INDIANAPOLIS — They say the best way to acquire an elite pass rusher is to draft and groom them. After selecting Kemoko Turay out of Rutgers in the second round of last year's draft, are the Indianapolis Colts on the right track to receive that kind of help?
If you ask Around The NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal, he sees plenty of upside in the Colts' second-year pass rusher.
"As great as general manager Chris Ballard's 2018 draft class looks now, it could look even better after the 2019 season. Turay was off to a fast start as a rookie second-round pick before an injury slowed his progress and apparently impacted his practice effort. Still, he put up 38 pressures on only 383 total defensive snaps and may have the most pure edge-rushing talent of anyone on the entire team, outside of free agent pickup Justin Houston. Yet another 2018 Colts second-rounder (Tyquan Lewis) will also vie for snaps at end and inside, but Turay has the biggest upside to help the Colts at a position where they could use more playmaking."
Rosenthal selected Turay as his pick for the Colts when identifying homegrown talent from each team. He chose players who are still on their rookie contract and "who could provide a huge boost by taking the next step in his development."
Turay had a quality season for a rookie edge defender, which is even more impressive considering the nagging injuries he dealt with at times.
He finished the season with 15 tackles (one for loss), four sacks, one forced fumble and 13 total quarterback hits in 14 games.
According to Pro Football Focus, Turay's 38 total quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries combined) finished third among all rookie defenders (and second on the Colts) despite missing two games. All rookie edge defenders considered, Turay had the sixth-best pass-rushing grade (67.6). PFF also credited him with just one missed tackle on the season.
This time last year, Turay was trying to get his bearings about him after the whirlwind that is college, followed by the pre-draft process. This year, it's all business after a much-need breather.
"Oh yeah, most definitely, I had fun. You know, I finally had my day off," Turay recently told Matt Taylor on the Colts Official Podcast. "Last year coming out of college we didn't really have a lot of days off. My first (full) offseason felt great, just getting better, recovering and learning from watching film — like what I did last season — and just improving."
This offseason, Turay focused on his game as a whole, but also specifically honing his skills as a pass rusher.
"Just trying to get better each and every day. Just watching film and just looking at the bad habits that I did during the season and just trying to improve and polish it up a little bit," Turay said. "Last year, I didn't have a consistent move — I was just using different moves — but this offseason I just constantly stayed here in Indianapolis, and just constantly just worked on my body and tried to find my move and who I am as a pass rusher."
It also doesn't hurt to have a potential Hall of Famer in your corner. Turay actually has the benefit of having two possible gold jacket members who are helping develop him in Robert Mathis and Justin Houston and their 201.5 combined career sacks.
The Colts signed Houston as a free agent this offseason from the Kansas City Chiefs. The perennial Pro Bowler and former All-Pro now shares the defensive line with Turay and has a wealth of knowledge to share. Mathis, the Colts' all-time leading sacker, was formerly a pass rush consultant with the Colts when Turay was a rookie, but now now helps run his own training program in which he still mentors and trains Turay on a regular basis.
"Yeah, most definitely. I worked with him (Mathis) during the offseason, just trying to polish up what we watched last season and the things I feel I needed to work on," Turay said. "I go to him every Tuesday and Thursday during the offseason, then come here and get some lifting, and watching some film and do things I need to do to get better."
Turay has taken it upon himself to attempt to become the Colts' next great pass rusher, following in the footsteps of Mathis and Dwight Freeney before him. Of course, having the tutelage of Mathis at his disposal is a bonus.
"Yeah, I talk to Robert Mathis every day," Turay said. "He's a different player, he's unique. You don't see a lot of good pass rushers out there — once every 10 years you see good pass rushers, and he's one of them. I've learned a lot from him. Not only the physical part, but also the knowledge. Just how he played the game and just taking in all the knowledge he talks about and try to get better from it.
"I watch his film, and we watch film together, we watch my film," Turay continued, further explaining his relationships with Mathis and Houston. "I also watch Justin Houston, I talk to him as well. He also spit knowledge to me, and he trained with Robert Mathis on Thursdays and Tuesdays, and I just hear two great pass rushers talking, just like, 'Wow.'"
It only seems natural for Turay to take that next step towards becoming a consistent, hellacious pass rusher in 2019.
He and the Colts will have a full slate of talented quarterbacks to attack in the upcoming season, including reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson (twice).
Turay isn't focusing on the opponents, though.
"I mean, I just worry about getting one percent better like Coach Frank (Reich) always says and just worry about getting better each and every day," Turay said. "I don't worry about the quarterback, I'm just worried about me personally trying to get better and everything will take care of itself."
If Turay gets better like he's been working on, then that list of quarterbacks will have a tough task when they face the Colts in 2019.