INDIANAPOLIS – We are inching closer and closer to the 2021 NFL football season.
It’s time to pick back up our ‘burning questions’ series on 1075TheFan.com.
Here are our burning questions at linebacker heading into the 2021 Training Camp:
1. How Vocal Will Darius Leonard Be With Anthony Walker Gone?
Darius Leonard has not held back in stating what he, and the Colts, will be missing in the loss of Anthony Walker.
Leonard and Walker were extremely close. You understand why Walker wanted to go somewhere else (Bobby Okereke was taking more and more of his playing time and Walker wants to start).
But in losing one of the best leaders on the football team, Leonard has said he needs to be more vocal this season, even if it means some public accountability for guys in the linebacker room.
The Colts are about to give Leonard a massive contract and will expect him to embrace more and more of that top leadership guy.
On the field, Leonard’s 2020 season was a slight decrease in the rare playmaking he’s put up so far in the NFL (3 sacks, 0 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles).
A second contract is coming for Leonard. It’s going to be a lot. With that, his level of play, and leadership, need to be at the crazy bar he’s set after three seasons in the NFL.
STAT TO NOTE: No Colts defender has started more games over the last three years than Anthony Walker (46 games).
2. Who Is The 3rd Linebacker In Base Defense?
Technically, this is an ‘open’ starting position.
That’s especially true when you are playing run-heavy teams like the Titans or the Ravens.
Internally, the Colts feel that a guy like Zaire Franklin (who averaged to play just less than 3 snaps per game over the last 2 years) can handle what Walker gave this team as a more of a run-centric linebacker.
That remains to be seen, as Walker did a good amount for this football team in his time here.
Besides Franklin, the Colts have E.J. Speed entering his third NFL season, after being chosen in the 5th round of the 2019 Draft.
The Colts have feasted on draft picks to build their linebacker position group under Chris Ballard. They did sign Malik Jefferson this offseason. He is a former third-round pick who has yet to do anything of substance on defense.
This question is just a reminder of how unproven the depth is behind Leonard and Okereke, who are likely to play every snap, every week.
STAT TO NOTE: In his three-year career, Darius Leonard has 15.0 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 7 interceptions.
3. What Will Year Three Bring For E.J. Speed?
Speed is kind of a forgotten guy to some.
Even though the Colts didn’t know really anything about him just a month before the 2019 Draft, they still chose him in Round 5.
In the NFL, Speed has played only 34 snaps on the defensive side of the ball in 32 games (28 of those came in one game).
With how the depth chart looks at linebacker, it’s hard to see where Speed would carve out a role.
Unless the Colts want to use a 3rd linebacker a whole lot more, or desire even more length and athleticism on the field, Speed’s likely presence in 2021 will be on special teams.
Of course, if one injury occurs to Darius Leonard or Bobby Okereke, Speed could all of a sudden be a guy who never comes off the field.
That’s how delicate the situation is for him at linebacker.
Speed showed a little bit of pop on special teams last year. It’ll be interesting to see if that ever translates over to defense.
STAT TO NOTE: In 32 career games, E.J. Speed has played 34 defensive snaps.