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Colts Inside Linebackers Are Young But On The Decline

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Pat Angerer racks up tackles, but needs to improve his overall game. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.
Pat Angerer racks up tackles, but needs to improve his overall game. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

Notable players: Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner, Kelvin Sheppard

One-word description: Incomplete

The Indianapolis Colts’ hardest positional group to gauge is the inside linebackers. Several key aspects worthy of inspection are good but not great. While part of me wants to say, “That’s a positive,” the other part thinks, “It definitely could be better.”

Let’s take a look at the top four Colts inside linebackers – Jerrell Freeman (likely starter), Pat Angerer (same), Kavell Conner and Kelvin Sheppard.

First, there’s the style of play. Freeman, Angerer and Sheppard are all pretty good linebackers in pass coverage. Freeman and Angerer fly around making plays and racking up tackles – Angerer recorded 148 tackles in 2011, while Freeman made 145 stops in 2012. But on the flip side, neither Freeman, Angerer nor Sheppard are great at stuffing the run. Freeman and Angerer are smaller, more athletic linebackers and while Sheppard has adequate size, he hasn’t proven to be reliable defending the run.

Conner is just the opposite. At 6 ft., 243 lbs., he’s a stout defender that can get into the trenches and stop any physical runner. But his slow feet prevent him from becoming an effective pass defender. In 2012, only 33 percent of the snaps he played were in pass coverage.

The age and experience of these four core players are also satisfying but not quite promising. They have a combined nine years of experience in the NFL, suggesting none of them are yet in their prime, but the ages tell a different story. Sheppard is 25, Angerer and Connor are both 26 and Freeman turned 27 last month. Each still has a lot of room to improve, but they’re not exactly 23-year-old phenoms. In a league where youth is so important, this core’s long-term window is not very large.

For the time being, this group will be a solid piece for the Colts defense. None of the inside linebackers are great, but Freeman and Angerer are good starters, while Conner and Sheppard will provide excellent depth off the bench.

However, the Colts should consider drafting an inside linebacker high either in 2014 or 2015. Angerer still hasn’t fully recovered from his foot problems that nagged him all of 2012, Freeman’s decline is not too far off, Conner is more of a run-stuffing specialist and Sheppard isn’t someone you want starting. A young, athletic linebacker that is an all-around player would be a good piece to make this position complete.