With the Colts’ OTAs kicking off today, Mateo Caliz gives us the top five position battles to watch for.
Wide Receiver: Deon Cain, Daurice Fountain, Chester Rogers, Steve Ishmael.
The receiver spots are wide open on the Colts roster as of this moment. T.Y. Hilton and Ryan Grant seem poised for the starting positions but other than that, everything is up in the air. Rogers is the only one out of the group with experience in the NFL but he has not played much in the last two seasons. Deon Cain was a fantastic steal in the sixth Round and if he can work on his drops he may very well become the starter on the outside along Hilton and Ryan Grant could move to the slot. Because they are rather similar on their skillset (tall, athletic, not very polished technique wise) Fountain and Cain may compete directly for snaps. Look out for dark horse UDFA Steve Ishmael to tear it up during the preseason and hopefully earn a spot on the 53 man roster.
Right Tackle and Guard: Braden Smith, Denzelle Good, Joe Haeg, Austin Howard, Matt Slauson
With Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, and Ryan Kelly locking up the rest of the line, the right part of it is there for the taking. Smith looks great out of Auburn and the Colts invested a very high pick on him, so he should be the favorite to start. If the Colts choose to let Smith develop a bit, then they could go with either Haeg, who played tackle last year but was originally a guard, or with the experienced Slauson. At tackle, Howard has the upper hand as of now as he was really solid last year but the Colts seem to be quite high on the development of Good, so it really is an enigma at this point and Training Camp will be the first indicator as to who the starters will be.
Defensive Line: Jabaal Sheard, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Tarell Basham, Hassan Ridgeway, Al Woods, Denico Autry (John Simon?)
Ballard, as evidenced by this years draft, clearly emphasizes the trenches as a key part of his teams. The Colts added two very talented pass-rushers in Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis through the draft, and also signed Denico Autry from the Raiders in Free Agency. Turay seems to have more upside than Lewis, but Lewis is ready to start right away. Autry will be a solid depth piece, something the Colts greatly need in the defensive line. Sheard is coming out of an elite season, so the Colts can hope that his excellent production as a 3-4 OLB translates as a 4-3 DE. Simon is listed as an incognito because he could play defensive end as well as outside linebacker so we will see how the Colts use him.
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Tarell Basham, a third-round pick from last years draft should continue to develop into a nice pass rusher at defensive end. As for the tackle positions, Al Woods played really solid football last season and him and Ridgeway should have their starting spots locked up, not because of their talent, but mostly because of the lack of competition and depth in that particular area. I personally think that with all the cap space the Colts should have signed Suh.
Starting running back: Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins
At this point, it is clear that the Colts will use a running back by committee approach, as there is no three-down back on the roster. The closest thing to it is Marlon Mack, who showed flashes last year as a rookie but was very either hit or miss on his runs, he would break out a 25 yarder, and then stopped for a loss on his next two rushes. After him is Robert Turbin, who is quite good in limited action as a short yardage back and should be utilized specifically for that. Hines is the Colts version of Darren Sproles and should make an immediate impact right away, just not starting, as his slim frame probably will not be able to handle many snaps per game. Wilkins could emerge as a true three-down back, but at this point, it seems rather unlikely.
Safety: Malik Hooker, Matthias Farley, Clayton Geathers, Darius Butler
Malik Hooker has a starting spot guaranteed if he comes back healthy from his torn ACL. Geathers is also coming back slowly from a neck injury but he and Hooker could form the best safety tandem the Colts had in this millennium, other than Sanders and Bethea. Behind them is Farley, who played really well last season and seems to be somewhat of a leader and very respected in the locker room. Another possibility is for Hooker and Farley to start, and to move Geathers to linebacker. Butler is a nice depth piece, and he will likely receive meaningful snaps until Hooker gets to 100% again.