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Colts front line clashes with NFL’s best in final preseason test

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner tackles Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Armond Feffer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

With 24 hours before the Indianapolis Colts battle the Philadelphia Eagles in the preseason finale, the Colts front line prepares to continue its clash against the NFL’s premier offensive line and No. 1 rushing attack.

Before reuniting this season, Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley worked with first-year head coach Shane Steichen from 2017-2020 with the Los Angeles Chargers. Over the course of training camp, Bradley learned Steichen was not only just a leader in the locker room, but to each position group in the defensive meeting room, too.

“I think what jumps out is his command,” Bradley said. “He is a football coach and when he gets up in front of the team he can talk through special teams, he can talk through defense, he can talk through offense and he has a great understanding of all of them. That’s probably an area I didn’t see when I was with him with the Chargers, but I think we’re all experiencing that now. He can talk all sides of the ball, including special teams. His knowledge level of situations and I think he does a really, really good job of going through situations, but also teaching the team what is our philosophy in these situations. He paints a really good clear picture in each situation what’s our philosophy and how we’re going to handle it. I think that is what’s been really impressive to me.”

The Colts presented a Bear front during the preseason to discover how players competing for a roster spot execute their pass rush and handle their own in 1-on-1 battles with offensive lineman. Bradley aims to develop an eight-deep defensive line rotation, with interior defenders McTelvin Agim, Adetomiwa Adebawore and Eric Johnson II rotating in the front line.

Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner made his presence felt in Tuesday’s joint-practice at the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia after returning from a foot injury he suffered Aug. 3 at Grand Park. The No. 71 ranked player on the NFL’s Top-100 list – voted by the players – shut down several runs during 11-on-11 team drills.

“It’s great to have a guy like that back practicing again,” Steichen said. “He (Buckner) just brings that leadership, that competitive nature to the defensive line. It’s awesome to have him back.”

Defensive Tackle Grover Stewart comes off a 2022 campaign in which he produced a career-high 70 tackles, including a single-season high nine tackles for loss, and four sacks. Buckner and Stewart tied for second in the NFL – amongst defensive lineman – with 44 solo tackles each.

Last season, the Colts defense ranked second in the NFL with 52 negative rushes forced against opponents (Houston - 58). According to Pro Football Focus, Buckner and Stewart combined for 27 tackles for either a loss, or no gain, which led the NFL for a tandem.

Colts 2021 first round draft pick DE Kwity Paye emerged into a starting role and expects to have a career season after improving his speed rush. Indianapolis signed DE Samson Ebukam as an unrestricted free agent in March with intentions to complement their 2021 draft picks – Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo – and collapse runs inside to their dynamic interior duo.

“We’re hungry,” Paye said. “We’re just excited to get back out there and work. We didn’t end the season how we wanted to last year. But we’ve got some guys in this defense that are just trying to get back out there and play.”

As the preseason wraps up in Philadelphia, starters expect to play and several players have one final opportunity to display their skills before the Aug. 29, 53-man roster cut deadline.