The Colts have rebuild their linebacking corps the past few seasons, starting with the addition of LB Darius Leonard who quickly established himself as one of the best young linebackers in the NFL. Indianapolis added another player to that mix in the third round last year by taking LB Bobby Okereke in the third round out of Stanford. Okereke played all 16 games and totaled 63 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, one recovery and two pass defenses. Colts LB coach Dave Borgonzi is looking for a bigger leap in Okereke’s second year.
“Yeah, we expect big things from Bobby. He came in as a rookie and did a really nice job,” said via Andrew Walker of the team website. “Like Darius, Bobby is a guy that has great physical attributes, but also more importantly, he works really hard at it. So we expect Bobby to make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2, just in his production, his plays on the ball, interceptions, game-changing plays. Bobby has a lot of ability and we expect him to really have a great season this coming year.”
Okereke was drafted with the hope of pushing incumbent starting middle linebacker Anthony Walker, as he was seen as having potentially more upside. But Walker held off the rookie in 2019 and continued to establish himself as one of the leaders for the Colts on the defensive side of the ball.
“Anthony is a great teammate,” Borgonzi said. “The first thing, he’s an unbelievable leader. He’s a leader of the defense. He’s very smart. He’s a guy that can play multiple positions for us. He can play MIKE, he can play WILL, he can play SAM, so his versatility is unmatched. Everybody in the locker room respects him just because of how hard he works, both on and off the field. So he’s really a true leader of our defense.”
The Colts drafted Walker in the fifth round in 2017 and went back to the well in the fifth round last year to get LB E.J. Speed. The rookie played sparingly and recorded just seven tackles, but the Colts are hopeful the athleticism that caught their eye at Tarleton State can help Speed live up to his name.
“Yeah, E.J. is an interesting guy because physically you’re not going to find a guy that’s better than E.J., just in terms of size, speed,” Borgonzi said. “E.J. loves football. He loves to play. E.J. just needs to continue to develop. He’s from a small college, played offense in high school, played offense early in college. So just being a linebacker is relatively new to E.J. So we’re working really from the ground up and E.J.’s working really hard. He’s committed to football. He wants to be a really good player in this league, so the sky’s the limit for E.J.”
“Real good guy,” Hurns said via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “I reached out to tell him ‘Welcome to the team.’ It will be a great thing playing with him because I’m left-handed myself. I will be excited to see catching from someone who’s left-handed. He’s a real positive guy. You can tell he’s very hungry. Real humble guy, ready to come in and work.”
“I think anytime you’re getting more experience, it helps you confidence-wise,” said Scharping, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “Anytime you’re playing next to good guys like Nick and Laremy, it helps you mentally. You’re going to get a little bit better.”
Scharping mentioned that he is watching film from last season to observe ways he can continue improving.
“You keep trying to learn now after the fact,” Scharping said. “You watch film on the season and see what you can improve on and work on to help you. You always want to get stronger.”
Scharping added that getting “stronger” is important for interior offensive linemen.
“That’s key, especially for an interior lineman. You keep working every day trying to lose a little bit of body fat and get a little bit stronger.”
Scharping believes the Texans can have a strong offensive line with RT Tytus Howard returning from a knee injury and everyone currently healthy.
“Obviously with Tytus coming off an injury, we get to have everyone back healthy,” Scharping said. “With all of us healthy, I think we can be really great. With Deshaun [Watson] back there, good things are going to happen.”