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E.J. Speed aims to “share the glory” amid unforeseen promotion

Speed has the third-lowest passer rating allowed among linebackers

NFL: NOV 05 Colts at Panthers
 Indianapolis Colts linebacker E.J. Speed (45) leads the team out of the tunnel before the road game against the Carolina Panthers — November 5, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

E.J. Speed will start at weakside (WILL) linebacker on Sunday as the Indianapolis Colts host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts waived former team captain linebacker Shaquille Leonard Tuesday, furthering the notion that the NFL is a result-oriented business and careers can ultimately halt at any time.

Speed played 357 snaps through 10 games and excelled in his former role, primarily as a third down linebacker in coverage. Speed has the third-lowest passer rating allowed among linebackers. Only Patriots’ Jahlani Tavai (54.0) and Raiders’ Robert Spillane (63.8) allow a lower passer rating than Speed (64.4).

Despite providing crucial assistance to the secondary, Speed believes the defensive backs have more of an impact on his performance.

“Quite frankly, they have been assisting me in some ways,” Speed said during Monday’s zoom call. “It’s some plays where I was in the wrong position and JJ (Jaylon Jones) has come up with good plays and Juju (Brents). Having Julian back there and us having gelled together in minicamps and this being like our fourth year together and knowing each other so well actually plays a great part. He’s like a quarterback back there being that down safety and he’s excelling this season as well. He’s upped his level of play and what was asked of him.”

Speed has established a reputation as the Colts best run defender worthy to take more reps on key downs. According to Pro Football Focus, Speed holds Indianapolis’ best run-defense grade at 82.6 and best overall defensive grade among the linebacker unit at 65.9.

“It’s just a domino effect and I feel like we have done a lot of great things within the defense,” Speed said. “We just plan to keep on doing it so I feel like we all feed off of each other. I’ve been in great places for the secondary and the secondary has been in great places for me. We will just share the glory.”

Indianapolis has compiled 61 tackles for loss and six strip-sacks, each tied for the second-most in the NFL. Colts head coach Shane Steichen mentioned it is a fair assumption that Speed steps up into a full-time starting role. Speed is on pace to post a career-best campaign in 2023, producing 41 tackles, including six tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in the first 10 games.

“He’s explosive,” Steichen told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “He makes a lot of plays. He runs around. He’s been growing. Obviously, with me being my first time with him, but just from what I’ve heard him coming along from being a special teams player and then going out and making plays. It’s been impressive to see.”

Indianapolis’ fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft is the highest drafted player in the history of Tarleton State. The former two-star high school quarterback, turned redshirt-freshman receiver made the decision to switch to linebacker in 2015. With an opportunity to assuage the mid-season void, Speed can galvanize the stampede down the home stretch to clinch a spot in the playoffs.