INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – He’s the latest building block as Chris Ballard attempts to return the Indianapolis Colts to relevancy by doing it his way, not the quick-fix way.
He’s a relatively young player – 27 and four seasons with the Oakland Raiders under his belt – on the rise. By all appearances, he’s a perfect fit as the Colts transition to a 4-3 defense under first-time coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Welcome to Indy, Denico Autry.
“I’m not old, I’m not young,’’ the 27-year old said Thursday. “I’m still learning. I strive to be the best every day.
“I’ll just come in and try to do my part and help this team get back on the right track.’’
Autry’s acquisition won’t create waves on the NFL free-agent landscape, not with the seismic activity emanating from Kirk Cousins, Allen Robinson, Andrew Norwell and so many others.
But Autry figures to be a key component as the Colts fashion their defensive personnel to better fit Eberflus’ scheme. He’s 6-5 and 270 pounds. As his four-year career with the Raiders unfolded, he proved to be effective against the run while also representing a pass-rush threat (10.5 career sacks, 5 last season). He led the league last season by batting down seven passes at the line of scrimmage.
Why were the Colts attractive to him, other than the three-year, $17.5 million contract, that is?
“Just the scheme, man. The 4-3, man,’’ he said. “Getting off the ball and getting up field. That’s pretty much what I was looking for.’’
Autry added he’s a “hard-nosed, effort’’ player who will “run all over the field.’’
He joins a defensive line mix that includes Jabaal Sheard, Henry Anderson, Johnathan Hankins, Al Woods, Hassan Ridgeway, Grover Stewart and Margus Hunt.
Autry also fits the template of how Ballard prefers to rebuild the roster: a young talent who has yet to reach his peak.
Consider the most prominent additions from last offseason’s free-agent haul:
- Sheard: 27 at the time and entering his sixth season. He started all 16 games and finished with 42 tackles and a team-high 5.5 sacks.
- Hankins: 25 and heading into his fifth season. He started 15 games and generated 44 tackles and 2 sacks.
- Linebacker John Simon: 26 and heading into his fifth season. He was arguably the best player on defense before suffering a neck injury in week 9 against Jacksonville.
Notice the trend?
Even though Ballard readily admits he’s overseeing a deficient roster – “We have work to do’’ – he has shown no inclination to maximize the team’s massive salary-cap space (approximately $65 million) and seek high-priced, high-profile quick fixes.
He continues to focus on mid-level, moderately-priced talent that might develop into something much more.
Another player on Ballard’s radar is former Baltimore Ravens’ offensive linemen Ryan Jensen, who was scheduled for a visit Thursday or Friday after meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jensen, a 16-game starter at center last season, turns 27 in May.
It hasn’t been that long ago the Colts fielded one of the NFL’s oldest rosters.
As the roster now stands, there are only three players who are 30 or older: Adam Vinatieri (45), Woods (30) and Hunt(30).
Considering Ballard’s commitment to youth, that isn’t likely to change.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.