NFL Training Camp is one of the most exciting, yet terrifying times of the year. It is always fun to see the new players on the team, but the inevitable fear of injuries before meaningful football is played always looms over this time of year. Already one week into this new season, the Colts have suffered from what could be a fairly significant injury. Starting left defensive end Jabaal Sheard will miss some time with what’s being described as a “mildly serious” injury to his knee.
Time will tell how much action Sheard ends up missing this year, but this could be a big loss for the team. He has been one of the more underrated players on the team for years, as he is an outstanding run defender and a pretty solid pass rusher, as well. Whoever steps into his role will have big shoes to fill for the Colts to have another good season on defense.
So who will step up into that role? The Colts are a bit unique in their defensive scheme, as they view left defensive end and right defensive end as completely different positions. Whoever lines up on the left side has to be a bit bigger and be a better run defender than whoever lines up on the right side. So, with that being said, who is the guy who has to step up with Sheard out? Here are the three top candidates:
The most likely player to start in place of Sheard is former waiver wire addition Al-Quadin Muhammad. He was a late addition to the roster last year, but ended up putting together a really solid season for the Colts. He was top five on the team in pressures, hurries, and QB hits for the year, despite only registering one sack. He finished last season with 33 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, and 1 sack.
The main reason why I like him for this spot is his run defense. He was quietly good as a pass rusher, but everyone could see his contributions in the run game. He holds up very well at the point of attack and plays with great leverage and active hands. If anybody on the roster closely resembles Jabaal Sheard, it’s Muhammad. I think he is the most likely player to fill the role, and I fully expect him to have a breakout season if he starts for even a few games.
Al-Quadin Muhammad was a waiver claim that turned into a key role player for the Colts in 2018. He finished with over 500 snaps played and 5th on the team in both hurries and QB hits.— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) June 6, 2019
My scouting report and film room on the defensive end drops tomorrow over @StampedeBlue pic.twitter.com/RdIWXVvA1E
Despite the Colts’ insistence on playing Lewis at defensive tackle, it’s hard to ignore how good he was at defensive end last season. Lewis finished his rookie season with 13 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, and 2 sacks in just 8 games played. He can play that flexible position where he starts at left defensive end, then sub inside on passing downs as a defensive tackle.
I really like Lewis at left end, mainly due to his size and get off at the point of attack. He has the size and athleticism to hold up against NFL right tackles, along with also being quick enough off of the line to cause disruption in the backfield. He may not be a permanent fit, but he may be one of the best options to temporarily fill that defensive end role while Sheard is out for a decent amount of time.
Former Ohio State star Tyquan Lewis with his first two NFL sacks today pic.twitter.com/bNrRQeXOGG— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) December 17, 2018
The final addition to this list is star defensive end Justin Houston. Houston appears to be slotted in to the starter at right defensive end, but he could also be a fit on the left side. This would serve two purposes: The Colts would get a starter on the left side, and it would also open up more playing time for Ben Banogu or Kemoko Turay on the right side. Houston finished last season with the Chiefs with 9 sacks, 8 tackles for a loss, and 12 QB hits in just 12 games played.
He may be a bit smaller and not the traditional fit for what the Colts want here, but he is a great run defender and an even better pass rusher. He has been known for his elite pass rushing since his 22 sack campaign years ago, but he is truly underrated as a run defender. He has insanely strong hands that allow him to dominate at the point of attack and relentlessly pursue running backs. He may not be the ideal size fit at left end, but I would like to see the Colts mix him in over there with the injury to Sheard.