Coming out of the 2018 spring training program, there are early indications of progress and setbacks at numerous positions for the Indianapolis Colts. During the summer break period of the off-season, we will take a look at each position on the Colts roster as compared to where it was at this time a year ago and try to project how the roster will look in September.
We continue on the defensive side of the ball but move to the second level, focusing on the linebackers. At this point, no position on the roster is more wide open for competition.
An Ongoing Question-Mark
The Indianapolis Colts do not have a spectacular history at the linebacker position. There are all-time greats who played in Baltimore and a very small group of players in Indianapolis who have earned some recognition but by and large, this position hasn’t received a lot of draft or free agent capital over the years. The Colts have seemingly always asked for players to outperform their respective value to make things work on defense.
Heading into the 2018 offseason, the linebacker position was again in a state of disarray. The situation was compounded by the fact that a defensive transition from a base 3-4 defense to a 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme would require an entirely different type of athlete at the second level. Run stuffing specialists who play primarily downhill to fill running lanes are now going to be replaced by players who can play laterally and who can have a bigger impact in coverage.
Looking at the current group, there is plenty of reason to feel uneasy. The best prospects on the team at this point include second-year linebacker Anthony Walker who was limited by injury in 2017, a small school second round prospect in Darius Leonard who will need to make a big leap to NFL competition (and who is as yet unsigned), an undrafted free agent in Skai Moore who is smaller than one would like to play a meaningful role against the run, and veteran Najee Goode who followed Frank Reich from the Eagles. Former starter Antonio Morrison doesn’t project well at all for the new defensive scheme and will be fighting for a chance to make the roster — likely needing to show special teams ability to secure a spot. Otherwise, late-round rookie draft picks and depth players fill out the remainder of the roster.
Best Case Scenario
If fans are being realistic. the best case scenario is that young players make quick transitions into their new roles. Quick transitions likely mean that the front half of the season, at minimum, will include a lot of frustration and plenty of learning moments. If this group plans to outperform realistic expectations, it will need major contributions from Anthony Walker, Skai Moore, and Darius Leonard. The contributions will primarily come from the use of athleticism that the Colts have lacked at the position for many years.
Moore and Leonard will have to be disruptive in passing lanes, with Moore likely filling in for Walker in sub packages. The group will need Najee Goode to stay healthy and to play an active role in the rotation. It would also be particularly aided by the coaching staff allowing John Simon to move on from a very difficult transition to defensive end, one where he is outclassed by a number of players on the roster already, and back to a strong side role.
If major contributions are had from this group, there is a chance the unit can surprise in the second-half of the season. If not, Chris Ballard will head into another off-season with big holes to fill.