Colts Opting to Rely on Young Defensive Lineman is Bold, Yet Risky


The Indianapolis Colts haven’t made many significant additions to their defensive line this offseason. While the team essentially traded out veteran leader Cory Redding for Kendall Langford at one of the starting defensive end spots, it’s otherwise largely the same defensive line group. The team passed on big bodied high-profile run-stuffing signings like Terrance Knighton, Nick Fairley, and Vince Wilfork.

Fresh off of being pummeled by the New England Patriots running game yet again in this year’s embarrassing 45-7 loss in the AFC Championship Game, the Colts have insisted that stopping the run is the top priority for their defense. However, actions tend to speak louder than words. Right now, the true impact players of free agency are mostly long gone, and it’s now slim pickings as far as potential useful additions.

Instead, Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano told the media at the AFC Coaches Breakfast that the team plans on relying heavily on some of its young defensive lineman like Montori Hughes, Zach Kerr, and Kelcy Quarles among others:

Don’t get me wrong, some of the defensive lineman, particularly Hughes and Kerr, seem like two talented young players, but expecting them to be difference-makers for next season seems like a risky proposition indeed. These were players that are less than one year removed from being backups on a defensive line that just got manhandled by the New England Patriots twice, yet suddenly they’re going to be the difference?

To me, a defensive lineman is a lot like the running back position, where the really good ones tend to make an impact right away. While there have been exceptions of defensive lineman improving throughout their career, it seems like a fairly significant jump to go from rotational defensive lineman to true impact player. I’m not saying young players like Hughes and Kerr can’t improve, but are they actually going to make that big of a leap in less than one season. What exactly is going to change for them?

Sep 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts nose tackle Josh Chapman (96) against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

While the Colts are likely done making significant signings in free agency, there’s still the NFL Draft to add some blue-chip talent to the team’s defensive line. An upgrade at nose tackle appears necessary, where while Josh Chapman is a solid rotational defensive lineman, the team should look to upgrade to become truly elite.

For any historically great 3-4 defense whether it’s been former greats like the Steelers Casey Hampton, Chargers Jamal Williams, or Patriots Vince Wilfork and Ted Washington, it starts at nose tackle. No one’s been afraid of running at Chapman in the middle, certainly not the Patriots, which means the Colts should look to find a talented big body to anchor their defense. Not just someone that can simply play the position, but one that can dominate against the run and truly make a difference.

However, there are still potential, low cost veteran upgrades that the Colts could kick the tires on as free agency progresses. Former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Red Bryant is one of them, as he truly excels in run defense. The team already made a savvy move by signing an inside linebacker who excels at playing against the run in Nate Irving, but there’s still much more work to be done.

No one’s saying that young defensive lineman such as Hughes and Kerr can’t be a part of the solution, but expecting them to now be thee solution doesn’t appear to be a recipe for success. The Colts need to do some more heavy-lifting with this defensive line group and bring in at least another player or two that has the potential to dominate and truly change a game against the run. At this point, signs point heavily to that occurring early in the NFL Draft more than anywhere else.

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