INDIANAPOLIS — When it came down to it, the Indianapolis Colts ultimately had no choice but to see what its young inside linebackers were made of in 2016 — especially late in the season.
With veteran D'Qwell Jackson suspended for the final four games of the season, the Colts turned to first-year linebacker Edwin Jackson to run the show in the middle, while rookie Antonio Morrison was given the opportunity to start alongside Jackson and show what he could do.
As with any developing players, the results weren't always pretty, and mistakes were made at times. But, for the most part, the Colts learned they had two guys in Edwin Jackson and Morrison — as well as a few pieces behind them — that can make plays when called upon, and will only get better with time.
Here's a review of the play of the Colts' inside linebackers in 2016.Open competition
One of the most notable storylines heading into training camp for the Colts was which inside linebacker — Sio Moore or Nate Irving — would earn the starting job next to the established D'Qwell Jackson for the 2016 season?
As it turned out, Moore ultimately won the job, while Irving was released by early September.
But just one month and one day after Irving's release, the Colts decided to waive Moore — the team's leading tackler at the time — which once again opened things up at the inside linebacker spot opposite of D'Qwell Jackson.
The team first tried veteran Josh McNary, but ultimately landed on Edwin Jackson, who was getting his first taste of regular-season NFL action in 2016. Jackson would start eight games for the Colts, finishing third on the team with 61 total tackles, while adding two sacks, one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits.Morrison's turn
Then, when D'Qwell Jackson's suspension went into effect starting Week 14, the team turned to Morrison — their fourth-round pick out of Florida — to step into his spot.
Morrison displayed some of his elite sideline-to-sideline speed in that opportunity to close out the season, and, in all, finished with 45 tackles — three for a loss — with a quarterback hit on the year.
He had his best game to date Week 16 against the Oakland Raiders, totaling 11 tackles on the day.
While Morrison is still developing, one can imagine the experience he gained in 2016 — particularly late in the season as a starter — will only help his growth heading into 2017 and beyond.D.Q.
D'Qwell Jackson was having another fine season with the Colts prior to his suspension, as he would end up leading the team with 81 combined tackles, while adding a sack, five tackles for loss (second on the team), three quarterback hits, three passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
But ultimately, the Colts and new general manager Chris Ballard decided to move on from Jackson after the 2016 season, and he was released Feb. 9.
In three seasons in Indianapolis, Jackson — who started all 44 games in which he played — totaled 237 tackles (5.4 tackles per game) with one interception, two defensive touchdowns, 15 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and eight sacks.Other notes
Josh McNary finished his 2016 season with 15 tackles for the Colts' defense, as well as a forced fumble.
He also was a force once again on special teams, as his 11 special teams tackles in 2016 tied Jordan Todman for the second-most on the team (rookie Matthias Farley had 12).
Luke Rhodes and Deon King also return at the position for the Colts in 2017, though neither really had many snaps for the defense last season. Rhodes (one special teams tackle) and King (two special teams tackles) both primarily played roles on special teams.Number to remember
3: The number of weeks Edwin Jackson spent on the Colts' practice squad in 2015 (and he spent zero weeks on the active roster). By 2016, however, he was one of the team's starting inside linebackers, and finished third on the team in tackles (61).
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