The Indianapolis Colts have few players that are locked into their starting spots. Due to the team not being set to compete for titles just yet, they can afford to give players with the most upside a longer leash to see if they can reach that ceiling. Today, we’re going to be looking at a couple of the team’s major roster battles. We’ll be looking at the positions, main payers in those battles and the predicted winner as things stand now.
Running Back – Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins
There’s a total of six running backs on the roster right now, although two of that six will most likely be cut this offseason. The lead back job will come down to a battle between the three young-bloods on the roster. Mack showed flashes of explosion last season in a limited role behind veteran Frank Gore, now of the Miami Dolphins. Although limited, this one season of experience gives him the inside track at the starting job. Don’t count on Hines or Wilkins however. Wilkins has the build of an every down back at 6’1” and 216 pounds. He also has the ability to catch out of the backfield. If he used his size to his advantage, he could quickly take over this job. Hines is a bit on the smaller side at 5’8” and 198 pounds. Although he isn’t the biggest, he is the best dual-threat of the bench. He constantly made plays at N.C. State in the return game along with out of the backfield. He’ll take some time to develop into an every-down player if he ever gets there, but he has the ability to make plays. Ultimately, Mack will earn the lion’s share of the snaps, but all three players will earn playing time throughout the season.
Middle Linebacker – Antonio Morrison and Darius Leonard
Morrison is the player currently listed at starter, but, based on his performance last season, doesn’t have the most firm of holds on his position. Morrison was one of the worst performing inside linebackers last season per Pro Football Focus as he ranked 83rd overall. The number of snaps he played will help give him some edge, but he was not very effective in those snaps. It’s also a new system, which somewhat negates the experience that he does have. Leonard, one of the team’s three second-round picks, was picked highly for a reason. Leonard excels in the open field with his speed and athleticism, which is helpful when covering tight ends or running backs. Leonard was a sure tackler and needs to work on his block shedding, rather than relying on athleticism. However, after Morrison’s severe struggles last season, Leonard will be given every opportunity to start.
After the drafting of Quenton Nelson locked up the left guard spot, right guard and tackle are the only spots up for grabs on the offensive line. Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly will hold down left tackle and center, but Kelly needs a consistent player on the other side of him. He has struggled to meet his potential for the first two seasons, which has been due to injuries and inconsistent guard play. Three of the four are veterans with experience at multiple positions, while Smith is one of the team’s second-round picks. Per Pro Football Focus, none of the three veterans performed well last season, with Haeg being the best albeit at Tackle. Mewhort and Slauson are presumed to have the inside track at the spot being veterans that have started the spot before. However, don’t count out Smith or Haeg. Both are versatile and performed well, while Haeg also played guard some last season. Mewhort may be the guy that wins the job out of camp, but there is no guarantee he holds it all season.
The Colts won’t be competing for a title this season, but this is the start of them moving back to contention. The team hasn’t had a consistent running back since the first years of Joseph Addai and may not have one this season either. However, they have some players with high ceilings that can make plays and draw heat off of Andrew Luck when he returns. The big changes will be on the defensive side of the ball, where the team has struggled for many seasons. With the majority of the defensive line pretty well set, it’s linebacker where the team needs to see great changes. The team brought in several players at the second level, and it will be exciting to see the young team get better and see how it all comes together.
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