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Training Camp

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One big Colts training camp question, defensive line: Does an eight-deep rotation emerge?

The Colts' defensive line is headlined by interior stalwarts DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart, but features plenty of depth and versatility that should produce plenty of competition during training camp. 

Samson Ebukam

Usually, training camp practices pit the first team offense against the second team defense and vice versa. There are, of course, hyper-competitive ones-on-ones portions of practice, but often the majority of reps come with ones facing twos.

And if you're looking for something sneakily important to watch up at Grand Park when the Colts' first-team offense is on the field, shift your eyes across the line of scrimmage to the four guys defensive line coach Nate Ollie rolls out in the trenches.

Good depth is critical to the overall health of a defensive line. It's one thing to have dominant front-line players – like defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart have proven to be – and it's another to have a handful of guys who a defense can count on to play at a high level for, say, a third of the snaps in a given game.

Here's a quick look at why it matters.

Buckner's 874 snaps were seventh-most among defensive linemen in 2022, while Stewart's 781 were 19th. Both players were so effective against the run and pass that the Colts didn't want to take them off the field:

Table inside Article
Rank Players Team Combined snaps
1 Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler Miami Dolphins 1,999
2 Da'Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen Washington Commanders 1,709
3 Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams New York Giants 1,700
4 DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart Indianapolis Colts 1,655
5 Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox Philadelphia Eagles 1,617

Buckner and Stewart deserve plenty of credit for not only keeping themselves in remarkable shape, but for fighting through the wear and tear that comes with a 17-game season, to play that many snaps (Buckner, in particular, played most of the season with a brace on his elbow).

But Buckner and Stewart are not – just like every other defensive lineman – playing ever single snap in a game. Buckner played about three-fourths of the Colts' defensive snaps last season, while Stewart checked in at a career high 68 percent. That leaves about 15-20ish snaps a game where Buckner and/or Stewart are taking a breather on the sideline.

The same thing goes at defensive end. Kwity Paye played two-thirds of the Colts' defensive snaps over the 12 games in which he played last season, and heavy rotation at those prime pass-rushing spots is important to keep wave after wave of guys crashing after opposing quarterbacks.

So this is where the second-team defensive line comes in, both during games and when a starter is out.

The Colts added a few guys who will compete for snaps via free agency and the NFL Draft earlier this year: Defensive ends Samson Ebukam and Titus Leo, and defensive tackles Taven Bryan and Adetomiwa Adebawore, among others. Ebukam will have a chance to start at defensive end, where he could compete with 2021 second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo, among other players there opposite Paye.

Odeyingbo and Tyquan Lewis both have the versatility to play defensive end or defensive tackle, making them at a minimum valuable rotational players or spot starters. The Colts drafted Adebawore with the plan to play him at 3-technique defensive tackle (Buckner's spot) after he played defensive end in college at Northwestern, and believe he has untapped potential there.

Those are some of the guys to keep an eye on this summer in Westfield, as their development will go a long way toward sustained success on the Colts' defense.

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