Darron Cummings/Associated Press
The Contenders: Josh McNary, Andrew Jackson, Kelvin Sheppard, Mario Harvey, Scott Lutrus, Henoc Muamba
The leader for nickel linebacker snaps, McNary played 134 snaps last season, almost exclusively on passing downs. McNary was in on running snaps just 18 percent of the time, versus 59 percent for Kelvin Sheppard, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Sheppard still saw snaps near the end of the season, but it was in a two-down linebacker role. McNary saw his playing time increase at the end of the season, and he hopes to use that to vault him to more time in 2014.
If Sheppard wants to continue to get snaps in 2014, he'll have to beat out Andrew Jackson, the Colts' sixth-round pick out of Western Kentucky. Jackson has the prototypical body and style for a two-down role, according to WKU defensive coordinator Nick Holt (via Colts.com):
He’s big, physical, likes to take on guards, can take on guards by himself and thump those guys to secure his gaps inside. He can play over offensive linemen and stuff those guys in the hole.
Then there's Harvey and Lutrus, who have lingered around the bottom of the Colts roster for the past few years. Harvey is the only one that has seriously contended for snaps but neither are favorites to land a rotational spot in 2014.
The most intriguing player is Muamba, a former No. 1 overall pick in the Canadian Football League. Muamba, like Jerrell Freeman before him, was a CFL All-Star before the Colts contacted him about trying the NFL. Like Freeman, he has good range across the field, and he may be a surprise riser in training camp.
The Winner(s): Josh McNary, Andrew Jackson
I was impressed with McNary's job late last season, and his ability to pass rush gives him an edge no other Colts inside linebacker possesses, especially with OLB Robert Mathis out for the first four weeks. Sheppard has the experience edge on Jackson, but he's been so ineffective in Indianapolis, fans can only hope that Jackson beats him out.