When thinking about the past defensive line groups for the Indianapolis Colts, most of the focus has been on the outside pass rushers.
With Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis dominating opposing offensive tackles and racing to the quarterback for over a decade, Colts fans are used to having a dominant edge presence that strikes fear into other teams.
However, when you think of the defensive tackles over the years, it is hard to find a player that can be characterized as a game-changer for the Colts.
That all changed in 2020 when general manager Chris Ballard pulled off a huge trade for one of the best defensive tackles in the league, and a former fourth-round pick blossomed into a massive force.
Let’s look at the Colts’ defensive tackle group heading into 2021.
When talking about this defensive scheme, Ballard has always said, “The three-technique drives this thing.”
The three-technique defensive tackle plays a vital part in the Colts’ defense and it was key to get a game-breaker at that position. Thanks to DeForest Buckner, the Colts have exactly that.
Buckner came to the Colts via trade with the San Francisco 49ers for a first-round pick in 2020 and was then signed to a massive four-year, $84 million extension shortly after. He showed last year that he was worth every penny. Buckner had 9.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 26 quarterback hits, and 2 forced fumbles on his way to being named first-team All-Pro.
Buckner had a huge impact his first year with the Colts. In 2021, Buckner not only looks to duplicate that great season but also take on more of a leadership role on the defensive line with Justin Houston and Denico Autry no longer with the team.
“It was crazy when we didn’t sign them back, I was looking and it was me and (Grover Stewart) in the room with the most experience,” Buckner said. “I’ve kind of been in that position before in San Francisco, we had a fairly young room. We had some veteran guys come in here and there and play for us, but I kind of took on a leadership role a while back so it’s nothing new to me.
Buckner firmly asserted himself into the conversation as one of the best defensive tackles in the league last year, even with an ankle injury towards the end of the season that kept him from being 100%. With a year of full health, Buckner could be poised for an even more dominant 2021.
Coming out of Albany State, not many people knew who Grover Stewart was. Ask most Colts fans and they probably didn’t know who Stewart was until a couple of years ago. They certainly do now.
Stewart became a starter along the defensive line in 2019 and is a massive body inside at 6’4” and 315 pounds. While Stewart is not the best pass rusher, he is fantastic against the run and stops many running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage. He registered 53 tackles and 6 tackles for loss to go with 5 quarterback hits last year.
The Colts locked in Stewart with a three-year, $30.75 million extension last season to make sure he would be the team’s nose tackle for years to come. Next to Buckner, they create a defensive tackle tandem that can compete with anyone in the league and a tough duo to rush against inside.
Stewart will continue to be the starter at nose tackle for the Colts and an imposing presence against the run. If he can improve his production as a pass rusher, he could climb into the top tier of nose tackles in this league.
Behind Buckner and Stewart, there was a drop-off in talent in regards to talent at the defensive tackle position in 2020. Antwaun Woods hopes to help change that in 2021.
Woods signed with the Colts on a one-year deal in free agency after spending the last three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He brings plenty of starting experience to the defensive tackle group as he started 32 games for the Cowboys. This is a plus in case he is needed in a starting role if injuries occur.
At 6’1” and 310 pounds, Woods fits more of the nose tackle mold for the Colts. A big-bodied player that clogs up lanes in the middle, he can be disruptive against the run and helps create a wall in the middle of the defensive line.
Look for Woods to come in for spells when Stewart needs a breather. Woods will not be used much in pass rushing situations as he only has 2.5 sacks in his career but can be more than capable against the run and on early downs.
Big Men with a Big Opportunity
While Buckner and Stewart are the unquestioned starters for the Colts at defensive tackle, there are a couple others who look to make the roster with Woods as depth pieces. Some names to keep an eye on are Taylor Stallworth and Kameron Cline.
Stallworth was picked up by the Colts last August before the season after being released by the New Orleans Saints. He was able to make the roster as a backup and played in all 16 games for Indy. After only 12 tackles and half a sack last year, Stallworth will need to show an uptick in production if he wants to find a permanent spot on the roster.
Cline was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2020 draft and spent most of his time on the Colts’ practice squad, only being called up for one game last year. At 6’4” and 283 lbs., Cline fits more of the mold of a three-technique than a nose tackle and could look to prove himself as a backup to Buckner. It will be interesting to see how Cline performs during training camp as he battles for a roster spot along the defensive line.
See Below for More in This Series:
- Running Backs
- Wide Receivers
- Tight Ends
- Offensive Tackles
- Interior Offensive Line
- Defense Ends
Have thoughts on the Colts' defensive tackle depth ahead of the 2021 season? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
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