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Colts’ inside linebacker competition starting to heat up and take shape

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at San Diego Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve mentioned before, the inside linebacker position figures to be one of the most interesting position battles on the team this year because there is nothing figured out right now.

In other words, both starting spots are very much up for grabs, and there are a number of potential candidates to win those jobs. At least this far through OTAs, however, there are a few things that we can glean about that competition.

First of all, the Indianapolis Star’s Stephen Holder mentioned yesterday that Sean Spence “seems to have taken the early lead at the “Will” linebacker position.”

Secondly, Colts.com’s Kevin Bowen pointed out that “we continue to hear good things about Jon Bostic.” He apparently has played both inside linebacker spots during the offseason program.

And third, with Anthony Walker finally being able to work out with the team, he has been added to the mix and presents a very interesting option. Holder mentioned yesterday that Walker will be a MIKE linebacker.

So it seems like Sean Spence is the early favorite at WILL, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. I’d imagine that Edwin Jackson is his primary competition there. Then at MIKE, it seems like Antonio Morrison, Anthony Walker, and Jon Bostic are among the guys competing for that spot. Again, it’s still very early and they haven’t even put pads on yet, so it’s hard to tell anything definitively. But one thing you can tell during the offseason is speed, and that’s one of the biggest things the Colts want in their linebackers.

“Obviously guys that can run and hit and smart guys that can get you lined up and do all those kinds of things,” Pagano said when asked what he’s looking for in his inside linebackers. “We played a lot of football with some guys that are out there. Antonio [Morrison] has played a lot and Edwin [Jackson] has got a ton of snaps, obviously. Jon Bostic coming in has done a great job. We’ve got Anthony Walker back. Smart guy – obviously just getting back here and getting in the groove. He did a good job of staying in his playbook and looking over his stuff and studying his iPad. He’s picked it up really fast. Guys that can get guys lined up, guys that can adjust, guys that can run, guys that can hit and you’ve got to have cover guys now because there’s so much 11-personnel that we’re facing. Sixty-five percent of the time, we’re in sub-defense. This is a mismatch league, as you guys obviously know, so you’ve got to have guys that can run.”

Another thing that inside linebackers need to be able to do is to read and diagnose formations and other aspects of the game while communicating them to others.

“I think that’s major,” Pagano agreed. “It’s one thing knowing our defense, getting a call through the coach to player communications system and delivering a call. Seeing an offense come out of the huddle, get guys lined up, make a strength call and make a close call. There are run fits; there are coverage checks. There’s a lot going on for those guys. We feel we’ve got some guys that have got some experience and got some playing time and I think they’re comfortable with our scheme. I think they’re comfortable with our terminology so they can spend more time focusing on the offense, the personnel, the down and distance, the situation and make all the necessary calls that you have to make. We’re doing a lot of different situational stuff. It’s first and second down and then you’ve got third down and you’ve got red zone. Today we worked on the offense coming off the goal line in a backed up situation. We turned it around and did some goal line stuff. A lot of moving parts. Those guys have got to be smart guys in there.”

That’s an added element to the competition (perhaps especially at the MIKE spot), since inside linebackers are seen as the leaders and on-field playcallers of the defense. With Anthony Walker coming in as a rookie, is that too much to ask?

“Yes and no,” Pagano said. “It kind of depends on – if you stick a guy in there and he’s next to a vet, you can take some of that off his plate. You’ve got a veteran guy in there and a young guy in there, generally the veteran guy will call the huddle and make the close call, the strength call, the coverage checks and safeties will help him out. Two, it would be a little scary maybe. One, you can probably get by.”

It will be very interesting to see as we get into training camp and preseason how the inside linebacker position continues to shape up, because though we’re hearing a lot of updates about how guys are doing and what the Colts are looking for, it’s impossible to tell right now who will wind up starting in week one in Los Angeles. But it seems that the competition at inside linebacker is really starting to heat up.