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Colts defensive end Ben Banogu is putting last year behind him

NFL: OCT 18 Bengals at Colts Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts have experienced considerable turnover on the edges. Neither Justin Houston nor Denico Autry will return in 2021. They combined to take the majority of snaps and were responsible for the bulk of the team’s production at defensive end a season ago. Chris Ballard opted to rely on the continued development of former draft picks Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, and Ben Banogu. He also chose to re-sign rotational defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad.

Of course, Ballard also leaned heavily into the position in the 2021 NFL Draft. Indy’s only picks on days one and two of the draft addressed the edges. First-round selection Kwity Paye will likely play an immediate role in the rotation, while second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo hopes to make an impact after fully recovering from an Achilles tear he suffered in January.

The anticipated starting defensive line in OTAs is Kwity Paye, DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, and Tyquan Lewis. Kemoko Turay seems like the shoo-in favorite to rotate in for obvious pass-rushing situations (assuming his second ankle surgery went considerably better than his first) and Al-Quadin Muhammad has been a steady rotational player for the last two seasons.

Where does that leave Banogu?

Earlier this week, Banogu sat down with media members to discuss his off-season, his expectations, and his takeaways from 2020. Suffice to say, he’s not particularly interested in dwelling on the past.

What was last year like for you?

“I’m really not focused on last year. This year is a new year. I’m trying to help my team do the best they can this year. I’m trying to help the team win a bunch of games.”

Is there anything you learned from last year that you can take into this year’s training camp?

“I learned a lot of things last year and the years before that, and when I was five years old. You learn everything every day and every year. Right now, I’m worried about this upcoming year.”

It isn’t hard to understand why Banogu would prefer to not dwell on the past. He made very little impact in his second season and frequently wasn’t active in games. It was a step back from his rookie season and may have been partly the result of Tyquan Lewis having the best season of his young NFL career.

No matter, Banogu is focused on getting better and making a bigger impact in 2021.

The start of your career hasn’t been what you anticipated. What has not worked? What’s the next step you need to make for you to establish yourself?”

“Over the course of these last couple of years I’ve been working, trying to get better. The coaches have been doing a great job of helping me with that – so just continually trying to grow. We have a saying here, ‘One percent better’ and I believe in that. I’m not too worried about the stuff that happened last year. It’s this year, a new year and I’m ready to work with my guys.”

Some of the work he did this offseason, which wasn’t as restricted as things were a year ago, included DeForest Buckner and Taylor Stallworth. Buckner has long been considered a great teammate who is willing to take players under his wing to help them get better. Putting in offseason work with two interior defenders likely had an impact on Banogu’s body, if nothing else.

Working out with DeForest Buckner this offseason, what was that like? What did you pick up? How do you think it’s going to help you this year?

“It was good. It wasn’t anything crazy. DeForest (Buckner) and I have worked together on the practice field here. It was easy for us to work together in the offseason. Working on our craft, fine tuning things, trying to get better, trying to learn new things about our game. It’s easier working with someone that you practice with and play with. Me, Buck and Tay (Taylor Stallworth) had a great time there. We felt like we got better. We wanted to take the things that we learned and got better at and put it into this fall camp and then going into the season.”

After he was drafted in 2019, the Stampede Blue writing team took the chance to analyze his college film. One of the primary takeaways was that Banogu displayed incredible instincts. He also was known as a fiercely competitive and dedicated worker in the offseason, and as a player who improved each year. What led to a step back in 2020 can be speculated but Banogu’s comments earlier this week reflect the right approach and the one that led him to collegiate success.

He will need to focus on getting one percent better every day and will need to use the offseason reps to prove he is ready to take on a bigger role. Veterans like Justin Houston and Denico Autry are out of the way. Dayo Odeyingbo won’t be able to stake his claim for months. This is Banogu’s chance to shine and failing to capitalize now may permanently alter his NFL journey. You can bet no one knows that more than Ben Banogu.