INDIANAPOLIS — As Chris Ballard began envisioning the pieces needed to build the Indianapolis Colts' new 4-3 defensive scheme, he knew having players with versatility up front would be critical.
While the team would eventually want established starters at all four defensive line positions, adding players with the ability to play both inside and on the edge — and having the ability to play both spots with quickness and power — was going to be a major component to the Colts' general manager's offseason roster-building plan.
So on March 15, one day after the start of the league's free agency period, Ballard didn't wait long to add a player with all of those attributes, making Denico Autry the Colts' first outside signing of the offseason.
Since that time, Autry has been ingrained as a theoretical starter along the Colts' defensive line during offseason practices, working in as the No. 1 defensive tackle at the three-technique spot.
He's displayed the traits the Colts' scouts saw in Autry when doing their homework on the free-agent-to-be earlier this year.
"Just hard-nosed, effort, run all over the field. I can get in any position and play," Autry said when asked what Ballard told him he liked about his game. "So, I've got to bring something to the table. So, that's what they like about me."
Autry — who turns 28 next month — gives the Colts a player entering the prime of his career who has displayed flashes of solid play with at-times limited opportunities.
He was signed by the Oakland Raiders in May 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State, and has spent the last four seasons in Oakland developing his craft on defense while also turning into a leader on special teams.
Last season, despite starting just three games, Autry was able to collect a career-best 36 tackles, five sacks and seven passes defensed. In four seasons, he has combined to play in 56 games with 18 starts, collecting 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 12 passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and causing one safety.
Autry's Raiders film shows a player lined up all over the defensive line who displays quick reactions and closing speed on ballcarriers, which is exactly what new Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is looking for in the team's new 4-3 base defense.
"Really the major shift is that we want athletic, speed players that possess quickness, instincts and striking ability," Eberflus said. "And you should see that on the field. So you're going to see more speed, more quickness, more athletic ability, and those are the guys that we're going to want to acquire through the draft, through free agency, and those will be the type of players that we have on our team."
Autry, specifically, is coming to the Colts at a time he believes he has enough prior experience he can lean on when needed, but is still young enough to develop into the disruptive playmaker the team ultimately believes he can be.
"I'm not old, I'm not young. But I'm still learning," Autry said. "I strive to be the best every day, so I'll just come in and try to do my part and help this team get back on the right track."
The Colts have signed former Oakland Raiders defensive end Denico Autry, who is coming off a career year in Oakland.