The most surprising move that the Colts made on Saturday as they cut their roster down to 53 players was to release inside linebacker Nate Irving.
With Sio Moore injured, Irving was the projected opening day starter at linebacker alongside D’Qwell Jackson. So what led to the Colts making the surprising decision to cut him? In short, it was special teams value and the depth on the roster.
“It was a tough call,” head coach Chuck Pagano said today. “We’ve got some really good players on this roster, and Ryan [Grigson] and the staff, Jimmy Raye and our personnel department, did a phenomenal job. Not only did they do a phenomenal job over the last 2-3 days finding guys, identifying guys that were going to be available at the claim to try to fulfill some of the needs that we had. But good football player that we lost. But when it comes down to it, it not only involves just defense. You’ve got to have special teams value, and you’ve got to be able to play four-core teams and be productive. All those guys at the position, obviously D’Qwell [Jackson] going into year eleven is the one guy that we don’t ask, and rightfully so, to do that, but everybody else has to participate. So you gotta look at everything, the whole body of work, and again make some tough, tough calls. So that’s kind of where we’re at with that.”
With Irving now out of the picture and with Sio Moore still on the mend, Pagano wouldn’t disclose who will start on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “There’s 52 [D’Qwell Jackson] and 57 [Josh McNary], 44 [Antonio Morrison], and 53 [Edwin Jackson] right now. So there’s four guys. And there’s four outside guys [as well]. 44 can play. 57 can play, he’s gotten so much better. E-Jack, he’s a good football player. So I feel good.”
Morrison in particular is an interesting player. Drafted by the Colts in the fourth round this year, he had a good preseason and seems to have impressed the coaches. Because while it sounds like special teams was certainly a factor in the decision to cut Irving, the Colts wouldn’t have made the move if they weren’t confident in the depth behind him. So what does Pagano like about Morrison?
“I think [we saw] the same thing you guys saw,” Pagano said. “This is a football player. He’s tough, he’s rugged. One of the brightest guys on that side of the football, you would never know if you listened to him communicate in the building and on the sideline and at practice that this guy’s a first year player, he’s a rookie. It seems like he’s been here four, five, six years, the way he is. He’s got all the Colt traits that you want. He’s a really good football player and he’s tough and he’s nasty, and we love guys that run and hit, he’s got the RH factor, and he loves contact - a lot.”
Morrison is certainly a guy to keep an eye on, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be the starter on Sunday alongside D’Qwell Jackson. Regardless, the Colts will probably use all four healthy inside linebackers - and look for all of them but D’Qwell to play special teams, too.