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Chuck Pagano on Colts inside linebacker position: “I think we are in great shape”

NFL: International Series-Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts have problems at linebacker. At outside linebacker, the Colts have struggled to get much of a pass rush whatsoever outside of Erik Walden. And at inside linebacker, the Colts have struggled to replace Jerrell Freeman, who they let walk in free agency this spring.

As we mentioned earlier this week, Freeman is coming to town this Sunday as a member of the Chicago Bears while the Colts are on their third option in trying to replace him. First it was Nate Irving, who was cut after the preseason. Then it was Sio Moore, who was cut this week after three terrible games. So now, it’s a combination of Antonio Morrison, Josh McNary, Edwin Jackson, and the recently-promoted Trevor Bates to fill the spot alongside D’Qwell Jackson.

Here’s what that means: outside of D’Qwell Jackson, the Colts will counting on two rookies (a fourth and seventh round pick) and two former undrafted free agents. They’ll be counting on four guys who have played a combined 45 NFL games and started five - with the overwhelming majority of that time coming from Josh McNary (who has played in 37 games and started five). They’ll be counting on four guys who have played a combined 118 snaps this year, or only an average of 29.5 per game combined (all between McNary and Morrison). And they’ll be counting on four guys who have a combined eleven defensive tackles this year. In fact, only Josh McNary and Antonio Morrison have played a single defensive snap this year out of those four guys mentioned. So it’s not exactly an encouraging situation, but don’t tell that to head coach Chuck Pagano.

“I think we are in great shape,” he said Wednesday, the day after the team released Sio Moore. “I think we are in excellent shape. I think you have a guy in McNary that has played a lot of good football for us, not only on [special] teams. Morrison, who is on the come. You can look at it however you want to look at it, glass half-empty, glass half-full. We are looking at it half-full and I have all the faith in the world in 57 [McNary], 53 [Edwin Jackson], 44 [Morrison], 52 [D’Qwell Jackson] and 50 [Bates]. The emergence of as much sub as we are playing now. You have dime packages and opportunities for a guy like Clayton Geathers to get down in the box more whether it’s first down, second down or third down, it doesn’t matter. Those guys will prepare great and they will go out and play winning football.”

That might be what we wind up seeing more of from this defense: all three safeties on the field at the same time to help compensate for the inside linebacker questions. Clayton Geathers has been playing very well this year, and Pagano said they might move him down in the box more. If they do that, they would likely utilize more three safety formations with Geathers in the box and Mike Adams and T.J. Green at safety. They likely can’t do that on every play, but using it more might be a very good option for them.

But the fact of the matter remains that the Colts will need to get solid play out of their group of inside linebackers, which isn’t anywhere close to a guarantee right now. It likely will mean a lot of Josh McNary and Antonio Morrison for the Colts, with the team subbing and utilizing several guys at the position. Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said today that they have been increasing Morrison’s role and also want to get more snaps for McNary and Edwin Jackson.

Will it work out for the Colts? Only time will tell - but right now, despite what Chuck Pagano might say, the Colts don’t exactly appear to be in great shape at inside linebacker.