INDIANAPOLIS – After just a few weeks on the job, Chris Ballard knew the defense was going to experience some major re-tooling through free agency.
In total, Ballard inked deals with seven guys, impacting every defensive position but cornerback and defensive tackle.
Here's a look at how much different the defense will look after a month of moves:
*Outside Linebacker John Simon (Texans) *-2016 Stats: 11 games played (5 starts). Compiled 51 tackles (32 solo), 4.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two passes defensed.
-Career Stats: 45 career games played (13 starts) in 4 seasons. Has 109 tackles (72 solo), with 9.0 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks and three passes defensed.
-Simon's Quote to Note: "I try to do everything the right way. I'm going to play 60 minutes plus. I'm a great locker room guy. I will give you everything I have on a daily basis. I'll bring a toughness and nastiness to the defense."
-Chris Ballard's Thoughts: "John possesses a strong balance between his pass rushing ability and run defense. He's a physical linebacker who has matured on one of the top defensive units in the league over the past three seasons. John provides a significant upgrade to our defense and we're excited to welcome him to Indianapolis."
-Outlook: In John Simon, the Colts have a guy who can thrive in a strongside linebacker role, often in charge of setting the edge in the run game. The Colts hope the spot duty action Simon received in Houston, on one of the league's best defenses, will translate to a bigger individual role on another AFC South team in desperate need for defensive help, especially at outside linebacker. In Houston, Simon moved around a bit on third down and showed some ability to rush from various spots. If the season started tomorrow, Simon would likely start opposite Jabaal Sheard.
*Outside Linebacker Jabaal Sheard (Patriots) *-2016 Stats: 15 games played (8 starts). Had 33 tackles (20 solo), 5.0 sacks, 7.0 tackles for loss and four passes defensed. Won a Super Bowl with the Patriots.
-Career Stats: 89 career games played (59 starts) in six NFL seasons. Has totaled 260 tackles (170 solo), 36.0 sacks, 43.0 tackles for loss, 18 passes defensed and 11 forced fumbles.
-Sheard's Quote to Note: "I want to be part of a winning organization and I want to help them get over that hump. It's a wining organization. Coaches and players know that. I'm just trying to teach guys what I learned in New England and what it takes. Hopefully everybody just buys in."
-Chris Ballard's Thoughts: "Jabaal brings a wealth of experience and veteran leadership to our locker room. His size and speed are the conduit to his pass rushing ability as he creates matchup difficulties for opponents. Jabaal is equally talented against the run and in pass coverage. His addition provides a good player for our defense and we're excited to have him as a member of the Colts."
-Outlook: When free agency started, Sheard was about as close as a team was going to get in finding a potential double-digit sack guy. Simon had 13 sacks in nine starts with the Patriots. The Colts would love to see that ratio expand in a full-time starter role. Sheard probably would not be labeled as strictly a pass rusher. At 267 pounds, Sheard has other traits that makes him a well-rounded 3-4 outside linebacker. One could make the argument Sheard will have the biggest impact of any new free agent in Indianapolis.
*Outside Linebacker Barkevious Mingo (Patriots) *-2016 Stats: 16 games played (0 starts). 4 tackles and 6 special teams stops.
-Career Stats: 62 career games played (16 starts) in 4 seasons. Has 106 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 11 passes defensed and 17 special teams stops.
-Mingo's Quote to Note: "I didn't know anything about the organization, but I'm glad I reached out to (past Colts) and got that insight. It definitely made the decision easier and I second everything that they said after being here and meeting with all the coaches and being in the building."
-Chris Ballard's Thoughts: "Barkevious is a versatile linebacker who creates competition for our defense and special teams. He's an athletic player who will fit in nicely with the culture we're establishing here. We're excited to see what he can bring to the table."
-Outlook: Mingo is going to get a chance in Indianapolis to see if that top-10 pass rushing draft talent is still there. Defensive expectations should be minimal for Mingo after going sack-less the last two years. With New England in 2016, Mingo played just 54 defensive snaps. The Colts are searching for pass rushing help and that's why they brought Mingo in---to see if there's anything left in a guy who had 5 sacks playing under Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland back in 2013.*Defensive End Margus Hunt (Bengals) *-2016 Stats: 15 games played (0 starts). 14 tackles (seven solo), two passes defensed and three special teams stops. Led the NFL with three blocked kicks.
-Career Stats: 44 career games played (0 starts) in four seasons. Has compiled 26 tackles (14 solo), 1.5 sacks and three passes defensed.
-Hunt's Quote to Note: "I was just looking for a good fit for what I can bring to the table – a more defined fit as far as playing on the defensive line goes. It's just the way the system is. D-line help is always needed so it was just a good fit, with the scheme that they run, how they routinely play in it and what to do. It's just really simple and straightforward for me. That was a big key."
-Chris Ballard's Thoughts: "Margus has rare size, speed and athleticism. He has good experience on defense and is a significant contributor on special teams as well. I'm excited to see how he progresses this year."
-Outlook: At 6-8 and nearly 300 pounds, Hunt will have fans checking their program quite often to find out more about him. With Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson back and healthy, the Colts aren't going to be asking Hunt to all of a sudden become a starter. But Hunt will have a chance to compete for depth along the defensive line. Hunt is adamant that the switch to a 3-4 scheme will provide him a more defined role. We will see if that results in an ideal match between the Colts and Hunt.*Cornerback Darius Butler (Colts) *-2016 Stats: 12 games played (7 starts). Totaled 34 tackles (28 solo), seven passes defensed, three interceptions.
-Career Stats: 109 career games played (38 starts) in 8 seasons. A total of 302 tackles (253 solo), 62 passes defensed and 15 interceptions (four returned for touchdowns), six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
-Butler's Quote to Note: "I love playing safety. You can make a lot of plays back there. You communicate with a lot of guys back there. I'm looking forward to mentoring some of the younger guys. Getting everybody on the same page and holding guys accountable."
-Chris Ballard's Thoughts: "Darius is a great guy. He's a great teammate, very smart. I think the transition to safety is going to help him extend his career. He has great ball skills and great speed and instincts and that's going to help our back end and he gives us a veteran presence. That was an emphasis."
-Outlook: Look for Clayton Geathers and Darius Butler to line up next to each other at safety this fall. Butler offers the coaching staff a calming presence at the final level of defense. Known for his instincts, Butler should excel in a rover-type position in his first full-time look as a starting safety. After re-signing with the Colts, the smaller-Butler (at 192 pounds Butler is a smaller safety) did say he will be putting on some weight in case Ted Monachino is going to need him closer to the line of scrimmage at times. Ideally, the Colts would have Geathers down in the box, and Butler back roaming the field.*Nose Tackle Al Woods (Titans) *-2016 Stats: 12 games played (7 starts). Tallied 17 tackles (12 solo), 2.0 for loss.
-Career Stats: 81 career games played (19 starts) in seven years of NFL experience. A total of 120 tackles (68 solo), 7.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two passes defensed.
-Woods' Quote to Note: "I like being in the middle where all the magic happens."
-Chris Ballard's Thoughts: "Al has the ability to play multiple positions along the defensive line. Adding an experienced veteran like Al will help us win battles up front."
-Outlook: Is Al Woods going to supplant David Parry at nose tackle? The nose tackle position looks to be a two-horse race in 2017. Parry has been the starter at nose tackle for the Colts each of the last two seasons. Woods has been doing that role with the Titans. At 6-4, Woods is a bit taller than Parry, but he still isn't your massive 330-pound nose tackle. If the Colts do not add to the nose tackle position in the draft, a competition between Parry and Woods will likely decide a starting spot on defense.
Inside Linebacker Sean Spence (Titans)
-2016 Stats: 15 games played (6 starts). Set career-highs with 77 tackles (41 solo), 4.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and three passes defensed.
-Career Stats: 46 career games played (19 starts). Totaled 163 tackles (93 solo), 4.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks and three passes defensed.
-Spence's Quote to Note: "I definitely think I am a tough player and I am hoping we can just change the atmosphere. We just have to change the culture and get back to the winning ways."
-Chris Ballard's Thoughts: "Sean has the speed and athleticism to be a sideline-to-sideline player. He is coming off of a productive season and we are excited to see him continue with the Colts."
-Outlook: At last week's League Meetings, Chuck Pagano said the inside linebacker starting spots were wide, wide open. Spence will be in the mix with returners Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison, In Spence, the Colts brought in some starting experience and a guy who brings sideline-to-sideline ability. That trait is coveted on defenses nowadays. Even if Spence isn't an every down starter, he could be the nickel linebacker for Ted Monachino.
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