Colts trade experience for athleticism in attempt to get better at linebacker

INDIANAPOLIS – Five hundred and eighty-three.

That’s the number of combined starts in 885 career games by the entire linebacker crew that was on the roster at the end of last season for the Indianapolis Colts.

That number has dwindled during an offseason of constant changes for the Colts, as the current group of linebackers on the roster has combined for 177 starts in 387 games.

The Colts are fine with that. They want to inject some life into what was arguably the weakest position on the roster last season by acquiring younger, faster, more athletic, tougher players.

The best days were behind the likes of D’Qwell Jackson, Robert Mathis and Trent Cole. Free agent Erik Walden led the Colts in sacks with 11 last season. That didn’t do much to help him because he’s still unsigned with free agency more than a month old.

“I guess after a couple of weeks on the job I knew we were older on defense and we weren’t going to be able to fix everything in the draft and we wanted to get some young, veteran talent to up the competition level,” general manager Chris Ballard said during the NFL owners meetings last month.

New Colt Jabaal Sheard and Akeem Ayers have the most starts with 59 and 58, respectively. John Simon and Sean Spence, who are in position to start, have 31 starts in 91 games between them.

The Colts will continue to get younger at linebacker, as there’s a good chance they’ll add a player at that position at some point in the draft later this month.

“These were all young players that still have upside on their career, which is what we are looking for -- the ascending arrow,” Ballard told reporters. “Most of them are on short-term deals so they still have something to prove and it ups the competition level on defense, which we wanted to do. Then when we go to the draft, no matter what side of the ball we are on and end up taking a player, it’s going to continue to up the competition level.”