Colts GM Ryan Grigson has been working hard at getting the Colts defense younger and faster for a couple of years now. He has found a few guys that seem like they are going to be solid starters, but the position group he hasn’t found a solid player in yet is the linebacker position. He picked up D’Qwell Jackson in free agency which helped with the run defense and brought a veteran leader in, but that wasn’t enough. Jerrell Freeman was a good option back there, but he took flight and landed about 180 miles northwest in Chicago. So the options for the Colts now at linebacker are getting slim. Thankfully Grigson has brought in some young talent that will get every chance to show what they are made of this offseason/preseason to fight for a roster spot and one lucky one will get named the starter on week 1.
Leading the pack in this particular position group is Nate Irving, D-Jax, Robert Mathis, and Eric Walden. Veteran Trent Cole is basically a situational pass rusher at this point and doesn’t offer more than that. There aren’t a ton of options at the outside linebacker spot that give anyone much hope of seeing an improved pass rush other than Mathis beginning to return to his old form as the season dwindled last year. Walden can provide a pass rush, but that isn’t his main concern. Earl Okine has mad the transition to OLB and there is a lot of hope that he can take to it quickly and pick up his new found responsibilities to be able to contribute from that position immediately. Okine will be given every chance to play in the OLB spot this preseason and I feel that his ceiling is limitless. UDFA Curt Maggitt is another interesting person to watch. He has the tools to play well above his expected production, but is recovering from a hip injury and came from a poorly ran system in Tennessee. If he takes care of himself and rehabs properly Grigson may have landed a Robert Mathis-esque player. Maggitt is a known player, but was passed on by many because he missed most of the 2015 season with the aforementioned injury. He will have a lot to prove to himself and his doubters which makes him a dangerous weapon.
The inside linebacker spot is where the biggest battles will take place. D-Jax is solid in his starting position, barring injury, but the ILB spot vacated by Jerrell Freeman is where we should see a lot the most shuffling throughout camp and the preseason. Right now Nate Irvin is penciled as the starter, but with guys like Sio Moore and Amarlo Herrera looming just behind him I can’t wait to see what they all do. Thrown into the mix is rookie Antonio Morrison who is a player that people are very high on. He can cover and has good run stopping skills as well. I personally like Nate Irving and feel that he can hold onto that spot, but I also think Morrison and Herrera will push him to limits that he hasn’t been pushed to before which can only be good for the team.
Now there are still young play makers and valuable veteran that are on the market without a home and if there was a position I could see the Colts signing someone it’s the linebacker spot. Guys like Donald Butler, Dwight Freeney, Mike Neal, and DeMeco Ryans could provide some more veteran leadership and good depth for the team but they won’t be cheap. There are still a few UDFA’s on the market the team could look at as well, but don’t expect any moves until after camp starts next month.