2019 Colts Burning Questions: Defensive Tackle

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July — and the start of training camp — upon us, it’s time for the Indianapolis Colts’ Burning Questions series.

We continue today with the defensive tackle position:

» Can Denico Autry burst into the national conversation?

How good was Denico Autry’s 2018 season? His career-best 9.0 sacks were the most ever by a Colts interior defensive lineman since sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982, passing Ellis Johnson’s 8.0-sack season back in 1998. In fact, Autry’s sack total was the sixth-most among interior defensive linemen in the NFL (Aaron Donald 20.5; DeForest Buckner 12.0; Fletcher Cox 10.5; Jarran Reed 10.5; Geno Atkins 10.0), and he was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. But for whatever reason, one will rarely hear Autry’s name mentioned among league experts and pundits when discussing the top defensive tackles in the NFL. We’ll see if that changes once Autry hits the field for the 2019 season, as he tries to stay healthy (he missed four games last season) and continue dominating the interior as the primary three technique for Matt Eberflus’ defensive line.

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» How will Tyquan Lewis look primarily lined up in the interior?

Once he returned from a toe injury that cost him the first half of his rookie season, Tyquan Lewis was, out of necessity, utilized mostly as a defensive end by the Colts in 2018. And he did quite well rushing off the edge, finishing with three sacks and 17 quarterback pressures in eight games, according to Pro Football Focus. But the offseason addition of Justin Houston, as well as the selection of Ben Banogu in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, means Lewis will now be able to primarily slide back inside and develop at the three technique spot alongside Autry. “When we took Tyquan, that was our initial thought, was we’re gonna make him a three-technique. Well, depth, injuries, we had to end up playing him at defensive end,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said back in March at the NFL owner’s meetings. “He does have the ability to play both; we just think long-term, in this scheme, three-technique’s his best spot.”

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» Can the Colts continue to stuff the run?

The Colts had one of the best run defenses in the league in 2018, and the big fellas up front had a lot to do with that. Indy recorded 91 tackles for loss last season, ranking second in the NFL, with Autry (13th overall with 15) and Margus Hunt (18th overall with 13) among the league leaders in that category (defensive end Jabaal Sheard [15], linebackers Darius Leonard [13] and Anthony Walker [11] and cornerback Kenny Moore II [7] also were key in this area). Taking on a schedule that featured five of the top 10 running backs in the NFL, the Colts didn’t allow a single 100-yard rusher throughout the regular season — they were the only team in the league to accomplish that feat — as they allowed the eighth-fewest total rushing yards and ranked sixth in yards-per-carry allowed. The Colts will lean on Autry, Hunt, Lewis, Grover Stewart, Jihad Ward and the rest of the crew inside to continue building on that trend in 2019.

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