There are a number of position battles going on for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason that will continue into training camp. A number of these pertain to depth spots, but there are also some starter spots open that players are competing for.
Perhaps the most interesting such battle is at inside linebacker. D'Qwell Jackson will occupy one of the spots, but with the loss of Jerrell Freeman in free agency the Colts are looking for someone to replace the productive four-year starter. They have several options, but right now it's very much up for grabs.
The frontrunner would seem to be Nate Irving, who the team signed as a free agent last year. Irving has played well in his NFL career for Denver, but last year for the Colts he was still dealing with the effects of a lingering knee injury. He was a guy who stepped in when Freeman was hurt, though, and he seems to be the favorite to do so on a more permanent basis this year. Sio Moore is also pushing for the spot, however, despite not getting many opportunities to prove himself last year. The Colts acquired him from the Raiders in a trade shortly after the preseason, though he didn't see as much playing time as many expected.
Both Irving and Moore are getting valuable reps in OTAs as Jackson sits out due to a hamstring injury. Irving and Moore are working with the first team, which gives the Colts a better chance to see what they each can do (even though practice isn't live at this time of year). Those two aren't the only ones competing, however, as guys like Josh McNary, Amarlo Herrera, Junior Sylvestre, Antonio Morrison, and Edwin Jackson are all looking to earn a spot as well.
But right now, it's Nate Irving and Sio Moore emerging as the frontrunners for the position as they get the majority of the reps.
“I’m hesitant to say anything nice about anybody because when we start writing good stuff about anybody, complacency starts to set in," head coach Chuck Pagano said on Tuesday. "It was one of the positions, you go into the offseason, you go into the draft, you go into the OTAs a little bit concerned about it, but it looks like a group that’s developing into a pretty solid group. Sio is doing a nice job. Him and Nate, both are healthy. Both are 100 percent. Both have done a nice job picking up the scheme and the terminology. D’Qwell has missed some days here and there with a slight hammy, so those guys have gotten the lion’s share of the reps and they are taking advantage of it. I love where they’re at. They’ve got a long way to go. They’d be the first to tell you that. The keys and reads, [linebackers coach] Jim Herrmann is doing a great job with that group. They’re seeing things. They can run, they’re athletic, they can match up, they can cover tight ends down the seams, they cover guys out of the backfield. We’ve got some pretty shifty guys back there now as far as the running back group goes. They’re doing a good job.”
Regardless of who winds up winning the starting spot, this competition should hopefully help the Colts in more ways than just that one, as it would promote depth at the area. Furthermore, it would be nice for one of the younger guys to show enough that the Colts can begin thinking down the road for an eventual replacement for Jackson, who will turn 33 this season and who has two years left on his contract. And then, of course, the depth would be helpful in the case of an injury to a starter. That's why it might wind up being a good thing that Jackson has missed some time in OTAs, as it allows both Irving and Moore a better chance to compete. Only one will earn the starting job, but the other will provide nice depth.