INDIANAPOLIS — **The earliest meetings of the year practically required "Hi, my name is…" stickers for the members of the Indianapolis Colts' outside linebacker group in 2017.
Three unrestricted free agent signings —Jabaal Sheard, John Simon and Barkevious Mingo — and one rookie draft pick — Tarell Basham — made up the rotation for the season.
What they lacked in continuity didn't necessarily impact production, however, as the quartet would make plenty of plays throughout the season — especially prior to Simon suffering a season-ending neck injury and missing the final four games of the season.
Sheard, who won a championship with the New England Patriots in 2016 and recorded a half-sack and two tackles against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, set the tone for the Colts defense, pacing them with 5.5 sacks. And in a season where the Colts needed "one more play" too often, Sheard came up with perhaps the biggest one of the year.
Battling in Houston on Nov. 5, the Indy defense was faced with a 4th-and-goal from their own seven-yard line; two seconds on the play clock and a six-point lead. They needed someone to step up and Sheard answered the final bell.
Rushing from a two-point stance he bullied, with brute force and speed, past Texans left tackle Chris Clark, and just as quarterback Tom Savage looked to throw the ball for a potential game-tying (and then game-winning) score, he strip-sacked the passer, putting Savage on the ground and igniting a mad scramble for the ball as time expired. Fellow outside linebacker Mingo scooped up the recovery, sealing the victory and a "walk-off sack" for Sheard.
The seven-year veteran, who signed a reported three-year contract prior to the 2017 season, was ranked as the Colts highest-graded player for the year by Pro Football Focus, earning an impressive 91.3 out of 100.
All four Colts outside linebackers had their bright moments, and games, even if they know the entire defense needs more of them in 2018 across the board. It was a solid first step for a unit that was completely revamped for the 2017 campaign.
Here's a review of the play of the Colts' outside linebackers in 2017.
Ex-Pats via Cleveland
As their career paths have crossed, Sheard and Mingo did play two seasons together for the Cleveland Browns in 2013 and 2014, and for the New England Patriots in 2016. So even though they did not have experience playing together for the Colts they did have a history together as they helped the outside linebacker unit begin to gel.
On top of leading the team in sacks, Sheard, originally a second-round draft pick by the Browns in 2011, also contributed 14 quarterback hits, 52 tackles (eight for loss), three passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
Mingo, a first-round (sixth-overall) draft pick by the Browns in 2013, started six games in place of the injured Simon, and totaled a pair of sacks, 44 tackles (five for loss) and seven quarterback hits. The fifth-year veteran proved to have a nose for the ball as well, forcing three fumbles and recovering two.
Mingo, who was signed a one-year contract, is now a pending unrestricted free agent for 2018.
Simon Says: Pick six
Simon provided fireworks for the Colts' defense against the Tennessee Titans to end their opening drive of the second half on Oct. 16 during Monday Night Football in Nashville.
The fifth-year pro stayed at home, on the left side of the formation, and reading Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota, he jumped as the pass headed his way and not only snagged the interception, but returned it 26 yards to the end zone for a pick-six that provided the Colts a 20-9 third quarter lead.
When healthy, the Ohio State product was impressive beyond that pick six, collecting three sacks, 42 tackles (seven for a loss), 12 quarterback hits and a pass defensed.
But a stinger injury suffered Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars would prove to be a lingering issue; initially Simon missed three games, and then tried to fight through and finish off the season, but would ultimately be placed on IR on Dec. 5.
He started the nine games he played in for the Colts after signing a reported three-year contract prior to the season.
Basham took things in stride and improved all season long learning under the veteran core of Sheard, Simon and Mingo. Though the rookie stats weren't gaudy, it was easy to see the impact he started to have as the season wore on.
General manager Chris Ballard, who conducted his first draft for the Colts in 2017, felt good about the third player he ever drafted for his team.
"We're starting to see the flashes of pass rush from Tarell Basham," Ballard said late in the season. "I'm proud of him, because he's working. He knows for a pass rusher in this league it takes a lot of work against these good tackles, and he's really done a nice job here over the last month working and perfecting his craft and getting better at his craft."
For the season, Basham finished with two sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble among seven total tackles (one for a loss).
Josh Perry, who played collegiately at Ohio State, was signed to the Colts' practice squad on Sept. 18 and called up to the active roster on Oct. 27 and played in two games on the season before being waived, and then signed back to the practice squad, for the final month and a half of the year.
Perry, who played in 15 games (one start) with the San Diego Chargers in 2016 and totaled 17 tackles (one for a loss) and one forced fumble — and also led the Chargers with nine special teams stops — has since been signed to a Reserve/Future contract by the Colts, placing him on the offseason roster.
Southern University product Arthur Miley was signed to the Colts' practice squad on Dec. 19. The 6-6, 270-pound outside linebacker originally joined the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent on May 4, 2015.
After being placed on injured reserve during his rookie year in Carolina, Miley saw offseason and training camp time with the Miami Dolphins before being re-signed by Carolina in August of 2017.
Number to remember
25: According to Pro Football Focus, Sheard hit the opposing running back in the backfield 25 times in 2017, the most of any edge defender in the NFL.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS - 2017 Review