Editor’s Note: ‘Players We Watched’ is Colts Authority’s annual film review of specific players’ performances during the preseason. The series is predicated on the idea that the importance of preseason lies in the play of individuals rather than the team as a whole. Roster battles and crucial practice squad spots are often decided by preseason showings, and we take it upon ourselves to highlight the performances that stuck out the most to us.
But even in those performances, take everything with a grain of salt. We shouldn’t let the small sample size of one preseason game reverse our previous notions of a player, but merely add it to the pile of evidence built up for a player’s relatively poor or impressive reputation. – KJR
One of the best stories of the preseason has been the emergence of UDFA Zach Kerr, the former defensive tackle from the University of Delaware. Kerr, who was one of the Colts’ most highly touted undrafted free agents, has lived up to the hype in the preseason, playing as well as anybody on the roster.
Kerr has the team’s best grade from Pro Football Focus at +6.5, and was recently named to PFF’s “Team of the Preseason” for depth players.
The undrafted free agent out of Delaware has made his presence felt in the run game and rushing the passer, with the best grade of any 3-4 defensive end in preseason. He’s a keeper.
#Colts undrafted rookie DE Zach Kerr leads 3-4 DEs with a +6.5 grade and leads in run stop percentage, making a stop on 12.5% of run snaps
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 27, 2014
Kerr’s emergence allows the Colts to let veteran Brandon McKinney go, and keep an athletic, versatile defensive line of Arthur Jones, Josh Chapman, Cory Redding, Ricky Jean Francois, Montori Hughes and Kerr. The Colts have played Kerr at both nose tackle and 3-tech defensive tackle, and we all know how much they love their versatility.
One of the things that stands out from Kerr is his ability to disengage from blocks with excellent hand use. It was that hand use that helped him beat the guard for his sack against the Saints last week.
Later in the game, Kerr used his hands and a quick shift of weight to blow past the right guard once again, penetrating and bringing down the running back for a three-yard loss on 3rd-and-1.
It’s his strength that sets Kerr apart, both lower and upper body. His upper body strength is what allows him to disengage as he does above, but he combines that with drive to bull rush offensive linemen effectively as well.
In this play, for example, Kerr moves laterally to his right, then turns and bull-rushes the tackle back into Curtis Painter for what would have been a sack if not for a defensive holding penalty (getting reeeaall tired of those).
Really, the way he tosses linemen aside is astounding. There were a few other plays against the Giants in which Kerr just shoved a guard backwards and brought down the oncoming running back. Running to either of the gaps Kerr was responsible for was generally a bad idea, he was adept at destroying blocks and getting the run stop, whether it was with penetration on a delay or more classic “two-gapping” on power-run plays.
While the Colts have brought him inside to nose tackle in some sets, they’ve most frequently had him as a 3-tech, which seems to suit his talents best. He doesn’t swallow up blockers like a good nose tackle (Josh Chapman has been excellent at this), but he holds his ground and has done a fantastic job of disengaging from blocks and staying aware of the offensive play.
Whether or not he can do the same against first-team offensive linemen remains to be seen, but make no mistake: Kerr has been dominant against the second and third-teamers. Barring catastrophe tonight against the Bengals, Kerr is making the final roster, and could provide quality depth behind Arthur Jones.