INDIANAPOLIS --- Colts inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson leads the NFL in tackles, and he's also the leader when it comes to making sure the back-up inside linebackers are ready for Sunday, with Nate Irving now on Injured Reserve with a wrist injury and fellow starter Jerrell Freeman still out of practice with hamstring and ribs injuries. Jackson himself did not practice Wednesday with a quad injury before practicing on a limited basis Thursday.
The candidates for increased playing time include Sio Moore, Josh McNary, and Amarlo Herrera, the Colts 6th-round pick out of Georgia who was elevated from the practice squad this week.
"It's hard, it's hard. But like I always say they're not cancelling the game," said Chuck Pagano Wednesday. "Amarlo (Herrera) has got to step in, and he's got to play a significant role. Not only on defense but special teams...All of those guys that are getting called to duty, it's their opportunity, and that's why we ask them all to prepare as starters, because you're one play away from having to go in and play at a high level."
Whether it's hard to prepare like a starter or not when a player knows he isn't starting, it's still critical for weeks like this when those that play the majority of snaps are banged up, because all the eyes watching the field Sunday will know pretty quickly if the preparation of that back-up was lacking.
"That's the job," said Jackson. "There's 22 guys that get an opportunity to start, and there's another school of guys that have to understand how to prepare, because you never know...That's how I got my first start. A guy went down. A lot of careers get started that way...Especially in our room, the inside linebackers, I think they'll be fine."
Jackson sees to that attention to detail with the younger linebackers, and they'd be crazy not to listen to a guy in his 11th year in the NFL who is averaging more than 10 tackles per game.
"If I know it, you better know it, and the guy next to you better know it," said Jackson. "With our position, we have to make a ton of calls. We have to be the quarterback of the defense. We have to do a little bit more. The job title requires it. You have no choice. If you don't, you probably won't be here too long."
That's why McNary, Moore, and Herrera acknowledge the significance of this week. It's a chance to play well with the AFC South title up for grabs entering the final month of the season.
"It's a critical week for us to really prepare. Bear down like we never have before," said McNary, who has played in 11 games this year, after starting 4 games in 2014. "Once you're given the nod, you're going to pay a little bit closer attention to that position and maybe less attention to the previous special teams duties that you had. You have to prioritize what you're preparing for."
The Colts traded a late-round pick in 2016 to the Raiders to acquire Sio Moore September 4th. He's played in 10 games this season, being inactive in the others. How has he handled this roller coaster of a season for him, with a chance now to play more at Jacksonville?
"See me sweating? Don't let them see you sweat. Just be ready to play ball. Be ready to adjust. I've had to deal with a lot of adjustments, a lot of adversity...it just makes you perform," said Moore, who also added he's happy to be in a place now with the Colts where there are people around him that want to see him succeed.
Moore stays even keel during the week, quite the opposite of what he's like on Sundays, perhaps more amped up pre-game than any player on the roster.
"You have to be (even keel during the week)," said Moore. "I play with a lot of passion. So when I'm not on the field, I've got to find a way to do that. I had some old coaches back when I played on my first team that helped me kind of figure that out. When I get on the field, I let it rip."
The Colts coaching staff is hoping that's that case for Moore and the rest of the inside linebackers that will be pressed into duty at Jacksonville.