INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL continues to operate business as usual here in the 2020 offseason, with training camps on the horizon.
If everything does begin on time for camps, the Colts will start theirs on July 28th (veterans report day). This year’s camp will take place at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, with the NFL mandating teams stay home for camp due to COVID-19.
With the on-field portion of the spring not happening this season, training camp will be the only time this offseason for players to make an impression on the staff.
It’s time to pick back up our ‘burning questions’ series on 1075TheFan.com.
Here are our burning questions at the linebacker position group heading into the 2020 Training Camp:
1. Will Bobby Okereke start over Anthony Walker?
However, it never really developled.
An early season concussion to Darius Leonard though, combined with the emergence of Bobby Okereke, did lead to the Stanford rookie playing a good amount in 2019.
Okereke started 8 games as a rookie and showed off enough that the Colts are extremely high on his future, believing he has Pro Bowl potential.
While Okereke’s athletic makeup, especially on passing downs, is intriguing, we shouldn’t overlook the impact that Walker has made.
He’s been durable (missed 1 game the last two seasons), reliable and the guy often making calls for the Indy defense.
In the second half of last season, the Colts used more three-linebacker looks, trying to get these two on the field along with Darius Leonard.
Primarily though, they use a MIKE (Walker/Okereke) and WILL (Leonard), in a nickel personnel grouping, with Kenny Moore playing his best position (the slot corner).
The Colts should not play strictly Walker or Okereke exclusively at the MIKE position, but seeing which guy gets more snaps in 2020 will be interesting to watch.
STAT TO NOTE: Darius Leonard has had the following numbers in his first two seasons: 284 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and 7 interceptions. No player in NFL history has reached all those marks in their first two seasons.
2. Is the future for Anthony Walker in Indianapolis?
Among the double-digit starters entering a contract year in 2020, the team’s leading tackler from last season is one of those guys.
Anthony Walker has started 30 games (of 31 played) over the last two seasons.
The 2017 fifth-round pick out of Northwestern has been a bit overlooked in his time in Indianapolis.
While several of the Colts drafted before him in ’17 have flamed out, Walker has been a consistent and durable option as a guy frequently handling the calls and directing the Indy defense.
Having said that, there are questions on whether this will be Walker’s last season in Indy or not.
Bobby Okereke is a player the staff loves, and they think his best long-term position is MIKE, which is also Walker’s best spot.
Could Walker slide over to SAM, thus playing less snaps, but remain in Indy past 2020?
Or would Walker want to continue playing MIKE, and continue to have more of a definite starting role somewhere else?
Let’s not lose sight of what Walker has meant to the Colts, on and off the field. Darius Leonard’s love of Walker is something to note, as well.
This free agent answer is not as crystal clear as some of the other guys in contract years.
STAT TO NOTE: Anthony Walker led the Colts in tackles last season with 124. Darius Leonard, who played in three fewer games than Walker, had 121 tackles.
3. What is in store for E.J. Speed in Year Two?
With how the linebacker position has evolved in the NFL (most teams rely on just 2 linebackers, and not 3, for around 75 percent of the snaps each game), it limits the play time a bit.
And that means a guy like E.J. Speed is really going to have to prove himself to earn playing time in 2020.
Speed, a fifth-round pick in 2019, wasn’t even on the Colts radar until a month before last year’s draft.
His eye-popping athletic traits had the Colts wanting to take a chance on him.
As a rookie, Speed only played a total of 33 defensive snaps (28 coming in one game that Darius Leonard was out), seeing most of his action on special teams.
Considering the frontline names at linebacker—Leonard, Walker, Okereke—it’s hard to envision a consistent defensive role for Speed this season.
He’s still a name to keep an eye on, as long as the staff can keep developing him.
STAT TO NOTE: Of the Colts 9 linebackers on the roster, 7 are Chris Ballard draft picks. The other 2 are undrafted free agents of Ballard.