Colts Camp Preview: Defensive Line

New coordinator Ted Monachino emphasizes key to solid Colts defense starts with fast players and a strong push up the middle.

In anticipation of the Indianapolis Colts reporting for training camp July 26 at Anderson University, ColtsBlitz.com will offer a series of analytical outlooks on position groups.

This installment looks at the defensive line.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN ON ROSTER: End Kendall Langford (ninth season), tackle Arthur Jones (seventh season), nose tackle Zach Kerr (third season), tackle/end Henry Anderson (second season), tackle T.Y. McGill (second season), tackle David Parry (second season), tackle Kelcy Quarles (second season), tackle Ricky Lumpkin (first season), tackle Hassan Ridgeway (rookie), tackle Delvon Simmons (rookie), end Sterling Bailey (rookie).

NEW COORDINATOR: The Colts hired Ted Monachino as defensive coordinator to replace Greg Manusky, who wasn’t retained. Monachino was Baltimore’s linebackers coach, so there’s familiarity with what’s expected from Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator before landing the Indianapolis job in 2012. The expectation is for Monachino to build a fast defense that dictates to the offense, which often wasn’t the case last season. The Colts were 26th in total defense, 24th against the pass and 25th against the run.

LAST YEAR: Langford delivered as a free-agent addition, signed to a four-year, $17.2-million contract, by tying outside linebacker Robert Mathis with a team-high 7 sacks. Not only was Langford excellent in the pass rush, he proved to be one of the Colts’ best run stoppers. Anderson, a third-round pick, was forced to switch from end to tackle in the 3-4 scheme when Jones was lost for the year in preseason and the rookie had nine tackles in his NFL debut. He continued to excel against the run before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game. Parry, a fifth-round selection, was also a welcome addition as he started all 16 games and had 31 tackles. Kerr, a former undrafted signee, was more than just a capable backup as he started four of his 12 games and had 29 tackles. McGill, claimed off waivers from Seattle, appeared in 12 games as a reserve and had three sacks. Billy Winn, acquired from Cleveland, played in 12 games including three starts and made 14 tackles.

OUTLOOK: Langford and Parry give the Colts two solid returnees but Anderson will need some time to regain his form after missing offseason workouts to rehab his surgically repaired right knee. The real question is Jones, who because of ankle injuries has started just three games in two season since signing a five-year, $33-million contract with $16 million guaranteed. Jones accepted a pay cut this season, lowering his base salary by $2 million, money he can earn back through performance incentives. Jones missed all of last season, so he’s anxious to prove he can be the player the Colts expected when they signed him with the expectation he would be a defensive cornerstone. Although he didn’t participate in offseason training activities, he assured he will be ready to play when turned loose and sounded confident he will deliver. If Jones is strong, Anderson won’t have to push his return until he’s fully healthy.

The Colts’ 3-4 scheme will need to figure out rotations to provide depth and that presumably starts with Ridgeway, selected in the fifth round. He’ll likely push either Parry or Jones for playing time, ideally both. At 6-4 and 307, he has the size and speed to stop the run but also has decent pass-rush skills with 9.5 sacks in his junior season at Texas last year. Anderson is expected to eventually be a solid backup who gets snaps at tackle or end. Kerr also plays the nose or tackle and will be fighting in camp to show he’s still deserving of a roster spot as a versatile reserve. McGill wants to get more snaps with the base defense after showing he could get to the passer in a limited role as a rookie. 

POSITIVE SPIN: Jones is the disruptive player the Colts envisioned, which bolsters the run defense and helps his linemates to be more effective. Jones holding down one side and Langford doing the same on the other also enables Parry and Ridgeway to make plays and be more effective in defeating blockers inside. Ridgeway proves to be a solid addition and splits playing time with the starters. Anderson makes a strong comeback from knee surgery and improves as a pass rusher, an area he continually worked on as a rookie. Kerr and McGill step in and make plays when needed to give the Colts the rotational depth they need.

NEGATIVE SPIN: Jones gets hurt again, which will have the Colts thinking about cutting their losses in the offseason and drafting more defensive linemen. Anderson needs more time to get healthy, which wouldn’t be unexpected considering players typically need a full year to be sound on a repaired knee. Because Jones isn’t a factor and Anderson is still on the mend, teams are more mindful of handling Langford, the Colts’ best defensive lineman, and his production drops. Parry is just a role player and doesn’t distinguish himself as a long-term fixture. Ridgeway has rookie growing pains and learns the NFL requires a stronger work ethic to make the pro adjustment. Kerr and McGill don’t make enough plays when given the chance to force the Colts to play them more.

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

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