Who are Colts’ Options to Replace Grover Stewart?

Who are Colts’ Options to Replace Grover Stewart?

Which defensive tackles could replace the star run stuffer on the interior for the Indianapolis Colts?

The Indianapolis Colts were dealt a pretty major blow to their defense earlier this week, as it was announced that nose tackle Grover Stewart was suspended for the next six weeks for violating the league’s PED policy.

Stewart, 29, is one of the league’s best nose tackles and has simply been phenomenal for the Colts in the 2023 season. He ranked in the top 10 among defensive tackles in both run stops and in tackles prior to his suspension being handed down.

Going forward, the Colts’ run defense is in desperate need of a contributor to step up and fill the massive void left in the middle of the defense. Today, I dive into the main contenders for this role and talk about the pros and cons of each player.

The Main Contenders

1) Taven Bryan

The likely in-house replacement for Stewart in the starting lineup is veteran defensive tackle Taven Bryan. Bryan, 27, was a free agent signing by the Colts this past offseason and he has predominantly served as a rotational player to start the year.

Bryan is a fantastic athlete with some of the best explosion and get-off in the entire NFL. He has done some good things for this Colts’ defense to start the year, amassing seven stops and two sacks through six games played in 2023.

The biggest concern with Bryan is his struggles in the run game. When DeForest Buckner was on a pitch count against the Los Angeles Rams back in Week 4, Bryan filled in the starting lineup. The result of that move was… far from optimal. The Rams effortlessly ran the ball at Bryan all game long to the tune of 164 yards on the ground.

Bryan is a perfectly fine rotational defensive tackle in the NFL, but his struggles in run defense are quite terrifying for a potential Stewart replacement.

2) Eric Johnson

The other big in-house candidate is second-year defensive tackle Eric Johnson. Johnson, 25, was the Colts’ fifth-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Missouri State. He has played sparingly over the past two seasons but has flashed at times in limited snaps.

The concern with Johnson is that he has struggled mightily whenever given a bigger role on defense in the NFL up to this point. Pro Football Focus has graded out his run defense as extremely poor over the last two seasons, and that deficiency shows on film. Like with Bryan, it is concerning to see a potential Stewart replacement being a poor run defender on the interior.

Johnson has a little more upside and promise than Bryan does, but is this young player actually ready for an expanded role on the defense?

Potential Role Increases

Adetomiwa Adebawore AND/OR Dayo Odeyingbo

If the Colts’ initial plan of rolling out Johnson and Bryan ultimately fails, the team could try to shift Buckner down into the one-tech role. That would open up some room for a potentially smaller player to slide in at three-technique alongside the All-Pro player.

The two main contenders for that role, if the Colts end up doing this, would be Dayo Odeyingbo and Adetomiwa Adebawore. Odeyingbo is in the middle of his third year in the NFL and he has flashed some strong play in the first six games of the 2023 season. He is currently up to 2.5 sacks on the year and his run defense has been slightly more promising than the other players mentioned in this article.

Adetomiwa Adebawore was the Colts’ fourth-round selection in this past draft class. He only has 15 total snaps under his belt this season, but he could be in line for a few more with Stewart being out the next six games. Adebawore is just 22 years old, but his overall athleticism and his power could be intriguing in this type of role.

Outside Help

McTelvin Agim (Colts Practice Squad):

Agim is a former third-round pick that had a strong offseason for the Colts. He has ideal size and power to step into this type of role, but the team clearly views Bryan/Johnson above him at the moment. That certainly could change after a few games, though.

Mike Pennel (Free Agent):

Pennel, 32, is a free-agent nose tackle who has appeared in 101 career games in the NFL. He is a massive 332 pounds and certainly qualifies as a space eater, which is something the Colts are lacking on the interior. Indy tried out the veteran in a workout this week.

Darius Philon (Free Agent):

Philon, 29, is another veteran free agent with 65 career games under his belt. He has spent a lot of time with Colts’ DC Gus Bradley in his career, playing for Bradley from 2017-2018 in Los Angeles and in 2021 in Las Vegas. Philon also worked out for the Colts this week as well.

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