Defensive tackle was probably the biggest position of need the Colts had entering the off-season. In free-agency, the Colts were expected to go after big names like Ndamukong Suh or Sheldon Richardson, but they signed no one at the position. Then the Draft came and the Colts were expected to invest an early pick in a defensive tackle, on a guy like Jerry Tillery or Dexter Lawrence, but then again, no defensive tackle was added to the roster. This leaves the Colts with four options at defensive tackle as of today: Margus Hunt, Tyquan Lewis, Denico Autry, and Jihad Ward.
Denico Autry was the Colts best defensive lineman last season, and he is expected to start again, after alternating between defensive end and defensive tackle, but who will start alongside him? Margus Hunt enjoyed a hot start to the season, but cooled off considerably and disappeared in the playoffs. Tyquan Lewis had an inconsistent rookie season, and he may not be ready to handle full-time starting duties just yet. The best option seems to be Jihad Ward.
Ward is an athletic freak with the size and weight to handle 0-tech defensive tackle duties. He is a mountain of a man at 6’5 and 290 lbs and moves fluidly. Ward was having himself a breakout season last year before an ankle injury in Week 7 forced him to IR. Ward played as a substitute in all 6 games prior to the injury, but he still amassed 3 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. Nothing eye-popping, but the production and efficiency was definitely there.
On this sack against the Redskins, we can appreciate everything that Ward excels at. He displays his excellent hand usage and strength to demolish Washington’s left guard Shaun Lauvao, he leaves him in the dirt and then gets Alex Smith for the sack. Ward specialty from the little we have seen from him seems to be collapsing pockets from the inside and having the ability to destroy opposing linemen in one-on-one situations. Ward can give the Colts something they lacked last season, pressure from the inside. Ward will also potentially benefit from playing alongside Autry, who is expected to make a permanent move to defensive tackle after the signing of Justin Houston. Autry had an excellent season, racking up 9.5 sacks, leading the team in the department.
The main weakness I see in Ward’s game is that he failed to garner double-teams, which is essentially the main job of the 0-tech defensive tackle: opening up lanes for his teammates. Still, opposing teams will take quick notice that if Ward is left one-on-one with a guard, then the pocket will almost surely collapse.
What is most encouraging about Ward is his impeccable work ethic. The leap he made from his 2nd to his 3rd year demonstrates he is more than willing to put in the work and grind to become a better football player. This off-season Ward worked out with Colts legend Robert Mathis to improve his pass-rushing moves. His hand usage is consistently the topic of viral videos, as he is incredibly quick. If the workout videos can translate to the field, then the Colts will have found the guy they were looking for to play defensive tackle.