For Colts' Defensive Linemen, It's All About Being The 'Nucleus'

Intro: Though every Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman was counted on to make big plays in college, they learn quickly that their roles change quite a bit once they get into the Colts’ defensive system.

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Opportunities There For Defensive Linemen To 'Show What They Can Do'ANDERSON, Ind. — Zach Kerr was the man along the defensive line for the University of Delaware.

After transferring over from the University of Maryland, where he played two seasons, Kerr made an impact on the stat sheet each and every week his junior and senior seasons for the Blue Hens, finishing with a combined 84 tackles (10 for a loss), 4.5 sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.

A great afternoon practice on day two of the Colts 2016 Training Camp!

But when Kerr signed with the Colts as a college free agent in May of 2014, he realized his approach had to change.

No longer was Kerr's job to explode through the offensive line and fill the stat sheet. Instead, he had to learn to primarily fill gaps and take on double teams so the others around him could make the big plays.

It's an adjustment Kerr and his teammates along the defensive line still say they're learning to make.

But it's also the primary way those up front are evaluated for potential playing time.

"I'm still trying to overcome it, to be completely honest with you," Kerr said this week. "So I'm still trying to get over trying to make all the plays, because when you're in college, that's what you're used to doing. You know, you're used to everybody expecting you to make all the plays."

That's not to say Kerr hasn't made plays in his two seasons at the professional level. In 24 games played, he has 49 tackles, three sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. But Kerr said that defensive linemen know they have to take on a different role, forming what he calls "the nucleus" of the defense.

"We don't get a lot of credit for stuff, but we're going to get the negative comments if someone rushes for 100-plus yards and it's our fault, obviously," he said. "We know that and we're prepared for that. That's why we play the game because everybody in that room has pride and we enjoy proving people wrong and we enjoy winning and we enjoy helping everybody else around us. That's what defensive line is."

That mindset is established by the defensive coordinator and trickles on down to the individual position meeting rooms. Gary Emanuel, who is entering his fifth season as the Colts' defensive line coach, said he's learned not to let a couple "flash plays" made here and there by one of his players in practice or in a game get in the way of evaluating players for completing their assignments.

The Colts entered training camp this week with several young defensive linemen — including Kerr, T.Y. McGill, David Parry, Kelcy Quarles, Hassan Ridgeway, Sterling Bailey, Ricky Lumpkin and Delvon Simmons — who are hoping to catch Emanuel's eye.

So how do they do it?

"It's just by doing your job," Emanuel said. "Whatever that description is: if your job is to hold the gap, play the B gap, play the A gap — whatever it is — just do your job. That's how you pop on film."

Emanuel said that "sometimes as a defensive lineman, you could play a very good game and not be very productive, but you did your job."

"Anybody that's playing the 3-4 understands that you can't be selfish being a 3-4 lineman because you're not going to get all of the exciting things coming your way," said ninth-year defensive end Kendall Langford, echoing his coach. "You're holding up blockers for linebackers to make plays and that's your job."

Langford has been a mainstay on NFL rosters for so long because he understands the mindset that a sack or interception made by somebody else is a big play for the entire defense.

"You're doing your job and you just have to take it and it is what it is so guys understand that. We're not selfish," he said. "We want to see somebody make a play and when somebody makes the play we feel like we all made the play."

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