Part of the beauty of new Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard’s work is that he has created quality position battles everywhere. While there are several veteran players that the team has relied on in recent seasons, some of those players will be put in the pressure cooker this summer in training camp and the preseason. Let’s look at some of the vets facing the most pressure.
QB Scott Tolzien
Andrew Luck hasn’t had the cleanest bill of health, so the Colts’ backup quarterback role is rather important. Last offseason, the team signed free agent Tolzien to fill the role. During preseason action, Tolzien was severely overshadowed by the third quarterback, Stephen Morris. For whatever reason — probably experience — Tolzien was given the nod over Morris when the season started. The Colts tried to keep Morris around on the roster. However, needs at other positions forced his “demotion” to the practice squad. Tolzien was forced to start one game in Luck’s absence in 2016, and he actually did very well. You could argue that the Colts should have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in that game if not for countless drops by Tolzien’s intended receivers.
This summer, I can’t imagine Tolzien being given preferential treatment if he is overshadowed by Morris at such a drastic rate again. Morris is more mobile, has a stronger arm, and the offense seems to take to him better and move more effectively with Morris under center.
Tolzien also technically has fourth quarterback Phillip Walker to compete against. Walker had an impressive career at Temple, but as a rookie undrafted free agent, he is unlikely to beat Morris or Tolzien. If Morris beats Tolzien, there is a strong chance that he is among the Colts’ preseason roster cuts because he is not eligible for the practice squad.
WR Phillip Dorsett
I don’t have to remind you about the shortcomings of former first-round pick Dorsett. But, for those of you new to the situation, in two seasons, he has totaled 51 catches for 753 yards and 3 touchdowns. At times, it hasn’t appeared that the Colts have used Dorsett correctly. When they do things to cater to his speed and get him the ball in motion, he drops the ball. After muffing two punt returns in his first game as a rookie, the Colts nixed that experiment.
Plain and simple, it’s do or die for Dorsett’s placement on the Colts’ roster. It appears that he has been passed up on the depth chart by Kamar Aiken and maybe even Chester Rogers at this point. The time for patience is likely ending. Dorsett won’t just save his job with good training camp practice sessions — he’ll need to make a big impact in preseason games as well. I’ve seen him do well in practice, especially as a rookie. He needs to prove that he can consistently beat the man across from him and capitalize on opportunties. Otherwise, players like Aiken, Rogers and Tevaun Smith will be the beneficiaries.
DE Kendall Langford
For starters, Langford (31) is on the wrong side of the age pendulum. On top of that, he is coming off of a season that was ruined by a knee injury. It was a minor knee injury that required surgery during the preseason. While he was only out for about a month, perhaps it was rushed, because he didn’t play like the excellent player that he was in 2015. Eventually, Langford was placed on Injured Reserve.
In Langford’s absence, Hassan Ridgeway and T.Y. McGill stood out. This is the second year in a row that McGill has played at a high level for the Colts. Ridgeway was a rookie, so it will get the Colts excited about his development. Between McGill and Ridgeway, and possibly even rookie fourth-round pick Grover Stewart, the trio could really put the heat on Langford if they do well this summer and he is either not fully recovered or looks to have lost a step.
NT David Parry
Surprisingly, Parry’s February arrest hasn’t affected his status with the team. In May, Ballard appeared on Dan Dakich’s radio show on 1070 The Fan and said that Parry’s status with the team will be determined by his play and not the arrest. Even if Parry had spent his offseason inside, not getting arrested, the Colts signed some major competition for Parry.
First was the signing of free agent nose tackle Al Woods. Right off of the bat, many think that Woods could be good enough to take Parry’s starting spot. Both are run-stopping tackles who don’t offer much in the way of pass-rush. And then, the Colts signed one of the best defensive linemen to hit free agency this year in Johnathan Hankins. Forget Parry, forget Woods; Hankins is the Colts’ starting nose tackle. Over his four-year career, Hankins averages 35 tackles (3.8 for loss) and 2.5 sacks per season. His size (6-2, 325) and athleticism allows him to occupy multiple blockers, which opens up lanes for the linebackers to pursue.
The rookie, Stewart, also factors into this equation as well. He is viewed as a developmental prospect, but if he already looks like he is far along in his development this summer and is making plays in the preseason, the Colts may choose to keep him on the active roster rather than develop him on the practice squad.
ILB Antonio Morrison/Edwin Jackson
Both Morrison and Jackson have good traits and have bright futures ahead of them as players, but they are facing a numbers game right now. The Colts are loaded up at inside linebacker right now after adding Sean Spence, Jon Bostic and Anthony Walker Jr. this offseason. Outside linebacker John Simon may even factor into all of this if the Colts decide to rotate him inside and out. To a lesser extent, Luke Rhodes and Jeremiah George are in the battle and round-out the inside linebacker group.
Morrison and Jackson ended the 2016 season as the two starters at inside linebacker, but a lot of that had to do with how bad the Colts’ other options were. Both being first-year players at the time, they looked good enough to keep around for the future. However, Spence and Bostic are two veterans trying to prove themselves after injuries have effected their careers. Both have the potential to be adequate starters. Walker Jr. has quite a bit of potential as an all-around field general linebacker.
This competition is all about if guys meet their potential or not.
P Jeff Locke
Locke is no “lock” for the roster. He has been a very average punter to this point, averaging just 43.2 yards per punt. He’s also kicked off only 6 times as a pro. Rookie Rigoberto Sanchez offers much more upside as a special teams player. Not only was he Hawaii’s punter, but he was also the placekicker. In two seasons, he averaged 44.8 yards per punt. He was 21-of-24 on field goals attempts and 49-of-50 on extra points. The Colts had a punter, holder, kickoff specialist and backup placekicker with the recently-retired Pat McAfee. They could have the same type of role for Sanchez.