Colts’ defense could feature as many as 8 new starters


Malik Hooker

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – An NFL depth chart during the offseason has as much staying power as a dusting of snow in May.

Blink, and the landscape changes. Between now and the season opener in September, let alone the onset of training camp in late July, tweaks are inevitable because of injury, player performance and how the coaching staff evaluates its personnel.

Even so, it’s interesting to consider the Indianapolis Colts and how they seem to stack up on defense after enduring three months of massive renovation.

First, let’s get this out of the way: it’s a study in futility to settle on the exact makeup of the 2016 starting 11. Twenty-four different players started at least one game. There were 15 different starting combinations.

But that fluidity, overall ineffectiveness and subsequent roster purge makes one projection a no-brainer: this year’s front-line defense won’t remotely resemble the collection that a year ago was one of the worst in franchise history.

There could be – should be – seven new starters, eight if you consider Henry Anderson regaining his starting tackle spot.

The new-look defense is expected to feature safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Quincy Wilson, the Colts’ first- and second-round draft picks; nose Johnathan Hankins; and an entirely different set of linebackers assembled via veteran free agency. The outside ‘backers seem set with Jabaal Sheard and John Simon. The inside tandem remains in flux and includes free-agent acquisitions Sean Spence and Jon Bostic, and rookie Anthony Walker.

The linebacker room also includes returnees Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison, who finished last season as the inside starters, Barkevious Mingo and Luke Rhodes.

“We’re going to let those guys compete,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said of his linebackers. “Look, we signed Sheard and Simon for a reason. And we think Mingo can give us some help, also . . . he’s a young player with upside.

“Inside, we’re going to let those guys battle it out and the best four or five guys will make it and they’ve all got to have a role.’’

Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino smiled when asked about the massive offseason overhaul and difficulty in correctly aligning the starting unit in mid-May. He’s in no position or hurry to address a starting lineup, but insisted there’s nothing wrong with that. Continued competition during the Colts’ offseason work and training camp will determine who plays where, and how much Monachino is able to do with his defense.

“Well, it’s a good thing,’’ he said. “And that will tell us where we need to go with the install and what we need to do from a scheme standpoint.

“You look at the guys we have brought in, how much, how far can we go? And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think it goes back to how we play more than what we play.’’

The anticipated holdovers are end Kendall Langford, cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Clayton Geathers, although Geathers’ availability is in question after he underwent offseason neck surgery.

Obviously, the list of former contributors is long: Robert Mathis, Mike Adams, D’Qwell Jackson, Erik Walden, Art Jones, Patrick Robinson, Trent Cole, Zach Kerr, Josh McNary.

Davis is eager to see what emerges from the continued competition.

“Yeah, training camp is going to be fun,’’ he said. “It might be new faces, but it’s going to be a lot of competition on defense. Guys are trying to earn spots. We brought in D-linemen. We brought in linebackers. There is no position that’s solidified.

“There is going to be a lot of competition even in the back end. We have four safeties, and only two can play. Corners, same. (Rashaan) Melvin is a good player, and myself. I’m going to push these guys to try to take my spot.

“We have to build that competition on defense and I think it’s going to make everybody better.’’

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