After getting run over by the New England Patriots in their last three meetings, the Indianapolis Colts clearly needed to address their run defense entering the offseason. It was the number one area of focus that most people noticed, and it is still an area that poses questions and cause for doubt for many.
It remains to be seen just how good the team's run defense will be, as the questions are warranted until the team proves they can defend against the rush. A big part of the run defense is the defensive line, as at the very least they are to be space-eaters to allow other players on the field to make the tackles. As such, we don't know how the defensive line will be in 2015, but if they struggle again to stop the run, at least it won't be because the Colts didn't try to address the position.
They added Kendall Langford to play defensive end, replacing Cory Redding - who the team allowed to walk in free agency (he signed with the Cardinals). Redding was a vocal leader of the defense and played well last year, particularly against the pass. The team moving on from Redding in favor of Langford suggests that they are serious about improving their run defense, as they moved on from a player who's strength was in pass defense (Redding) to a player who's strength is in run defense (Langford). Spending time with the Dolphins and the Rams, Langford has never missed a game in seven seasons, playing in 112 games (every one possible) and starting 90 of them. He has racked up 242 tackles, 15.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 15 passes defensed. He took on a smaller role last year with the Rams (mainly due to the other talent along their defensive line) and started only four games, but he is a talented player who should help the Colts, particularly in the area of run defense. While he's best against the run, however, he does have some potential as a pass rusher and should make some plays there as well. He could end up being an underrated signing in a free agent class that was headlined by Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Trent Cole.
At defensive tackle is another run stopper in Arthur Jones. The big outside free agent signing for the Colts last year, Jones' first year with the team didn't go smoothly. He was injured in the second week of the season, and it took him most of the regular season to get back to full strength. He managed to play in nine games and start three (he also started the three playoff games), but his impact was severely limited as his first year with the Colts was largely consumed by injury and trying to recover fully from it. Entering 2015, then, it feels almost as if Jones could be a 'new' addition to the group if he stays healthy. He is a good run stopper who has some skills rushing the passer as well, and having a healthy Art Jones would be a huge thing for this defensive line. With Langford and Jones starting on either side of the line, the Colts seem to have put together a group capable of playing good run defense and solid pass defense. Obviously health is a big key, but if these two can stay on the field (which Langford has been great at doing), there's reason to be optimistic.
At nose tackle, however, it's a different story. When the Colts drafted Josh Chapman in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft it was a steal, even though he had to essentially sit out his first year while recovering from injury. In 2013, Chapman played in 13 games but didn't start any, seeing limited time. Then entering last season, Chapman was projected to be the starting nose tackle, and there was plenty of reason for hope - especially after a promising preseason. Including playoffs, Chapman started 18 of 19 games for the Colts (and played in all 19), but he wasn't overly impressive. He seemed to get pushed around too much (particularly when it came to pass protection) and too often had a minimal impact on the play. He held his own in run defense for most of the time, but overall it wasn't a great season and was a disappointment after such a good preseason. He is the team's projected starter at nose tackle again this year, however, as they didn't bring in anybody to really emerge as the starter this year. His snaps will definitely be on a rotation, but he should technically be a "starter."
While we won't hit on every player on the roster along the defensive line in this article (for individual previews, keep up with our series here), it's important to look at a few of the key depth players that could see significant playing time in 2015, particularly since the defensive line seems to be more of a rotation. Montori Hughes and Zach Kerr were two players last year who essentially filled the same role, serving as a depth player along the line - something that was especially needed with Jones injured. They both played in 12 games (with Hughes starting one) and both did a solid job, serving to be good role players and depth guys. Both of them will likely make the roster again, and Kerr could see time at nose tackle as well in relief of Chapman in a rotational role.
The Colts also drafted two players who we must mention here, as they drafted Stanford defensive end Henry Anderson and Stanford defensive tackle David Parry in the 2015 NFL Draft. Both were good picks and both could have an impact on the defense this year. They will both be players to keep an eye on for depth roles and for possible candidates to earn playing time.
The bottom line is that the Colts' defensive line could be better; I think we all know that. But the signing of Kendall Langford and the drafting of Henry Anderson and David Parry are moves to like, and it's reasonable to think that because of some of the moves, plus the return of Arthur Jones, the Colts will be better at the area they wanted to improve in: run defense. That's the hope, at least, and this unit is good enough that we should at least see improvement. Whether or not it's enough improvement to get over the hump and beat the Patriots? We'll have to wait and see in October, though we should get a good idea before that.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews: