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INDIANAPOLIS – Late in the spring, the tandem was running next to each other as the Colts’ two linebackers on the field in their nickel package.
But the room for both of them on the field together will not be there later this year, with Darius Leonard’s expected return for the start of Training Camp.
Do the Colts have a starting battle at the MIKE linebacker position between incumbent Anthony Walker and rookie Bobby Okereke?
“It will be a heck of a battle,” Chris Ballard said in the weeks following the drafting of Okereke with the 89th overall pick.
Walker is the returning starter after a sound and solid 2018 season playing alongside Leonard.
Taken in the 5th round of the 2017 Draft, the cerebral Walker emerged from a wide-open linebacker group last year to be a full-time starter.
In Okereke, the Colts selected a player with some physical traits (size and length) that rival Leonard.
It’s why in the spring they started using Okereke more and more in passing down situations, loving his range and run and strike ability. But given the Colts wanting to play nickel so often, with 5 defensive backs on the field in the package, that leaves just 2 linebackers out there for much of the game.
Okereke totally supplanting Walker in the starting lineup is no guarantee, but the Colts clearly were attracted to the traits the Stanford linebacker is bringing to their defense.
“I think he’s going to be a heck of a pro,” Ballard says of third-round pick.
Even though the Colts are quite excited about Okereke, who probably saw the most consistent first-team run late in the spring of any rookie, they remain quite high on Walker.
“Anthony is brilliant smart, too,” Ballard says. “We are talking Northwestern vs. Stanford here, and two highly intelligent kids here.
“To be the starting MIKE right off the bat, make the calls, see everything that is going on, all the checks that you have to do, that’s what you have to be able to handle. And then you have to be able to beat out a pretty good football player in Anthony Walker. He played pretty good football for us last year.”
And that last comment from Ballard should not be forgotten.
Walker was a big reason why this defense made a key jump in 2018.
Any rookie coming in and starting at such an important position in terms of their cerebral nature and having an immediate understanding of the entire defense is a steep climb.
Back in late April, Walker watched the draft and knew full well what was coming his way when he heard the Colts make their third-round pick.
“We thrive on competition here,” Walker says. “It is the NFL. The team is going to get the best player available and it is just competition. That is all it is. We are going to have fun doing it.
“Best player will play and we will leave it up to that.”
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