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Colts solidify interior DL for next few seasons with DeForest Buckner extension

A clear emphasis for the Colts this offseason was not only solidifying their interior defensive line for 2024 but for the next few seasons as well.

On Monday, the Colts and DeForest Buckner agreed to a two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the 2026 season. Earlier in the offseason, the Colts would re-sign Grover Stewart to a three-year deal that will also run through 2026, along with adding Raekwon Davis on a two-year contract.

These three players will make up the heart of the Colts’ interior defensive line rotation–Buckner as the do-it-all defender who’s been one of the best at this position group at getting after the quarterback, with Stewart and Davis specializing against the run.

Collectively, this is a Colts defense last season that finished with the fifth-most sacks in football. However, whether that feat is sustainable in 2024 remains an unknown. Statistically speaking, it probably isn’t unless they are able to generate pressure more regularly.

While the Colts were among the best at generating sacks, they ranked 23rd in total pressures. Finishing eighth in sack rate while being in the bottom-third of the NFL in pressures isn’t a recipe for long-term success.

Against the run, this unit allowed just 4.1 yards per rush, which ranked 11th, and they were fifth in ESPN’s run-stop rate metric as well. However, without Stewart on the field, the Colts’ defensive front was exposed, which, in large part, is why Davis was signed as an outside free agent.

While the Colts have a strong core, this is a heavily rotated position group with four or sometimes even five players seeing snaps on a weekly basis, and behind Buckner, Stewart, and Davis are some unknowns.

Taven Bryan, who is back on a one-year deal, and Eric Johnson would really struggle in run defense last season. And in part becuase of limited opportunities, the two would combine for just 15 pressures–although Bryan was relatively efficient, ranking 38th in pass-rush win rate.

Also on the roster is 2023 fourth-round pick Adetomiwa Adebawore, who is still a bit of an unknown, playing only 132 snaps as a rookie. In his limited sample size, he did find some success getting after the quarterback, and one would think that the hope inside the building is that he can take on a larger role this year.

Given the foundation that the Colts have at this position, coupled with the needs that they have elsewhere, this probably isn’t a position we see them add to in the draft–or at least not early on. The group they have now will be who they are relying on this season.

With how little Gus Bradley blitzes, pressure has to come from the interior defensive line and the edge rushers winning their one-on-one matchups. When the front is able to slow the run game, thus putting the offense in predictable long down and distance situations, it gives the secondary – a group on this Colts team with some question marks – the advantage and can lead to turnover opportunities.

Success for any defense starts with the defensive front. Whether it be a run or a passing play, the best way to wreck any offensive play is with quick pressure up the middle. When this group is playing well, the entire defense benefits.

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire