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Defensive Front Seven Offseason Burning Questions

Intro: The Colts took one step forward in 2013 but ultimately did not reach the most important goal this season. What’s in store at each defensive position group heading into the 2014 offseason?





INDIANAPOLIS –It was an up and down 2013 campaign for the Colts defense with some spectacular individual efforts.

The Colts will head into Year Three in Greg Manusky's 3-4 hybrid defensive scheme as the unit looks to rise in several categories in 2014.

Today, we look at the front seven with the focus on the defensive line and the linebackers.

Tomorrow, we will key on the secondary and the special teams units.

Can the Colts rush defense improve its No. 26 ranking next season?

A year after defensive line coach Gary Emanuel was plugging in new pieces up front nearly ever week, the three-man front saw consistent continuity throughout 2013.

Free agent addition Ricky Jean Francois battled through a couple of injuries but the rest of the regulars up front avoided any significant time on the sideline.

Veteran Cory Redding continues to prove to be one of the more underrated signings of Ryan Grigson's tenure.

His leadership in a young locker room is key, but Redding also played the most snaps of any Colts defensive lineman in 2013. He also finished third on the team with 4.5 sacks this season.

Playing behind Redding and Jean Francois for the entire year was Fili Moala and Ricardo Mathews.

Both played in every game this season and that was an impressive feat for Moala considering he was recovering from a November 2012 ACL injury and hadn't played a full slate of games since 2010.

In the middle of the Colts three-man front, second-year nose tackle Josh Chapman and 11-year veteran Aubrayo Franklin virtually split reps.

Rookie Montori Hughes played in four games last season. The nimble 349-pounder could be a key part of the Colts defensive line moving forward.

While the Colts rush defense found success in stopping Maurice Jones-Drew and Knowshon Moreno, the unit knows it must improve on a 26th ranking in the NFL.

Both Seattle and Denver ranked in the top-seven of the NFL in rush defense and were particularly stout during the playoffs.

The Colts will have some decisions to make up front during the offseason as Franklin, Mathews and Moala are all unrestricted free agents.STAT TO NOTE: Cory Redding set a career-high with five passes defensed in 2013.**

What can Robert Mathis and Jerrell Freeman do for an encore in 2014?**

There aren't enough adjectives to tell the entire story of what Robert Mathis meant to the Colts defense last season.

Mathis 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles speak for themselves in leading the NFL but it was the timeliness of those plays that truly tell the story.

In the Colts seven games against playoff teams, Mathis had 8.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.

Opposite Mathis, free agent edition Erik Walden was very durable for the Colts defense in tying a career-high with 3.0 sacks.

Bjoern Werner backed up Walden and the rookie saw most of his action on passing downs.

After fighting through a foot injury early in the season, Werner came on late in 2013 and Ryan Grigson was pleased with the progress he saw from his 2013 first-round pick.

Grigson wants to see Werner put some weight on this offseason in order to become an elite edge setter in the NFL.

On any other team, inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman would have attracted the same attention that Mathis received in 2013.

Freeman's growth from the Canadian Football League to the centerpiece of the Colts 3-4 defense is truly remarkable.

He once again led the Colts in tackles last season but he took his game to the next level in forcing turnovers.

In 2013, Freeman had 4.5 sacks (fourth most among ILBs) and his seven forced turnovers topped all linebackers.

The spot next to Freeman though was a bit of a revolving door.

Pat Angerer and Kelvin Sheppard occupied that spot most frequently with the latter taking over once Angerer was placed on injured reserve prior to Week 15.

One key area of development to watch this offseason is the progress of rookie Josh McNary.

In 2013, McNary played in less than 10 percent of the defensive snaps but filled a large role on passing downs during the final month of the season.

Grigson has spoken very highly of McNary as the Army product has gone from one of college's premier pass rushers to the inside of an NFL 3-4 defense.

If the playmaking ability of the linebacker position continues to shine in 2014, then expect the Colts defense to become a more formidable unit next season.STAT TO NOTE: Colts records that Mathis set in 2013 includes the franchise mark for career sacks (111.0), games with a sack (85), multi-sack games (27), single-season sacks (19.5) and single-season multi-sack games (7).

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