INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July — and training camp — right around the corner, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the linebacker position:
• What's ailing Darius Leonard, and will be on the field to start training camp?
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard zeroed in on South Carolina State prospect Darius Leonard as their WILL linebacker of the future; a player with the speed, quickness and playmaking ability the team was looking for in its new 4-3 base scheme.
The hope was that Leonard could come in and contribute right away as a rookie — being selected 36th overall usually puts those kinds of expectations on a young player — but he wasn't seen participating in the on-field portion of the Colts' offseason workout program that was available to be watched by the media.
The Colts aren't obligated to provide an injury report during the offseason, and head coach Frank Reich didn't exactly specify why Leonard wasn't out there, so that makes it tough to pinpoint why the rookie's offseason work seemed to be limited to side sessions with team trainers. Leonard did suffer a reported hamstring injury while running the 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year, but it's unclear whether that is the issue here.
Leonard could very well be included in a group of players that Reich hoped would be ready to go by the start of training camp practices on July 26, but we'll await until the team reports the day prior for any official updates. At this point, what is known, however, is that Leonard seems to have a lot of catching up to do to get to the point where he can be the everyday contributor that Ballard and the Colts believe he can be.
Because the linebacker positions are wide open, Leonard's emergence would be huge for a Colts' defense in need of players to step up in its new scheme. Leonard definitely seems to have the talent and skills that translate to the professional game, but only practice reps, with the pads on, during training camp will really give the team a good idea where he's at in his development.
• Could the Colts eventually start multiple rookies at linebacker?
While Leonard's availability and development remains the wild card, he could very well become one of multiple rookies to start at the three linebacker spots this season for the Colts.
The Colts used their two seventh-round picks on linebackers — Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin — while one of the more intriguing undrafted rookie free agents signed by the Colts was also a linebacker: Skai Moore.
As previously mentioned, the Colts' defense this offseason was seen using a wide variety of lineups each day throughout practice, so it's hard to nail down exactly who might have the leg up at various spots. But both Franklin and Moore were seen getting work at some point with the theoretical "first-team" defense, showing just how wide open the competition is for spots.
"I was just talking to the linebackers today and I said, 'Hey, we have 10 guys in here. One through 10 we have no idea who is one and we have no idea who is 10,'" first-year Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said June 13. "So the competition is up in the air and that's at every position."
Franklin had a decorated career at Syracuse, where he became just the second three-time captain in school history, and the first in 121 years.
A two-time All-ACC selection, Franklin played in 48 total games, starting the last 39, at middle linebacker, and racked up 311 total tackles (31.5 for a loss, finishing tied for ninth in program history), 8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, 10 passes defensed and two interceptions.
Moore, meanwhile, was one of the more coveted undrafted NFL free agents this offseason, and chose to sign with the Colts over several other opportunities.
Moore proved he could do it all during an impressive career at South Carolina that saw him compile 353 tackles (20.5 for a loss), 5.5 sacks, 20 passes defensed, 14 interceptions (tying a school record), three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
• Has Tyrell Adams finally found his permanent NFL home in Indianapolis?
Tyrell Adams is the perfect example when one says "the NFL is a business."
He's played in parts of 12 games over the last two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his NFL journey, which started when he was signed by the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted rookie free agent out of West Georgia in May 2015.
Since that time, Adams has been involved in at least 17 transactions with five different organizations, getting waived, then signed to practice squads, then waived again, signed to another practice squad, waived again … and continuing that trend until he was signed to the Raiders' active roster towards the end of the 2016 season, playing with the team again to start 2017 and being waived once again before having a one-day stint with the Buffalo Bills.
Adams was signed by the Colts as a free agent on Feb. 23, and he was constantly on the field with the "first-team" defense during offseason practices, getting lots of work at the SAM linebacker spot, specifically.
Again, it's tough to tell who exactly is the front runner for these jobs, particularly at linebacker, but if Adams can continue impressing the coaching staff through the training camp and preseason, perhaps he can finally start to feel a little bit more comfortable in finding a more permanent home in the Indy area.