INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July upon us, and training camp right around the corner, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the defensive tackle position:
• Can the Colts find that ever-elusive dominant three-technique?
When playing in a 4-3 base defensive scheme — as the Colts are in the midst of switching to — it's extremely important to have productive defensive ends who can get after the passer. The shining example of this was when Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were terrorizing quarterbacks together in Indy's 4-3 defense during the early-2000s.
But one key element those great Colts teams lacked, for the most part, was a consistently dominant presence in the middle who also was able to disrupt the interior of the opposition's offensive line.
That's a piece to the puzzle Colts general manager Chris Ballard is hoping to find, and for now, it appears free agent signee Denico Autry will get first crack at that three-technique position, which means he'll line up on the outside shoulder of the guard across from him.
Autry showed the ability to be productive in somewhat limited opportunities playing all over the defensive line the first four years of his career with the Oakland Raiders, and now with Indy, the team is hoping he can display the same kind of quick burst off the snap and pass-rush ability that he had last year, when he had a career-best five sacks despite starting just three games.
Others who could very well be seen getting reps at the three-technique spot during camp and the preseason are second-round pick Tyquan Lewis — who is also versatile enough to play inside or on the edge — as well as Margus Hunt and Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
• What's the primary job of the one-technique?
While the three-technique is oftentimes the interior defensive linemen getting much of the praise, the one-technique is the guy who usually does all the dirty work to get his fellow linemen around him freed up to make plays.
The one-technique will line up off one of the shoulders of the center and oftentimes takes on double teams from the center and a guard, allowing for one-on-one matchups for the three-technique and the defensive ends.
But that's not to say a one-technique can't make plays too; the good ones are usually particularly strong against the run, and the player seen taking on the one-technique spot for the Colts this offseason with the theoretical "first-team" defense — Al Woods — was a major reason why Indy improved from ranking 30th in yards per carry allowed in 2016 to ninth last season.
• Just how many defensive tackles can the Colts keep on the 53-man roster?
The good news for the Colts' defensive linemen currently on the 90-man roster is that Ballard and head coach Frank Reich have expressed an interest in keeping a healthy number of defensive ends and tackles on the 53-man roster.
The bad news is some tough decisions are still going to have to be made when that time comes.
As explained earlier, the Colts want their defensive line coming at the opposing offense in waves; with so much effort being exerted on going towards the quarterback play after play after play, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus needs multiple groups of linemen who can spell the starters at several points throughout the game and still remain productive.
Even then, does that mean four defensive ends and four defensive tackles apiece make it? Maybe four of one group, five of another? Or could the Colts even keep five of each position?
At defensive tackle, it seems as though Autry and Woods are your "starters" heading into camp, while the second-round pick Lewis, one would imagine, will also make the team. But there's all kinds of directions the team can go from there.
Hunt is a kick-blocking machine on special teams and also played well last year filling in for the injured Henry Anderson along the defensive line. Hassan Ridgeway and Grover Stewart are also fourth-round picks from the 2016 and 2017 NFL Draft, respectively, who have shown flashes in at-times limited opportunities.
Nunez-Roches, Tomasi Laulile and Caraun Reid are also talented pieces who hope to make some noise during camp and the preseason.
There are only so many spots to go around, so keep a close eye on these battles during training camp, beginning July 26.