Amarlo Herrera tackles NFL learning curve

Colts rookie inside linebacker is taking advantage of playing more preseason snaps and showing he can make the right calls.

Before rookie inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera made his preseason debut, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky told the sixth-round draft choice he would blow out his lungs.

In the later stages of playing 47 snaps at Philadelphia, Herrera was gassed.

Asked about his fatigue last week, he laughed and said, “That’s football. You’re supposed to be wore out. If you ain’t wore out after a game, you ain’t going hard.”

What impressed Colts coaches is how the rookie handled the defensive calls. He showed he’s a quick NFL study for knowing where everybody is supposed to line up and then making adjustments on the fly.

In Saturday’s second preseason game, Herrera didn’t have to endure the same workload. He played 28 snaps and continued to display the smarts his coaches like to see.

Herrera had five tackles in each game and leads the Colts with eight solo stops. His debut also included an interception off a tipped pass.

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“I told him, I said that’s the first thing you’re going to blow out your lungs in the first one, which he did,” Manusky said Wednesday. “In the second one, he came back and he responded a little bit better.

“I still want to see a lot more improvement from him. But I’m saying from a calls and making the calls and making the adjustments, he was excellent. He’ll get his wind underneath him.”

Herrera, 23, was thought to be a project when he was selected with the 207th overall pick out of Georgia. But he’s listed on the Colts’ unofficial depth chart as the backup to starter D'Qwell Jackson. That’s noteworthy because he’s listed ahead of second-year pro Henoc Muamba, who played in 13 games as a rookie reserve.

“It’s just football to me,” Herrera said. “At the end of the day, I just go out and play football. There’s nothing but lessons each game, know how to build off that last game, knowing the negatives and building off those.”

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Manusky said Herrera reminds the coach of a former linebacker who entered the NFL as an undrafted agent in 2001, played nine seasons, made one Pro Bowl and won one Super Bowl ring.

“I had a guy when I coached in Washington, Antonio Pierce, was a free agent guy,” the coach said. “I’ll tell you, he was one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around, making all the calls and checks. Amarlo is like that. He’s spectacular with making the checks, and now he’s starting to understand not just what he’s doing, but what the guys around him are doing and he’s doing a great job right now. I like what he’s doing.”

Herrera has missed some tackles, which head coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday is something he expects the Colts to clean up in Saturday night’s preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.

These exhibitions are about young players proving they belong, so Herrera’s learning curve has accelerated with more snaps. The starters are expected to play into the third quarter against the Rams, so Herrera’s play count isn’t expected to be as high.

Regardless of how much he plays, Herrera maintains a simplified approach.

“I didn’t have any expectations,” he said of entering the NFL. “Just come here, figure out how things go and try to make the squad. That’s it.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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