INDIANAPOLIS — Byron Lusby, an area scout for the Indianapolis Colts who focuses on the Southwest region, and general manager Chris Ballard discuss what they saw in linebacker Ben Banogu, the Colts’ second-round (49th-overall) pick in this year’s NFL Draft:
What stands out about Banogu that makes you feel like he can transition from defensive end to linebacker?
Lusby: “(He’s) just an athlete. I mean, you saw at the Senior Bowl, they dropped him a coverage at TCU — and if you know anything about TCU's defense it's very complex. He doesn't just have to go seek the quarterback, he's gotta read splits and the receivers, tackles, the backs — he's gotta do all of that stuff. You know he knows football, because you can't play in that defense if you don't, and then you saw it at the Senior Bowl.”
Did this position you guys project with Banogu exist much in this defense last year? He seems like he’s a different type of SAM linebacker.
Lusby: “It'll be a little bit different. You know, we did it with Darius (Leonard) last year; we put him outside and rushed him, so when you've got an athlete this big and fast that can rush you can do a lot of things with him. He’s versatile that way.”
That was the goal this year — to find defensive athletes, right?
Lusby: “Just athletes. Period. … And the coaches do a great job of putting them in positions to succeed — we're confident in that. So we give 'em athletes that are smart, tough and love football. It'll all work itself out.”
Chris Ballard is obviously a big fan of the Senior Bowl. How helpful is it when prospects like Banogu move positions and try different things at those practices?
Lusby: “It’s good because it’s an NFL coaching system so it's a lot different than what they've done at college. You actually get to see them how they'll be used in the NFL, how they go through meetings and all the practice. It's what we do, so it's a good indicator of what they'll do going forward.”
Did you think Banogu was more of a defensive end or linebacker heading into the Senior Bowl?
Lusby: “He played D-end. I thought he could do it (play linebacker) — that’s the projection — but once we got to the Senior Bowl it was cemented that he could.”
Colts general manager Chris Ballard also talked about Banogu during his film session with reporters last month:
Ballard: “Banogu was an interesting study for all of us. We liked him all the way through the process. … So at TCU, this is how they played; and understand at college they’re playing 90, 95 snaps. I thought he was exceptional at the Senior Bowl this week. And I thought you saw this on tape at TCU, but with the pace of the offense and the amount of snaps they’re playing, you’ve gotta really look hard to find it, ‘cause, I mean, they get tired. But, man, he has got all the explosive first step and movement that you want as either a rusher or linebacker.
“So when we took him, and talking through it with our coaches, we said, ‘Alright, we’re gonna make him a SAM (linebacker) — ‘cause that’s kind of what he’s played — and then find him a role on third down, rushing the passer.’ So right now he’s actually played SAM during rookie minicamp, yesterday he went through linebackers, today he went through all the rush stuff. I think it just depends on how the depth plays out and the competition plays out, but the one area that I really think he can impact our football team is on third down once he develops.”