Trent Stutzman

Defensive Line Depth Lacking A True Star

Created on Jun. 30, 2013 10:10 AM EST

Notable players: Ricky Jean Francois, Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, Aubrayo Franklin, Montori Hughes

One-word description: Depth

By the end of the 2012 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts were quite thin along the defensive line. Josh Chapman, Brandon McKinney, Fili Moala and Drake Nevis – four players expected to either start or play big minutes off the bench – all wound up on Injured Reserve. The Colts had to dig deep into their depth chart on the defensive line and had to rely on less-than-stellar talent.

Come 2013, that won’t be a problem. Between the aforementioned players coming back from injury, free agent signings and the 2013 NFL Draft, the defensive line has become top to bottom the Colts deepest positional unit.

Of those returning from IR, Chapman will be the biggest boost. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Colts had high hopes of him becoming the nose tackle of the future. Knee injuries sustained from his senior year at Alabama, however, held him out his entire rookie season.

McKinney was next in line to start, but a torn ACL in the preseason earned him a trip to IR before the regular season began. Because Chapman’s injury happened way before McKinney’s or anyone else’s who went on IR, he’ll be much more in shape and ready to make an impact by September 8. The returns of Moala and Nevis will also help. Neither set the world on fire in 2012, but both proved to be solid situational players – Moala as a pass-rusher and Nevis as a run-stuffer.

Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin came to Indianapolis through free agency, and both will beef up the line. Francois will provide the team with a true starting 3-4 defensive end to complement Cory Redding, and his versatility also allows him to line up at nose tackle in passing situations. Franklin will be a great backup nose tackle, but he might even be able to win the starting job, given the youth and injury history at the position.

Another guy trying to win the starting nose tackle job is Montori Hughes, another fifth-round draft choice, this one of the 2013 variety. At 6 ft. 4 in, 335 lbs., Hughes definitely has the size to become a great NFL nose tackle, and he’s got a lot of talent to go with his frame. His character and supposed lack of work ethic may prevent him from reaching his potential, but he’s really straightened up the past couple years.

Overall, the Colts have more than enough defensive linemen to make two solid strings on the depth chart. At nose tackle, Chapman, Hughes and Franklin all have the tools to be good starters, while McKinney is a reliable backup. At defensive end, Redding and Francois will create a great starting combo, and Moala and Nevis will serve as situational backups to utilize their specific talents when needed.

This may not be the most talent-filled position on the Colts roster, but it certainly is the deepest.

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