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5 players the Colts should have on speed dial as training camp begins

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NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

General Manager Chris Ballard has wasted no time in make broad changes to the Indianapolis Colts roster. One of the more interesting parts of the 2017 iteration of the Colts is that there will be even more of a “new” feel than in typical training camps — which is a good thing given the team has fallen short of the playoffs the last two years.

Still, a GMs job is never done and there must always be an eye toward players who are waived or who are still available as free agents. Just yesterday it was reported that the Colts showed interest in wide receiver/return specialist Lucky Whitehead.

While Whitehead ended up with the Jets, fans shouldn’t sleep on the idea that additional roster adjustments can be made at any moment. After all, the team has been getting a look at the rookies over the past week all by themselves and if there is a reason to feel that it is time to move on, doing so before training camp starts might be the best idea.

There are five players that are either free agents or who might otherwise be acquired that the Colts should continue monitoring closely. Not all of the players fit the mold of a mid-20s project who might take the next step in their development but they will likely push the other players at their position to become better and may be more likely to make the 53-man roster than some of the lesser experienced players on the Colts roster.

1) Jared Odrick - DE

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets

With Kendall Langford at 31 years old and still in recovery from a nagging injury that has cost him must of the 2016 season, considering a slightly younger veteran option to take his place may not be a bad idea. Odrick has consistently created pressure as a defensive end and has the size — 6’5” and 298 lbs — to potentially make a lot of sense.

At this point Odrick has been sitting on the free agent market so long that he could likely be signed for a much better deal than he would have been during the active free agency feeding frenzy. Additionally, there is a real reason to believe that he would agree to a deal with only one year in guaranteed money — fitting in with the theme of Ballard’s free agent contracts.

Odrick, if healthy, is an upgrade at defensive end over any player on the roster other than a healthy Langford (and at the top of their games they are probably pretty close to even).

2) Mychal Kendricks - LB

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles

While Kenricks is not a free agent and might take either patience or some kind of draft pick, he could be a valuable addition during a complete reboot of the linebackers. At this point, he is wasting away in Philadelphia as a part of a defensive system that does not suit him. He would likely be an immediate starting caliber option for Indianapolis and drive the competition even more with the veteran free agents additions.

It is very clear that the Colts need to treat their draft picks like gold if they wish to continue the youth movement and build homegrown talent, but it is fair to say that Kendricks is a player who has earned a chance in the NFL and is currently being denied that chance with the Eagles. It is a situation the front office in Indianapolis should continue monitoring to see if or when Philadelphia’s demands begin to drop.

3) Larry Donnell - TE

Indianapolis Colts v New York Giants Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

While the Colts have two tight ends that are exciting prospects heading into the season, only Jack Doyle has shown the ability to take starter-level reps and turn that into a season-long body of work. Erik Swoope may take the next step in his career as a new weapon in 2017 but even if he does, the players behind him are either rookies or players who have struggled to stick on an NFL roster.

Tight end Larry Donnell would be a significant upgrade for the Colts depth at tight end and could push Swoope for a starting spot if he shows any signs of struggle during camp — particularly as a blocker. Three seasons ago Donnell caught 63 passes for 623 yards and six touchdowns. At 28 years old he could have a couple of quality seasons left.

4) Ronnie Hillman - RB

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Chris Ballard and the Colts showed an interest in adding some competition at the running back position when they brought in Christine Michael this summer. Unfortunately, an injury quickly ended that experiment. There are a couple of other veteran running backs still available in free agency who could play the same role though.

The player that could offer the most out of the group is Ronnie Hillman. While he has seen his value drop quickly due to a string of injuries and a foot that has kept him out of many games over the last three seasons, if his foot is healthy he is only a couple of seasons removed from putting up over 800 rushing yards in a season-long competition with C.J. Anderson for the starting spot in Denver. Right now, there is virtually no NFL experience behind Gore and Turbin on the Colts roster at running back.

5) Erik Walden - OLB

Divisional Playoffs - Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Based upon the way Walden left and tweeted that the Colts were looking for pups and not dogs, it is possible he would have no interest coming back to play in Indianapolis. Additionally, if he did get signed he would have to accept a role as a depth player and as an insurance policy. It is unlikely he would start over Sheard or Simon to start the season.

That said, this is another position that has a whole lot of new faces but might be short of proven ability. Adding Walden would give the Colts some comfort knowing that if Sheard’s apparent inconsistencies should pop up again this year, there is a veteran player who can hold down the position until he returns. Additionally, if Sheard or Simon gets hurt the team is left with rookie Tarrell Basham (a lot to ask for a rookie) and journeyman veteran Akeem Ayers. The cupboard is pretty thin and Walden’s leverage has disappeared at this point.

This is another player that Ballard could sign to a two-year deal with all guaranteed money up front, add some experience to the linebacker group suddenly devoid of much of it, and have a cheap insurance policy should the new blood show signs of not working out.