While the 2019 Colts draft class wasn’t the historically great one that 2018 was, it still brought in quite a few contributors to this team. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin had some ups and downs early in the year but was one of the best rookie corners in the NFL during his last ten games for the team. Linebacker Bobby Okereke graded out as the top rookie linebacker according to Pro Football Focus and was outstanding whenever he touched the field as a rookie. Defensive backs Marvell Tell and Khari Willis also flashed quite a bit of potential in their playing time and made some big time plays for the team.
The one player who doesn’t seem to be talked about enough though is second round defensive end Ben Banogu. For a rookie defender, especially for a rookie pass rusher, it is tough to even see the field with established veterans ahead of you on the depth chart.
“In college you are so used to being the guy going every rep and playing every snap,” Banogu told me in a film interview I did with him a few months back.
This rang especially true for Banogu as a rookie as he went from being the every down, superstar defender at TCU to only playing 26% of the total defensive snaps as a rookie. It’s a tough adjustment for a rookie and it was something that he certainly struggled with during the year.
“It is tough to struggle with that for just about every rookie unless you get put in a certain situation,” he explained. “I guess the biggest thing was just knowing my role and knowing how to help the team and I feel like I figured that out as the season went.”
As the season went on and he started to learn from his early season mistakes and learn to accept his role, his play began to improve. He enjoyed a bit of a breakout game against Denver when he totaled a pass deflection, a sack (another sack was taken away due to a penalty), and a game sealing forced fumble. While his snaps decreased again late in the season, the production was there. Here is how he compared to other rookie pass rushers in year one:
In sack % (per defensive snaps played) @benbanogu ranks #1 with 2.5%— Brett Yarris (@brettyarris_bxm) November 25, 2019
In TFL %, Ben ranks #2 (behind Bosa)
In QB hit %, Ben ranks #1.
Ben has been as efficient and productive as any player per snap. He's a good one folks. #Colts@Colts
While he looked good in so many moments, his rookie season was mostly used as a learning stage in his development and he took it in stride. We even joked about how Coach Frank Reich pulled him aside after the Denver game to talk about his final play against the Broncos that won the Colts the game:
“At the moment, it felt awesome and it felt great. When I got back in the locker room, Coach Reich reminded me that I gotta find the ball,” Banogu laughed. “He was happy for me and everything but it was just a quick reminder.”
Here was the play he was talking about as you can see he makes a big play but he does get up and celebrate too early and doesn’t try to find the ball.
The point in all this is that his rookie year was solid and he did find success when he was on the field. He understands the next step though and is putting in the work to reach that place that he wants to be in the league. He is currently working with former Colts DE and future Hall of Famer Robert Mathis and has learned a lot about the nuances of pass rushing in his short time working with the legend.
“It’s mostly just repetition.” He explained to me as his biggest takeaway so far. “The biggest way to be a great pass rusher is through repetition and just working it everyday.”
On top of his work with the legendary Robert Mathis, the Colts added another piece to this team to really help Banogu’s game. They parted ways with former Defensive Line Coach Mike Phair and replaced him with a veteran coach in Brian Baker. Baker is a coach who has been around the game for a long time and has worked with a ton of top pass rushers in Kevin Williams, Julius Peppers, Ryan Kerrigan, DeMarcus Ware, and Leonard Little.
According to a source I trust, I was told earlier in the offseason that the main reason Baker was hired was to develop and play young pass rushers Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu this upcoming season. Banogu has actually already met Baker in person back before the Covid-19 pandemic really hit hard.
“The first time that I met Coach Bake was when I flew up to Indy, this was back when you could still travel and everything, and I was in the weight room and I just kind of ran into him,” Banogu detailed to me. “I went into his office and talked to him and that quick conversation turned into an hour/an hour and a half kind of deal. We watched a little film and talked about the stuff that he values and wants to bring to the table and I’m really excited for it.”
The Colts know what they have in Banogu and are doing everything they can to maximize his talent. So we know he was solid when he played last year, he has a great work ethic and head on his shoulders, and he is training with Robert Mathis and learning from Brian Baker this offseason. Want one more piece of evidence that points to a Banogu breakout in year two? The history is there:
“I would say that historically speaking, I’ve always had a good year two,” Banogu explained. “When I went to ULM to start off my career, I was redshirted and then the next year I was All-Conference and went to TCU. I then had to sit out a year at TCU and then when I was able to play, I did my thing there. Last year was my rookie year so it’s a strange thing. I don’t know how I’m going to do it but I’m just going to go out there and get it done.”
Overall it is easy to like a guy like Banogu and I think he has the make up of everything you look for in a young player. With a good situation, his work ethic, his traits, and great coaching, I think 2020 could be a big season for this young pass rusher.
If any of you are interested in viewing the full interview, it is posted up on my Youtube channel. Here is the link below of the interview where all these quotes (and many more good ones) come from with Banogu: