free agent last offseason, and the veteran had never played in a playoff game or on a playoff team in his eight seasons in the NFL. In 2014, he was on his first division-winning team, his first double-digit win team, played in his first three playoff games, and even intercepted Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game for good measure before playing in his first career Pro Bowl. He led the team with 140 tackles while also adding four sacks, a pass deflection, a forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries. Jackson had a very rough start to the season, but in the second half of the year he really picked up his play and was a solid inside linebacker. Of course, however, as we noted yesterday he does have limitations, and one of the biggest ones was his pass coverage. He was not good at all in coverage and that helped lead to opposing tight ends having good games against the Colts. He was overpaid, yes, but when looking at his production on the field, he ended up having a solid season and one full of many milestones for the veteran.
Jerrell Freeman entered the 2014 season having led the team in tackles in each of his first two seasons in the NFL and having started every single game, but both of those streaks were ended this year. As we noted, D'Qwell Jackson led the team in tackles (Freeman was second) and Freeman missed four games due to injury. While neither of those things mean that his season was a bad one, they are somewhat indicative of the season that Freeman had, in which he didn't play as well as we had come to expect from him. He recorded 95 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 6 pass deflections, and a forced fumble, and unlike Jackson he was very good in pass coverage. Unfortunately, Freeman did not do particularly well against the run and overall had a bit of a disappointing season. He too, like Jackson, was solid, and Freeman's presence was most noticed by the dropoff of play when he did miss, but he wasn't great in 2014.
In the four games that Jerrell Freeman missed, Josh McNary stepped in and started in his place, and he was a disappointment this season. The Colts entered the season with high hopes for him after injuries derailed him a bit a year ago, but when he stepped in and started he did not do that well. He recorded 28 tackles and 0.5 sacks in four starts while playing in 15 games, but he really didn't live up to the high hopes that many had for him entering the year. That became apparent as the season went on, as his playing time continued to decrease.
Andrew Jackson was the Colts' sixth round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and was a versatile, multi-purpose player for the Colts in his rookie season. Jackson played some linebacker, played some fullback when need be, and played on special teams. He played in 13 games, making ten tackles and recording a sack. He did not see a ton of playing time this season, but he did do a pretty good job when he was called upon and showed that he might be a guy we see more of next season.
The last inside linebacker that we will look at is Henoc Muamba, the former first overall pick in the CFL Draft who was signed by the Colts last offseason. Muamba had a very impressive training camp and preseason and gave fans reason to like him, but he didn't see much playing time whatsoever after that on defense, playing mostly on special teams. He recorded six tackles in 13 games played during his rookie year, and he's a guy that the Colts will likely to continue to work with.
Ultimately, the inside linebacker position for the Colts was a lot of solid and not much special in 2014. That's not the worst possible situation, but it was clear from watching the team last year that they need a playmaker on the inside of the defense. D'Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman both filled the role of inside linebacker and were average players, but the Colts need to look at upgrading at the position this offseason.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2014 season, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: