Starters: Robert Mathis, Erik Walden
Backups: Trent Cole, Earl Okine, Trevor Bates, Ron Thompson, Curt Maggitt
Robert Mathis, a future hall of famer, is entering his 14th season with the Indianapolis Colts. After tearing his Achilles in 2014, Mathis was slowly introduced back into the game last season. It seems that the Achilles tear has slowed him down a step or two, and the 2013-14 Robert Mathis that led the league with 19.5 sacks is a thing of the past. Mathis did put up a respectable 7 sacks, but that pales in comparison to his career high. Mathis’s value at this stage in his career seems to be as a situational pass rusher, a veteran leadership presence, and a teacher for the next generation of Colts’ pass rushers. Colts fans still have hope for this franchise legend and expect him to bounce back in a big way this upcoming season.
Since Andrew Luck arrived in Indianapolis, the Colts have tried to rely on big free agent signings to fill holes in the team. Most of these moves have backfired, but one signing that has gone under the radar was a 4-year $16 million deal to Erik Walden. While he is not an elite edge defender by any means, he has provided a decent pass-rushing and edge-setting presence on a contract that does not kill the Colts. He has not done anything spectacular with the Colts, but he has not been abysmal like some of the other signings have been.
Trent Cole is one of the disappointing free agent signings by the Colts under Ryan Grigson. He was supposed to come in last season and pick up the pass rushing slack that Robert Mathis left off when he sat out the 2014-15 season with a torn Achilles. Cole was not even good enough to start ahead of Walden, and it took him until week 12 before he recorded a sack. After signing a 2-year $14 million deal with the Colts in the 2015 offseason, he had to restructure it to a 1-year $4.25 million deal to stay with the team.
Earl Okine was picked up from the Canadian Football League last year as a defensive end. The Colts sat him for a year hoping he’d learn and be able to make a transition to the NFL as a pass rusher. Okine moved to outside linebacker this year to try and give the Colts some much needed pass rush. He probably has a better shot at making the roster here than at defensive end. Trevor Bates is a seventh round pick in this year’s draft. He comes from the University of Maine and has experience rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. Bates has a decent chance at making the final roster based on the fact that the talent in this position group isn’t that great. Ron Thompson is an UDFA from Syracuse University. He started out as a tight end, but was moved to defensive end in 2013. Thompson has plenty of room to grow since he’s very new to the position. It might be worthwhile for the Colts to keep him for a few years and groom him under established veteran pass rushers like Mathis and Cole. Thompson might have a tough time making the final roster because of his inexperience as a defensive end in college and now as an outside linebacker with the Colts. Curt Maggitt is an UDFA from the University of Tennessee. Injuries probably cost him a spot in this year’s draft, but if he plays like he did in college, the Colts could have a real diamond in the rough. In 10 starts his junior year, Maggitt recorded an impressive 11 sacks against top-level competition from the SEC. He was sidelined after two games in his senior year with a hip injury. If he recovers his junior season form, he won’t have a hard time making the roster, especially with pass-rushing ability like this:
At this point, there seems to be a few locks for the outside linebacker spots. Robert Mathis will most likely start at ROLB. Erik Walden and Trent Cole will compete for the LOLB spot. But of the other four outside linebackers mentioned in this, none have any NFL experience, so it will be hard to predict the ones who will make the final roster. Whoever shows the most pass-rushing ability and potential on this pass-rush devoid team in the summer and preseason will win the backup jobs.