INDIANAPOLIS --- The middle of the Colts defensive line features the most heated starting competition going into week 3 of the preseason, with three players trying to impress at nose tackle in St. Louis Saturday night.
Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky said Wednesday those players are Josh Chapman, Zach Kerr, and rookie David Parry. Chapman is entering his fourth year in the league, after playing in all 16 games last season. Kerr was an undrafted rookie last year. Parry is a 5th-round pick out of Stanford from this past Spring's NFL Draft.
"In our eyes as coaches, we're looking for a nose (tackle) that will stand out this week and compete and play," said Manusky Wednesday.
The third week of the preseason takes the competition to another level as well, testing the endurance of these three candidates.
"Every game we're still preparing. Now can those three guys that are in there right now compete for a long haul?" asked Manusky. "Could it be a quarter? Could it be two quarters or three quarters? So we're still evaluating those three guys inside to see who they are."
"Every game's an important game. I just have to come out and play ball," said Chapman Wednesday. "It's a fun position if you like to get nasty. You take on blockers...playing nose tackle you have to clog that middle up. You've got two people on you. You might be at the bottom of the pile and what not, but hey, it's the beauty of playing the game. I love it."
How important is the nose tackle in a 3-4 defense? Manusky called it the "focal point" of a 3-4.
"I would tell the casual fan to name their favorite middle linebacker, look up his stats, look up the nose tackle that he played with, and look up his stats. Then watch film on them, and tell me what you think of the nose tackle competition," said Kerr, when asked to explain the importance of a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. "It's not a glorious position, but at the end of the day, if you're doing your job, the defense is pretty good."
Despite the competition, Kerr says all of those nose tackles give each other feedback during the preseason games. If they had a bad play, they'll ask another nose tackle what they did wrong and how to make it better. The margin for error shrinks Saturday with a starting spot up for grabs, and Saturday's an even bigger night for Kerr, as it will be his 25th birthday.
"We're all good football players. We'd all like to be here. The nature of the business is it won't happen that way," said Kerr, with roster cut downs approaching quickly after Saturday's third preseason game. "I just want to go out there and win, man. Whenever they call me number go out there and make something happen, get them to trust me a little more. Get them to say, 'We do kind of like this Zach kid. We'd like to keep him around a little bit.' That's what I want to do."
As for the rookie, Parry already played some snaps with the first-team defense at nose tackle in the Colts second preseason game against the Bears.
"It was huge, big to get my feet wet in there with the ones," said Parry Saturday night after the game. "I have some things to work on coming out of this first game...I'm going to study the film, and try to get better everyday in practice."
With the Colts defense continuing to try to get tougher against the run, the nose tackle competition may be the most important battle still to be decided this preseason in Indianapolis.