INDIANAPOLIS — Will experience or youth win out?
Or will the team go with a mixture of both?
For the Indianapolis Colts and defensive coordinator Ted Monachino, those are questions yet to be answered at the inside linebacker position, which features a good mix of returning youngsters and incoming free agents, each of whom could very well come away with one of the two starting jobs heading into Week 1 of the regular season.
Returning are Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison, each of whom finished out the 2016 season as starters and are entering their second seasons in the NFL. But brought in at the position this offseason were free agents Jon Bostic and Sean Spence, as well as Anthony Walker, whom the Colts selected in the fifth round of this year's NFL Draft out of Northwestern.
But for head coach Chuck Pagano, the important question might not be necessarily who will start the game at inside linebacker, but finding the right mix of players for the team's various defensive packages.
"Obviously guys that can run and hit and smart guys that can get you lined up," Pagano said of what he looks for in his inside linebackers. "You've got to have cover guys now because there's so much (three wide receivers, one tight end, one running back) personnel that we're facing. Sixty-five percent of the time, we're in sub-defense. This is a mismatch league as you guys obviously know so you've got to have guys that can run."
Let's take a look at the state of the inside linebacker position for the Colts heading into camp:
— Edwin Jackson
— Antonio MorrisonNOTABLE ADDITIONS:
— Jon Bostic
— Sean Spence
— Anthony WalkerNOTABLE CAMP BATTLES:
— Jeremiah George
— Luke Rhodes
NOTABLE LOSSES:— D'Qwell Jackson (released)
— Josh McNary (free agency)
Last season, the Colts took five inside linebackers from training camp onto their Week 1 roster: Morrison, D'Qwell Jackson, Edwin Jackson, Sio Moore and McNary. But despite leading the team in tackles at the time, Moore would be cut loose following the team's Week 4 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, leaving the team with a relatively young core to finish out the season alongside the veteran D'Qwell Jackson.
But when Jackson got suspended the final four games of the season, the position was left up to Edwin Jackson and the rookie Morrison, who got a prime opportunity to show what they could do to close out the year.
For Bostic and Spence, the 2017 season represents a prime opportunity to earn starting jobs after playing roles as spot starters in their first few years in the league. Spence, specifically, seems most likely to blossom, as the fourth-year Miami product last season racked up 54 tackles with three sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble in 15 games with six starts with the Tennessee Titans.
Bostic, meanwhile, hopes to find a way to stay on the field in 2017, as he missed the entire 2016 season with a foot injury.
"I feel like I fit in well," Bostic said of his new home with the Colts. "I know what I can do when I'm healthy. The main thing for me is just staying healthy. I can cover, play the run, so I'm not really worried about that stuff. I'm healthy and am having fun."
Walker, then, has been described as having that "coach on the field" mentality, and will likely get a chance to show his worth not only on defense, but on special teams.
Jeremiah George and Luke Rhodes, meanwhile, also hope to force their way onto the depth chart by Week 1, which would likely mean Jackson, Morrison, Bostic, Spence or Walker would not have made the team.
2017 Colts Training Camp Previews:
• Offensive Line
• Defensive Line
• Running Backs
• Inside Linebackers
• Tight Ends
• Outside Linebackers
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