Henry Anderson is an interesting player. As a rookie in 2015, Anderson was off to a great start before Kendall Langford tripped and fell into his right knee, tearing his ACL and ending his season just nine games in. The road back took time, and when he finally was back, it took more time still to get that knee to 100 percent.
Before that could happen, he tweaked the left knee. It isn’t unusual for an athlete to sustain an injury on the opposite side of the body because of favoring an injured limb, but it was still crushing to finish the season banged up yet again.
When the 2017 season began, Anderson was something of an afterthought. The signings of Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods overshadowed him, and he was a part of the deepest position group on the roster.
The season started slowly for him, but he began to heat up toward the midpoint. From week seven through week nine he notched 10 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble as he really began rounding into form. Then, once again, his season was ended prematurely. A freak laryngeal fracture was the culprit, but the result was the same.
Now, Anderson faces another tough obstacle. While his health is not an issue, he will be adapting to a completely new scheme defensively, one that focuses on speed and aggressiveness to get after opposing quarterbacks. Regarding how he has worked to prepare for that change physically he had this to say:
“Having three months where I can really just focus on trying to get stronger, faster, get my body fat down and all that kind of stuff definitely feels good. About 15-20 pounds lighter than I was. We switched the scheme up a little bit so I have to be a little bit quicker and faster. I definitely just feel like I’m moving a lot better because obviously not carrying as much weight so you can kind of move around and be a little more agile.”
The physical change was clear from pictures taken on the first day of offseason workouts. Anderson was noticeably slimmer and that will be important to allow him to do well in his new role on this 4-3 front. The loss of 15-20lbs would put him at around 285, which makes him similar in playing weight to Aaron Donald. The Colts would be thrilled to get anything like Donald’s production out of him.
With regard to the weight, Anderson said that his new slimmer physique was actually a bit more natural and normal for him and that he had to do a lot of work to maintain his bigger size.
“Yeah, and it was kind of hard for me to keep the weight on. I could do it, but I feel like I’m a little bit more comfortable at this weight anyway. It wasn’t hard for me to drop that weight. Obviously, moving to the 4-3 I knew that I couldn’t be like an edge guy at 295 [pounds]. I kind of needed to drop some weight there.”
That is a bit encouraging because it could make for a more explosive and athletic version of the talented player we have seen in the past. So how will the Colts use Anderson? That remains to be seen, but he had this to say regarding what he thinks might be their use of him:
“I would think probably more of an outside guy in at least early downs and possibly kick inside on third down on more of like a pass rush situation. So we’ll see.
At the snap of the ball you’re just freaking going. It’s not as much sitting back and waiting. You’re just going and trying to disrupt. It’s exciting to hear the coaches talk about it. I wish I knew how it’s going to be playing the defense, but I really haven’t played it before so I’m not going to find out until once we get on to the field.”
Anderson played 3-4 all throughout his time at Stanford and his first three years in the NFL were no different, so this new style of defense will be an adjustment. How quickly he is able to adjust will be a big factor in just how good this defensive front can be. It would make sense that a switch to a scheme that relies less on reads and more on penetration might be easier, but until we see it implemented we won’t really know.
The biggest obstacle for Anderson will be his ability to stay on the field. Whether you call him injury prone or chalk his absences up to bad luck, the fact of the matter is that he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. He could come out and be the best player on the Colts’ defense next season and if he cannot stay on the field, it won’t matter all that much.
If he is able to stay healthy for a complete season and make a smooth adjustment to the new scheme, the Colts could really benefit from having a smart, capable player up front to anchor this defensive line that will be teeming with youth and potential.
Chris Ballard will undoubtedly look to bolster the line with more talent through the draft and undrafted free agents. Players like Bradley Chubb, should he be available, could hold down the primary pass-rushing job, but Anderson will be a player to watch as the new-look defense is put in place.