For the past two seasons, there really hasn't been much competition for the starting inside linebacker spots in Indianapolis. Jerrell Freeman was a four-year starter, while D'Qwell Jackson has started in each of the past two seasons.
This year, however, things are different. The Colts let Freeman walk in free agency (he signed with the Chicago Bears), opening up a competition at the position. Jackson is still there and will still be starting, but the other spot is up for grabs.
The Colts are embracing that competition at inside linebacker as they work in OTAs, and there are several players who have a shot. Nate Irving, Sio Moore, Josh McNary, Amarlo Herrera, Junior Sylvestre, and Edwin Jackson are among those who will be trying to win the starting spot opposite of Jackson. Head coach Chuck Pagano is excited to see how that competition unfolds.
“I think with those guys being in the program another year, another offseason, healthy - I don’t think Nate (Irving) was ever 100 percent coming off the knee," Pagano said. "I think right now he feels better than he’s ever felt from a physical standpoint since the surgery. Those guys are doing a great job. Coach Herrm (Jim Herrmann) is doing a great job with them. There’s great competition there. We’re cross training guys. D’Qwell (Jackson), we’ve held him for a couple of practices so some guys are getting some work at both the MIKE and WILL position, which is good because it’ll help down the road. There are a lot of guys there that are doing extremely well. Josh McNary is going to have a full offseason under his belt. Amarlo (Herrera) and Junior Sylvestre are back out there. Edwin Jackson, a guy nobody knows about but when you see this guy play you’ll find out in a hurry that he’s smart, he’s instinctive and he can run. We’ve got good competition going on right now.”
It's clear that the Colts are giving plenty of guys a chance, but the player that is most worth keeping an eye on seems to be Nate Irving. The Colts signed him to a three-year deal last offseason and he started two games for them in 2015 despite being hampered by injury. The year before signing with the Colts he suffered a knee injury, and Pagano said today that he was never 100% last year when it came to that knee. Now, however, it sounds like he's feeling better. I think Irving will get the first shot to replace Freeman this offseason, though the Colts are certainly still embracing competition - and that competition will make the inside linebacker position a very interesting one to watch this offseason and into training camp.