If you take a look at the Colts' projected defensive starters, it's a veteran group. Five of them are 30 years old or older, while eight of them are at least 29 years old or older. It's a veteran group, to be sure - but one position is very young and inexperienced: the defensive line.
Rookies Henry Anderson, David Parry, and T.Y. McGill have yet to play in a regular season NFL game. Earl Okine hasn't appeared in an NFL game yet either, though technically not a rookie. Only Zach Kerr, who played in 12 for the Colts in his rookie season last year, and Kendall Langford, who has started 112 straight games to start his career, have any experience playing in a meaningful NFL game. Out of six players, that's just 124 career games total. That averages out to just over one season of experience for each player (an average of 20.7 games per player) and their average age is under 25 years old. Only one team in the entire league has a defensive line with less combined experience than the Colts', and that's the Bears - who, at 90 combined games played, will get a big boost when Jeremiah Ratliff (and his 120 career games) returns after a three-game suspension to start the season. And, to be honest, it's not really that close either. 17 different teams have at least one defensive lineman who by himself has played in at least 124 career games - the same number that the entire Colts' defensive line has combined.
And it's not just that they're an inexperienced group - it's that, outside of one player (Kendall Langford), the other five haven't even played an entire season combined. Oh, and if we're looking for players who have played a game with the Colts before? That's Zach Kerr, with 12 appearances. That's it. Only 12 games total with the horseshoe on the helmet.
It would seem that the Colts are taking a significant gamble with their defensive line, though the team feels comfortable with the players that they have.
"You get up every morning and get in the car and drive to work it's a gamble," head coach Chuck Pagano said today. "But I don't think the d-line is a gamble at all."
General manager Ryan Grigson, who also spoke during a joint press conference with Pagano, also talked about the lack of experience with the team's defensive line. "The makeup is going to be different at every position group," he said. "I think that where you have (positions) where there's plenty of experience. Of course you feel great about those, but it's a war of attrition. You're always churning the roster, you're always trying to find the next guy because that experience group could turn into a really green group overnight. We think that there were certain points in time here where we had a very young group on offense, but the talent and the coaching merged. That's where we're at now. We hope that that happens at all the position groups."
Grigson and Pagano are looking past the youth and instead to what the defensive linemen can do. And with that, they are optimistic.
"Well, I think you guys, along with ourselves, got a glimpse of what these guys are capable of," Pagano said. "I love the mixture of veteran guys like (Kendall) Langford coming in to go with the youth in David Parry and Henry Anderson and the rest of the guys. Zach Kerr, I mean, we've got guys that can play. We got guys that fit our scheme. Again, we got a glimpse in the preseason of what these guys can do. Sometimes what you don't know won't hurt you. These guys are going to go and they're going to play hard and they're going to play tough and they're going to play damn smart. Feel great about that group."
Ryan Grigson had similar sentiments. "The youth, it's a young and athletic group, which is usually a pretty good combination," he said. "I think they're very athletic, and they've got a pretty broad skillset, all six of those guys. They've all put good tape out there. They all popped in their own ways. We've got to coach them up and hopefully we hit the ground running here because there's some new life and some new blood in there."
For Colts fans, the real test for this team will come when they play the Patriots, and the question will arise of whether they have done enough to stop the run game. There's a lot to like about this group - Langford should be a good addition and both Anderson and Parry have potential - but there's also plenty of reason for concern. And the chief concern is this: the team doesn't have a ton of depth, and they don't have much experience whatsoever outside of Langford. When a player who was a rookie last year is the second most tenured veteran at the position, that's significant. Will the young guys be able to step up and make a big impact? That's a question that no one knows the answer to right now. But with attention focused elsewhere - such as on the silly debate of whether the Colts were dumb for having Boom Herron return a kickoff - perhaps the most concerning and significant area of focus should be on the defensive line, one that hasn't played much in the NFL before. We don't know right now, but hopefully we'll get a better idea of it this Sunday - you know, when several of these players make their NFL debuts.