098 jerrell freeman  Thomas J Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Colts Training Camp Preview: Inside Linebacker

 

On the Colts’ 90-man training camp roster, there are currently 16 players listed as some sort of linebacker – 5 ILB’s, 5 OLB’s, and 6 guys just listed as “LB,” counting Lieutenant Josh McNary, who remains in Reserve/Military status. 

Of those players, the following are actually inside linebackers:

Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner, Kelvin Sheppard, Mario Harvey (although he looks like an OLB at 264 pounds), Scott Lutrus, and C.O. Prime. 

Last season, the Colts kept 5 inside linebackers on their final roster.  There is a three or possibly four player battle for the two starting slots and a potential three-player competition for what may be the last spot. (Click Continue Reading)

Last season, the ILB position looked a bit shaky when then starter Pat Angerer injured his foot in the first preseason game.  Once expected to become a defensive mainstay, Angerer ended up being replaced by then-unknown prospect Jerrell Freeman and splitting time with run stopper Kavell Conner after he recovered from his injury.  The two combined for a solid 82 tackles, 54 of which came from Conner, who played in 14 games to Angerer’s 11. 

On the other side, of course, was Jerrell Freeman, a man who looked the part of a long shot to make the roster before training camp.  In the midst of a rash of injuries at the position (A.J. Edds and Scott Lutrus also were hurt), Freeman, a former undrafted free agent coming off three seasons with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, fought his way up the depth chart and never looked back. 

This year, Angerer, Conner, and Freeman all return, along with 4 other players who will be battling it out to be one of the 4 or 5 on the regular season roster, one of which, Kelvin Sheppard, could challenge for a starting job.  The group that appeared shaky in August of 2012 looks like one of the Colts’ deeper positions going into training camp this year. 

 

Jerrell Freeman

For the individual portion, we’ll begin with Freeman (6-0, 232, 4.62 40-yard dash), who should be entrenched as a starter, barring any unforeseen misfortune. 

After leading the team with 145 tackles as a 26-year old NFL rookie, Freeman looks poised to build upon last season’s surprising success.  He’s smart, quick, and instinctive on the field, but only had one interception to go along with two sacks and a forced fumble.  Already high-volume tackler, Freeman may be looking to produce more game-changing plays 2013. 

Videos: Jerrell Freeman 2012 highlights from Colts.com And a college highlight reel of Freeman at Mary Hardin-Baylor.  Watch for #8.  I think the opposing players are still having nightmares about him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCDAnkvN04c

 

Kavell Conner

The Colts drafted Kavell Conner (6-0, 245, 4.63 40, 24 bench reps) in the 7th round in 2010.  He started 9 games his rookie season and has started all but two of the games he’s played in since.  Interestingly, Conner’s draft profile said he lacked instinct against the run, but run stopping has been his forte in the NFL.  Though he’s a tough, powerful tackler who doesn’t miss often, Conner may have to prove his worth in coverage to start again in 2013, especially with the return of a healthy Pat Angerer. 

Video: Despite being a contributor the past three years, there just isn’t a great deal of video out there on Kavell Conner.  No Conner highlights…yet. 

 

Pat Angerer

A tackle machine a couple years ago, Angerer (6-0, 236, 4.71 Combine 40-yard dash, 4.64 pro day 40, 26 bench reps) backed up Conner after recovering from his injury in 2012.  He’s a bit smaller, but a somewhat similar player.  Both are strong, instinctive tacklers who can hit hard but prefer the solid wrap-up to the big, career-shortening collision (which often leads to a diving missed tackle anyway).  Neither is terribly fast, but Angerer may be slightly better in coverage and can make up for some positioning errors with his 39-inch vertical leap (not sure how that translates with pads on). 

Angerer is projected as the starter by both CBS and ESPN, but he could face a fierce battle for the spot from Conner and newcomer Kelvin Sheppard. 

Video: It takes about 30 seconds to get going, but Angerer puts that vertical leap to use around the 45-second mark – intercepting none other than Matt Hasselbeck: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqnhHOtdZck

 

Kelvin Sheppard

The Colts acquired Sheppard (6-2, 256, 4.7 40) in a trade with Buffalo back in April.  Indianapolis sent struggling former 1st round pick Jerry Hughes to Upstate New York for the Bills 3rd leading tackler and 15 game starter (Buffalo also released their top 2 tacklers, but that’s neither here nor there). 

Sheppard, a 2011 3rd round pick, brought down ball carriers 80 times, added a couple of sacks last year, and looked like a potential 2013 starter before the trade that brought him to Indianapolis.  He doesn’t appear particularly fast, so he’ll need to play with discipline and keep from being caught out of position to push Angerer and Conner for playing time. 

Video: Well, we had to go to the college scouting videos for Sheppard.  It looks like LSU liked to drop him back in deep coverage from time to time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vp8Tn3YWo0

 

Mario Harvey

Mario Harvey (6-0, 264, 4.46 40, 27 bench reps) is a big, strong fella, built like a stout 3-4 OLB.  He also has some nice measurable speed, but the former Marshall linebacker, nicknamed Thumper for obvious reasons (he thumps ball carriers, get it?), didn’t receive an invite to the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine and went undrafted. 

Watching highlights of Harvey playing against Ohio State, he looks fast and relentless.  This guy was a hard-charging enforcer in college, with recovery speed and a bit of a mean streak on the field. 

Harvey made the Colts roster last season and played in 13 games, mostly on special teams.  A player with his athleticism and aggressiveness could certainly find a place in Indianapolis again this year.  And those measurables…wow. 

Videos: Highlights, and then scouting.  Watch for number 30 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv_G2sIThF8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5x9M0AAFPs

 

Scott Lutrus

Scott Lutrus (6-3, 238, 4.68 40, 18 bench reps, 38 inch vertical) went undrafted in 2011, signed with Jacksonville, then ended up on the St. Louis Rams practice squad.  The Colts signed him off the Rams’ PS in November 2011, but in 2012, he tore an ACL in a preseason game against none other than the Rams. 

Lutrus looks good in his college video as long as he’s in the right place.  He doesn’t appear to miss many tackles, and he can rush the quarterback, but he looks like man coverage could be tough for him in the NFL. 

Video: Watch for number 32: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHCCxMVC8lQ

 

C.O. Prime

There is little information out there about Laval, Quebec’s own C.O. Prime (6-1, 261, 4.9 40, 25 bench reps).  We know his rather cool-sounding name looks like “co-prime” to a search engine and that his Wagner College bio says he plays “with gusto.”  Carl Oliver (Sorry, it doesn’t stand for Optimus) Prime led his team in tackles with 98 his senior year and totaled 297 for his college career, according to his Colts.com bio

In short, the former high school fullback turned small college linebacker has spent his career under the radar, but he certainly has the type of size and motor the Colts are looking for.  C.O. was a sideline-to-sideline playmaker for the Wagner Seahawks, but he will have to prove he can play faster than his 40-yard dash time to make the 53-man roster.  It will be interesting to see what he can do on a big stage against NFL competition. 

Video: C.O. looks a little scary, very intense. At around the 1:22 mark, he plows over an offensive lineman who dared get in his way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyHXrEzGRHI

 

Summary

There are two distinct, and potentially very close training camp battles shaping up at inside linebacker.  The top four guys, Freeman, Conner, Angerer, and Sheppard, should make the roster.  It’s tough to say which one of those players will start alongside Jerrell Freeman, but it’s not for a lack of talent at the position.  I’m leaning toward one of the incumbents. 

After that, the other three look like they’ll be competing for one final spot, if the Colts keep five ILB’s again, that is.  Mario Harvey has a very slight edge in NFL experience, but his athleticism and speed are what can truly set him apart from the competition for the last spot.  If the bottom three look at all equal, it could come down to work ethic, attitude, and a couple plays on special teams. 

Whatever happens, inside linebacker could bring us some of the hardest-fought training camp battles heading into the 2013 Colts season. 

 

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