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Colts Counting on Young Defensive Linemen to Step Up in 2015

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said on Tuesday morning that the team will be counting on several young players along the defensive line to step up in 2015.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts' offseason has been full of getting older.  We've mentioned repeatedly that this isn't as big of a deal as some will make it out to be, but it is a reality - the Colts are adding veterans.  Head coach Chuck Pagano, talking this morning at the media breakfast at the annual league meetings, said that because of so many questions about that fact that, "I joke we are going to have a Bingo night on Thursdays."

At one position, however, they seem to be taking a completely opposite approach, letting a productive veteran walk in free agency and instead counting on young, relatively unproven players to step up.  This position, of course, is the defensive line.  And it's here that Pagano reiterated that the team will be relying on younger players to step up (per the Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder):

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Chuck is clear that they are really going to lean heavily on some of the young DLs. Losing RJF/Redding will have impact.</p>&mdash; Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) <a href="">March 24, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Calling on Chapman, Montori Hughes, Zach Kerr and others to step up. &quot;They have no choice,&quot; Pagano said. A lot of faith in some young guys</p>&mdash; Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) <a href="">March 24, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>I like the Langford addition, but they&#39;re putting some expectations on guys who haven&#39;t played a ton. We&#39;ll see how they fare.</p>&mdash; Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) <a href="">March 24, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

The Colts let veteran defensive end Cory Redding walk in free agency (he signed with the Cardinals), and that was a significant loss for the team.  They signed Kendall Langford to replace him (Pagano confirmed that he'll likely take Redding's spot) and while I think that could be an underrated signing, that was still just replacing their best defensive lineman and not really addressing some of the issues already there.  Langford will take one starting spot and Arthur Jones will take another, but from there the Colts are counting on a bunch of young, relatively unproven guys.

Zach Kerr is a 24-year old lineman who was signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent last offseason.  He played in twelve games for the Colts last year, recording 16 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, and a pass defensed.  Montori Hughes is also 24-years old, though he was drafted by the Colts in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.  In 2013 he played in four games and recorded six tackles, but in 2014 he played in 12 games (starting one) and notched 11 tackles, a fumble recovery, and a pass defensed.  Josh Chapman is a 25-year old nose tackle who was drafted by the Colts in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, though he didn't play at all during his rookie season as he recovered from a torn ACL.  In 2013 he appeared in 13 games (recording 15 tackles), and then in 2014 he was the team's starting nose tackle, starting 15 games (and playing in all 16) while racking up 21 tackles and a forced fumble.  And then you could even add in Kelcy Quarles to the mix, as the 23-year old lineman played in two games with the Colts last year (recording a tackle and a pass defensed).

Ultimately, it's a risk for the Colts.  It might very well work out, and that would be great.  But it also might not work out, and that could lead to some of the same struggles that the Colts have had over the past few years.  Guys like Kerr, Hughes, and Chapman have shown that they can be solid depth guys and can play a part in the rotation.  But are they ready to step up into a larger role?  The Colts are counting on it that they are, but it's something that we'll just have to wait and see to figure out for sure.