INDIANAPOLIS — It was about this time last year that Indianapolis Colts linebacker Anthony Walker began to get healthy and earn some playing time as a rookie.
The Colts had something of a revolving at inside linebacker for a few years to that point, but Walker had veterans in front of him on the depth chart, reducing him to a special teams role after missing six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury.
It wasn't until an opportunity opened up in Week 16 that Walker got the chance to start, and the job has been his ever since.
"I wasn't really a part of the scheme last year — I was mostly a special teams guy, so I can't really speak on the scheme from last year — but this year, being able to get experience in the games in this scheme, I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," Walker said.
Walker has started eight of the first nine games this season — after recovering from a groin injury as the season began — but he is now able to play and flourish as the "coach on the field" that the Colts drafted him to be last spring.
Much attention has been paid to Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard and his league-leading 97 tackles, but Leonard leans on Walker quite often as a resource.
"That is by far one of the smartest guys on the defense, and just being able to go talk to him about anything helps me out," Leonard said back in September. "A lot of times on the sideline before I ask a coach anything I ask Walker."
The second-year linebacker currently ranks second on the team (behind Leonard) in tackles with 63 and fourth in tackles for loss with six. He's also got a sack and an interception to help fill out the stat sheet.
Walker — again, with Leonard — ranks near the top of the NFL in tackle rate, measuring the amount of tackles he makes per snaps played.
The ability to read and react has always been a positive in Walker's game, but he has put his athleticism on display as well, intercepting Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in Week 3 and returning a blocked extra point for two points last week, although a penalty nullified the score.
"Anthony has done a really good job of coming in there and playing the MIKE position. He's very smart and very intelligent," Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus told reporters this week.
Eberflus said Walker's performance last Sunday in the Colts' 29-26 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars "was his best outing that he's had." Walker had a team-best 10 tackles and was a huge reason why Indy was able to limit Jacksonville to a 2.7 yards-per-carry average on the ground.
"He makes a lot of the calls out there in terms of setting the defense. He's done a tremendous job of that. He's made plays at times and he just keeps improving as the year goes," Eberflus said. "I think he had a pretty good outing earlier in the season, but that was probably the best outing he's had for a while."
Although Walker finally gets a chance to prove himself as a player this year, his primary goal remains team-oriented.
"I just wanna go 1-0 every week with my teammates, however we've gotta do it," Walker said. "We prepare to win every week. If we're able to do that a good number of times then we'll put ourselves in a position that we wanna be in."
"That's my number one goal right now, just to go 1-0 each week."