Starters: D’Qwell Jackson, Nate Irving
Backups: Sio Moore, Antonio Morrison, Amarlo Herrera, Josh McNary, Edwin Jackson, Junior Sylvestre
The leader of this defense for the last couple of seasons was the veteran, D’Qwell Jackson. In the 2015-16 season, he finished second in the league in tackling with 150 tackles. Jackson is under contract for the next two seasons and looks to continue being the run-stopping, tackling machine he has been throughout his career.
After losing out the best run-stopping linebacker and second-best overall inside linebacker, Jerrell Freeman, to the Chicago Bears on a dirt-cheap 3-year $12 million deal, many Colts fans are left wondering why the front office could not retain Freeman. This might be one of Ryan Grigson’s worst moves as a general manager for the team, even worse than some of the big money signings he’s made that didn’t pan out. This was not talent that Grigson had to go search for and overpay to see if he would work out. This was talent developed before the fans’ very eyes. Even though Grigson offered the same deal to Freeman as the one he accepted before free agency began, most fans wouldn’t have cared if the Colts paid $4.5-5 million a year instead of $4 million. And although Jackson logs more production, Freeman made fewer mistakes and is almost two and a half years younger. Jackson will be making $5.75 million the next two seasons, so the decision to let Freeman walk becomes more head-scratching. With Freeman out of the picture, the Colts don’t have an immediate plug-in at the moment.
The Colts traded a sixth round pick to get Sio Moore from the Oakland Raiders last offseason. Injuries have prevented this former All-Rookie linebacker from getting anything going. The Colts signed Nate Irving to a 3-year $9.25 million contract last offseason. Of any linebackers that will compete for the spot next to D’Qwell Jackson, Irving recorded the most production, beating out Moore by one in tackles, with 14, and sacks, with 1. Amarlo Herrera was a sixth round pick in the 2015 draft. He played in three games last year, but did not record any statistic. Antonio Morrison is a fourth round pick in this year’s draft. He is a very aggressive and productive linebacker from the University of Florida. However, problems with the law, health, and speed dropped him to the sixth round. Two arrests combined with a severe knee injury and a 5.10 40 time really hurt his stock, but with two straight 100-tackle seasons, the Colts are hoping they get more of the good than the bad. Josh McNary signed with the Colts in 2013, and has not made much impact as an inside linebacker because of D’Qwell and Jerrell. He has made contributions to special teams, but with a spot opened up on defense, he’ll look to compete for the starting or backup job. Edwin Jackson is a sophomore who has not gotten any NFL playing time despite recording 192 tackles in his last two seasons at Georgia Southern University. Junior Sylvestre is also a sophomore who has not hit the field because he was placed on the injured reserve list due to an ankle injury he suffered before last season started. He shined in last two seasons of college as well and made the All-MAC first team both years.
At this point, one inside linebacker spot, owned by D’Qwell Jackson, is locked down and the other is wide open. Based on a production stand point, Nate Irving leads the race, especially after shedding 30 pounds this offseason. A close second would probably be Sio Moore based on his experience. After that, Antonio Morrison probably leads everyone else because of his football instincts that outweigh his lack of measurable athleticism. Josh McNary has been given another chance with the Colts after being accused of sexual assault and then having the charges dropped. He has a decent shot at making the team because of his experience with the Colts defense and special teams. Amarlo Herrera, Edwin Jackson, and Junior Sylvestre will compete to stay on the final roster, but it is doubtful that any of them make it.