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Which players on the 2017 training camp roster form the ideal Colts defense?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

New General Manager Chris Ballard made sure that the Colts had a new identity on defense. Based on the players and the early reports out of training camp, it’s a group that will be physical from top to bottom.

So, who are the best players on defense? Which 11 players make for the best defensive unit?

Defensive Line

Defensive End (5-tech): Henry Anderson

Defensive Tackle (3-tech): Johnathan Hankins

Nose Tackle (0-tech): Al Woods

There is an ongoing debate across the Colts fan community as to whether Al Woods should be starting at nose tackle and if Johnathan Hankins is being miscast at 3-tech. While I believe that Hankins is at his best when he is closest to the ball, I’m led to believe that this grouping is best for the Colts. It will be strong against the run but may have some issues getting after the passer.

Al Woods has been performing very well during training camp, and has the size and experience to be an effective nose tackle. He may not even have to eat up two gaps with Jonathan Hankins playing next to him. Woods may be the best nose tackle in the Pagano era.

The 3 tech spot requires players who can rush the passer and stop the run (a balanced player). While Hankins is still improving as a pass rusher, he is an incredibly good run stopper. He did have 7 sacks in 2014, so he has shown that he can get after the quarterback.

The 5-tech spot is saved for someone who can pressure the edge and contain the run. Anderson is well-suited for the role when he’s 100% healthy and he finally is according to reports at camp.


Strong OLB: John Simon

MIKE ILB: Antonio Morrison

WILL ILB: Sean Spence

Rush OLB: Jabaal Sheard

This group may struggle throughout the season but has the promise of being a better group than the Colts had last season.

Sheard and Simon are the easy choices for the outside linebacker spots as they complement each other very well. Sheard is a good pass rusher with a quick first step. He shined in New England and although I’m slightly worried that Belichick fed him poison to diminish his abilities, he projects well in Indianapolis. John Simon is a good run stopper who can also get after the quarterback (8.5 sacks in the past two seasons).

Antonio Morrison has looked very good in training camp and has developed into a legitimate linebacker, according to the reports coming out of camp. He’s a good player against the run and a punishing tackler. He should be good in the box, especially in short-yardage situations.

Sean Spence and the WILL linebacker spot is another point of contention. Spence, according to reports, has not looked great in training camp and actually showed up as the 4th stringer on the depth chart. Bostic and Jackson might be playing better during training camp, but they aren’t as experienced (especially Jackson) and they don’t possess the same ability Spence has in coverage. Bostic is also coming off a foot injury that ended his 2016 season.

Spence is a very good athlete and is a smooth player in coverage. I believe he complements a player like Morrison better than any of the other linebackers and it will be important for the Colts to have a good coverage linebacker since they’ve added so many players to help their run defense.


Boundary: Quincy Wilson

Field: Vontae Davis

Nickel: Darius Butler (Rashaan Melvin if Butler is at safety)

It’s important to stick rookie Quincy Wilson on the boundary side because it’s easier to mask the weaknesses of a boundary-side cornerback. The boundary corner has less field to worry about and usually the free safety will slide over to help this player in coverage. Teams with inexperienced boundary corners like to put a free safety over the top to help take away the deep pass on that side.

While Rashaan Melvin has received more first team reps to this point in camp, Wilson has been receiving first team work throughout the first week of camp. I expect the battle for the #2 cornerback spot to be very tight and in a situation like this, I will lean toward the player with more upside who carries more risk and rely on additional help over the top on his side of the field.

Vontae Davis has proven that, if he’s 100% healthy, he’s one of the 10 best corners in the NFL. So far in training camp, based on all the reports, he’s looked quite good, so that should be a very encouraging sign for the team. Davis can shut down #1 receivers and covers well in space, so he’s the easy choice as the field-side corner.

If Geathers is on the field, then Darius Butler is the easy choice for nickel-cornerback. He has plenty of experience there and is extremely reliable.


Free Safety: Malik Hooker

Strong Safety: Clayton Geathers (Darius Butler with Geathers Out)

The Colts are working in Malik Hooker slowly, but it’s becoming pretty clear that he’s one of the most talented players on the defense. The coaches continue to give him more playing time with the starters and his play-making ability in coverage will give the Colts a legitimate ball-hawk in the secondary.

Clayton Geathers, if healthy, is one of the keys to the Colts defense — who I named as the third most valuable player on the team heading into the 2017-18 season. Unfortunately, he’ll miss at least the first 6 weeks of the season due to a neck injury. I believe that Darius Butler should be the man to replace him. An ideal strong safety is a player who is versatile enough to play in the box, can cover a slot receiver or tight end one-on-one, or can play deep. Butler can do all three. His experience playing as a nickel corner has allowed him to develop into a proven tackler who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Butler should also serve as a good mentor for Hooker.