D-line inexperienced, but Colts not worried

Five of six defensive linemen have never started an NFL game, but GM Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano are still confident.

The Indianapolis Colts are selling new blood.

It’s unconventional to say the least, considering the lack of experience, but Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano say they have the utmost confidence in a defensive line with five of six players who have never started an NFL game.

Pagano confirmed Monday that rookie David Parry, a fifth-round pick, will be the starting nose tackle for Sunday’s season opener at Buffalo. Rookie defensive end Henry Anderson, a third-round pick, will get his share of snaps. So,, too, will second-year defensive tackle Zach Kerr, a reserve in 12 games as a rookie. First-year defensive end Earl Okine was playing semi-pro and arena football last year. Defensive tackle T.Y. McGill, claimed off waivers from Seattle, is an undrafted rookie.

“Well, I think you guys along with ourselves, got a glimpse of what these guys are capable of,” Pagano said of preseason. “I love the mixture of veteran guys like Langford coming in to go with the youth in David Parry and Henry Anderson and the rest of the guys, Zach Kerr. I mean, we’ve got guys that can play. We got guys that fit our scheme. Again, we got a glimpse in the preseason of what these guys can do. Sometimes what you don’t know won’t hurt you. These guys are going to go and they’re going to play hard and they’re going to play tough and they’re going to play damn smart.”

He punctuated his point by saying he feels “great” about this group.

Grigson added, “The youth, it’s a young and athletic group, which is usually a pretty good combination. I think they’re very athletic, and they’ve got a pretty broad skillset, all six of those guys. They’ve all put good tape out there. They all popped in their own ways. We’ve got to coach them up and hopefully we hit the ground running here because there’s some new life and some new blood in there.”

Pagano said McGill can back up Parry. Anderson and Kerr can also move to the middle.

The Colts were convinced they had to get more physical after getting run over by New England for the second consecutive postseason in January. Owner Jim Irsay spoke of that priority after the draft.

Still, because so many of these guys are getting their first real taste, it seems like a huge gamble. But Pagano and Grigson shrugged when asked if this is risky.

“You get up every morning and get in the car and drive to work it’s a gamble,” Pagano said. “But I don’t think the d-line is a gamble at all.” 

Grigson spoke of the grind of a long NFL season, how it’s a war of attrition. The Colts were convinced they couldn’t stick with what hasn’t worked, which is why starting nose tackle Josh Chapman and reserve defensive tackle Montori Hughes were among Saturday’s cuts.

“You’re always churning the roster, you’re always trying to find the next guy because that experience group could turn into a really green group overnight,” Grigson said. “We think that there were certain points in time here where we had a very young group on offense, but the talent and the coaching merged. That’s where we’re at now. We hope that that happens at all the position groups.”

Pagano said simply of the decision to cut Chapman and Hughes, “The other guys played better.”

Grigson said it boiled down to picking the best 53 players.

If anything happens to running back Frank Gore, the Colts could be relying on a pair of rookies at that position, too. Josh Robinson is a sixth-round pick and Tyler Varga an undrafted rookie. The Colts also hung onto Vick Ballard, who hasn’t played in two seasons due to injuries and has tweaked his hamstring twice in recent weeks.

“We feel great about our running back group. Great,” Grigson insisted.

He professed the belief that Ballard would eventually be healthy and showed enough glimpses of his 2012 rookie form to assure he was a keeper. He sees Varga as possessing a unique skill set, and Robinson is a physical runner.

Grigson stressed, “We want guys that are trending towards being starters. We think we’ve got four guys that have starter-level skills. Some may be more polished than others, but we feel really good about those four guys.”

The Colts have 10 rookies on the roster. That’s a significantly high number, not that Grigson or Pagano seem the least bit concerned. If anything, they sound encouraged about the future.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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