INDIANAPOLIS – It’s a position that Chris Ballard has given so much attention to in previous offseasons, but held back in doing so this year.
The Colts like their defensive line group, and think they have the bodies to handle things at defensive end.
Replacing a starter is needed though, with Jabaal Sheard no longer on the roster.
No Sheard, and 31-year-old Justin Houston entering a contract year this season, didn’t lead to the Colts making any moves at defensive end this offseason.
They feel that they have the in-house bodies to replace a mainstay in the starting lineup.
Since Chris Ballard’s arrival, no Colts defender has come close to sniffing Sheard’s time in the starting lineup. Sheard started 44 (of 48) games for the Colts from 2017-19. Next on the list is Malik Hooker at 33.
While the Colts have gutted virtually their entire defense, Sheard (who was a free agent signing of Ballard’s back in 2017) maintained his starting spot, even with a shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in 2018.
One area the Colts are definitely exploring to fill Sheard’s role is with a pair of versatile guys, mostly known for their interior presences.
Denico Autry (6-5, 285) and Tyquan Lewis (6-3, 277) are both thought more so as defensive tackles, but have each started games at defensive end for the Colts.
With the Colts having Grover Stewart and DeForest Buckner occupying the starting defensive tackle positions, at least on early downs, could Autry or Lewis be an option to start at defensive end?
“I certainly agree that that is something we should look at and we are looking at,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus says. “We will see how that plays out but that is certainly a big thought for us.
“That is kind of what Autry did before and Tyquan. They both have played left end, they’ve played right end and they’ve played inside. So having players like that is certainly a good thing for our defense.”
Losing the durable Sheard is notable when it comes to the run game, but shouldn’t sting as much on the pass rushing downs.
Seeing Autry and/or Lewis fill the entire defensive end position, on all three downs, is unlikely.
The Colts have different body types and playing styles to throw various combinations together up front.
Buckner and Houston should be the most consistent guys play time wise.
When it’s time for Stewart to exit the field in passing down situations, that’s when Autry, Lewis or even Sheldon Day could fill in in the interior.
If the Colts want to take Autry or Lewis out of the defensive end position for those rushing downs, that’s where the speedy Kemoko Turay comes into play. He’s best suited for third-down reps.
The reliable Al-Quadin Muhammad (a favorite of Chris Ballard’s, who has been a solid run defender) and Ben Banogu entering Year Two are two other guys not to forget about at defensive end.
“I like our front,” Ballard says. “We’ve got young players and they’ve got to come on. We drafted them for a reason. Let’s see them play and come on. All of them have played pretty good football in spurts. Now we’ve got to get them to do it a little more consistently. We like their talent and we like our defensive line.”
The Colts have options, but don’t be surprised if Autry and Lewis get the early-down look sans Sheard.