Colts Defense: Position Battles to Watch
By Dave McKee
Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jonathan Newsome (91) forces a fumble from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) during the second quarter in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Battle on the Edge: Who Starts until Mathis Returns?
Outside linebacker is the deepest position on this defense. There are several players vying to make the cut onto the 53-man roster. It’s been echoed by coaches all offseason that the Colts cannot have too many pass rushers and they have made good on that philosophy signing former Philadelphia Eagle, Trent Cole to pair up with All-Pro Robert Mathis.
With Mathis still on the mend, it is not a matter of if, but when, will he return from his Achilles injury. Assuming he is not available at the beginning of the season, Trent Cole will be the obvious choice to start at LOLB. Once Mathis does return, Cole will likely slide over to the strong side to set the edge and create further havoc on opposing offenses. Until Mathis does return, there are several young guys with an opportunity to gain some much-needed reps and experience during OTA’s and training camp.
The 2014 season was Erik Walden’s best season as a Colt. Previously, the embattled linebacker had taken a lot of flack from fans and local media. Following his 2013 season, many fans and writers considered Walden another overpaid bust signing from the 2013 Free Agency class that plagued GM Ryan Grigson.
Last season, Walden finally showed that he was reliable in setting the edge and generating pressure on the quarterback. Walden finished second on the team in sacks (6.0), just a half sack behind former rookie Jonathon Newsome (6.5). Walden must fend off the other young edge players who have stood out at OTA’s and continue to improve his pass rushing repertoire.
Newsome is a rising star and developing into a fan favorite in Indianapolis. His signature play came in the AFC Divisional round when he and strip-sacked Peyton Manning (see image above) in the second quarter. Selected 166th overall in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Newsome caught many by surprise with his tenacity to rush the passer. Despite hitting the rookie wall late in the regular season, he became a key contributor during the Colts playoff run.
Newsome led all rookies in sacks last season and looks to make an even greater increase in production this season. At the very least, Newsome will likely spell a healthy Mathis; however, it is very likely that he vultures snaps from Walden if not outright wins the starting job in only his second season.
Third year linebacker Bjoern Werner stands at the precipice. This season his career finally takes off and soars or plummets into the dregs of another first round bust. Picked 24th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, Werner’s overall development has been questionable at best. The Indianapolis Star’s Stephen Holder recently caught up with Werner during Wednesday’s OTA Media session. According to Holder, the reason for Werner’s inconsistent play following an impressive start with 4 sacks in the first seven games in 2014 was due to injury: “It’s that simple,” Werner said. “Since I’ve entered the league, I haven’t been healthy one time.” According to Pagano, if Werner stays healthy he can become the first round talent many have waited to see:
"“The biggest thing for him is to just stay healthy,” Pagano said. “We’ve seen him do it. I’ve got video evidence. We’ve got it on tape… If he can stay healthy, he’ll have a great year. Because you have to be out there. The only way you gain confidence is by playing and making plays.”"
Prediction: Jonathan Newsome