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Colts’ DE Tarell Basham desperately needs strong finish to preseason

NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be his season. His year to show what he can really do. His ‘now he’s in the right system’ season where he proves Chris Ballard right in regards to the potential he saw in him.

So far, it has been anything but for 2017 third-round pick, Tarell Basham.

With Chuck Pagano still in the picture last season, and his 2-gap, ‘attacking 3-4 hybrid’ scheme — or whatever that crap was called — in place, Basham wasn’t drafted to be a true fit immediately. He was drafted in the third round to show off some of the athleticism, instincts and speed, sharpen his technique and be a contributor for a year, then fit into Ballard’s vision for a 4-man front as the turnover came through.

First and foremost, I don’t believe Ballard envisioned this year’s Colts defense to be a Tampa-2 coverage scheme. Rather, I’d make the argument that Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson Basham and Nate Hairston paired with Jabaal Sheard and other free agency acquisitions were likely to be a better fit for more of a heavy cover-3 approach considering some of the existing talent already on the roster like Clayton Geathers.

The Josh McDaniels fiasco changed all of that I’d guess, nevertheless, most of the above mentioned talent could easily fit into what the Colts currently are running under Matt Eberflus. Not all of Ballard’s draft picks have yielded great returns as of yet, but Basham may be the most concerning and appears to be going in the wrong direction in terms of the depth chart.

Basham improved as the year went on last season, but not nearly as much as the Colts would have liked. He was playing in a completely new system from anything he’d been in before. He’d only played in a 4-man front as an edge rusher in high school and college.

So, what’s going on with him??

Basham was the first-team defensive end, opposite Sheard, throughout the entire offseason program. It was a given; he was going to be the bookend to end the pitiful past few seasons of sack production. Now? He’s working with the threes, and isn’t getting a great vote of confidence from his coordinator either if you ask me.

“He’s been solid. He knows the things that he has to work on and he’s continued to do that. He is working day-to-day to improve. That’s where Tarell is right now.”

Solid? Okay, I actually think that that’s a fairly good description of what Basham has been in camp to this point. But, ‘solid’ is in no way an inference for ‘good’ by any stretch. Rookie Kemoko Turay was running with the ones for a few days before the Colts released their initial depth chart, he went down and Margus Hunt began getting those reps... not Basham.

John Simon and Anthony Johnson have been getting some of the reps that one would presume Basham should be getting as well. Now, the Colts have Ryan Delaire who has been awfully impressive in his short time with the team after being signed earlier in the week.

Here are the rest of what Eberflus had to offer about Basham, then I want to show you something.

“He certainly knows [what he has to work on]. Him and I had a conversation this morning. It’s just really rush-man stuff, working at the quarterback, getting out of the stack, hustling to the football, playing basic run defense – six techniques and those types of things. He’s making steady improvement and he continues to do that.. We will see where he goes from there.”

First of all, that seems like a lot of work needed for a second-year player who is supposed to be in his wheelhouse within the new system. And Eberflus clearly doesn’t want to say it, but with this response he’s telling us that he’s quite disappointed in Basham’s lack of progression.

Now look at what he has to say about rookie linebacker Zaire Franklin:

“He’s just smart. He’s a real smart player. He communicates really well. He sets the defense. So when guys are in there he makes things nice, clean and clear for everybody. Those will be his strengths. He does that really well and we are excited where he is. He’s got a lot to learn being a rookie, like the rest of those rookies, but he’s in a good progression.”

Franklin isn’t an edge player, but you don’t need the audio to tell you that Eberflus didn’t have much positive to say about Basham. Franklin’s attributes just flow out so effortlessly. But, “we’ll see where he goes from there” when it comes to Basham. That should tell us a lot about where he actually is at in his progression.

Look, good on Basham if he’s a hard worker. I was really excited about his potential coming into the draft and was almost giddy when Ballard drafted him. But, something has to click soon, right?

Basham totaled 7 tackles and 2 sacks in 15 games last season, and he is now in a scheme that best suits his attributes. Not to mention, Basham has instant access to one of the best ever to rush the passer in Robert Mathis teaching him every day. But, please, someone tell Basham that the preseason has already started and he doesn’t look to be anywhere near contention to be a starter right now.

The Colts are set to finish up their final three preseason games in an 11-day span starting Monday and, for Basham, that isn’t a great deal of time.

We’ve seen his burst off the line, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, he relies almost solely on his strength, lacks an elite initial move and bend, and has yet to prove that he can generate an effective counter move to win against average NFL tackles.

Basham cannot waste any more time. He must have some impressive showings over the next two weeks — which includes joint practices with the Ravens — and show his coaching staff the potential to make a leap this year. If he can’t, the Colts pass rush off the edge might just be miserable yet again.