The Colts defensive line has the look of a unit that could be a strength in 2016 - if everyone stays healthy.
That "if" is something that could be said about every position at this time of year, but it's much more relevant to the Colts' defensive line because it's a big "if." Last year, Arthur Jones entered training camp as the expected starter but missed all 16 games with an ankle injury. Henry Anderson, who filled in for Jones and excelled, missed the final seven games with a torn ACL. Both guys are rehabbing their injuries this offseason, and if they both can return healthy then the Colts should have a good defensive line.
The injuries to Jones in particular have caused many to doubt whether he will be effective or even whether he will be a part of the team, and the lineman did take a paycut with the Colts this offseason. Based on head coach Chuck Pagano's comments on Tuesday, however, it's clear that the Colts have high hopes for Jones - if he can stay healthy.
“All the things that we saw before we brought him here," Pagano said of the things Jones can do when he's healthy. "He’s first and second down, base defense, he can be as disruptive a three technique as there is in the league. As much sub defense as you’re playing on first and second down now versus all the three wide groupings that you’re getting, he gives you an inside two technique, three technique to take care of the run game in there as well as give you some inside push as far as the pass rush goes. Again, he’s just got to get healthy and get back out there and get his legs back underneath him and get his confidence back and start playing.”
Last week, Chuck Pagano said that the expectations were that Jones would be back for training camp. He said today that the Colts are still "hopeful for that," though he then clarified that he still is waiting to hear from the doctors to know for sure. Jones gave even less information, saying instead that "when the time is ready to go I’ll be ready to go" and refusing to share any details of his rehab program. Pagano described the last two years as "frustrating for him and for all of us" and noted that saying Jones needs to stay healthy actually goes without saying.
“I don’t think anybody needs to mention a word," the coach said. "I think there’s probably enough out there. He understands that he’s missed some time. Injuries happen and all that stuff. It’s not something that any of us anticipated. He’s got all the talent in the world. We know that and now he’s got to get healthy. He’s got to get back on the field and be the player that he can be, he knows that he can be and we know that he can be.”
Jones said that he is "feeling good" and is "getting ready to go," later adding that he's taking the whole situation "one step at a time." He acknowledged that the last two years have tested him, but he has relied on other players like Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, and some other veterans for support. "When the time is ready to go I’ll be ready to go when the time comes," Jones said. "I’m excited. I’m excited to still be wearing the blue and white and I can’t wait.”
Some might be surprised that he's still wearing a Colts uniform, but it shouldn't be when hearing Chuck Pagano talk about him. It's clear that the Colts still have high hopes for one of their big free agent signings from a few years ago, but they know that it all begins with healthy. As the saying around the NFL goes, your biggest ability is your availability, and Jones has missed most of the past two seasons. 2016 will be a big year for him to prove himself, and the Colts are confident that he can play at a high level - if he's healthy. Once again, that's a key qualifier during this time of year, but it's even more necessary when talking about Arthur Jones.