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Colts hope Hunt makes giant leap on D

Margus Hunt sacks Andrew Luck during a wild-card game after the 2014 season. (Icon SMI)


You get a lot of the same stuff in these conference calls with new players. Just want to do whatever it takes to win. Excited about the opportunity. Love the coaching staff. Chose this team because it was a better fit.

And that’s mostly what we’ve gotten in conference calls the past couple of days with the newest Colts free agents, including Jabaal Sheard and Margus Hunt on Tuesday.

What you’re looking for in these impersonal, faceless conversations is some nugget of meaning, import or interest, anything that deviates from the rote.

Which is why, instead of focusing on the more significant addition -- Sheard -- we’re going to spend a few paragraphs on Hunt.

You see, it isn’t every day you get to talk to somebody whose nickname is The Estonian Giant.

He may not be the most impactful player signed by the Colts but he certainly is the most interesting, not to mention unlikely. His story, in a nutshell:

Growing up in the small Estonian town of Karksi-Nuia (population roughly 2,000), Hunt took up athletics because, well, there wasn’t much else to do. He quickly developed a knack for the throwing events, focusing on the discus, hammer throw and shot put, setting a world junior record in the former. He then won gold in both the shot and discus at the World Junior Championships in 2006. Hoping to carry his success into the Olympics, Hunt decided to move to Dallas in 2007 so he could train with legendary coach Dave Wollman, who was then at SMU. Except SMU dropped its men’s track program before he arrived.

As for the rest, we’ll let Hunt tell it:

“They dropped the men’s track program way before I even got there. The head coach was Dave Wollman at that time and I really wanted to work with him because he’s had a bunch of great Olympians compete in the throwing events. I was able to get a little help together from my brother-in-law, he helped me to pay tuition for a year. I just packed my bags and flew over to Dallas. I was there for a year and we were kind of out of options what to do next. Football kind of came about because I was always in the weight room as the same time as the football team. The coaches kind of came up to me and asked whether I’d be interested in trying out.”

The coaches didn’t exactly have to do CSI-level investigating work to discover Hunt. At 6-8, 295, with 4.7 speed in the 40-yard dash, he was kind of obvious. And so in 2009, at the age of 22, he started playing football, quickly blossoming into one of the sport’s most intriguing prospects, prompting the Bengals to spend a second-round pick on him in 2013, the year the Colts drafted Bjoern Werner in the first round.

It didn’t work out as planned for either player but at least Hunt was productive enough on special teams to stick around. After spending his first four years in Cincinnati’s 4-3 front, he hopes to have more success as an end in the Colts’ hybrid 3-4. He is, after all, still learning the game, even at age 29.

“I feel like there’s always learning, there’s always something new that’s coming up whether schematically or what-not,” Hunt said. “I feel the past four years in Cincinnati really helped me to understand the pro game a lot more, especially last year. I feel a lot more mature, understanding the game itself and what’s going on. 

“Now it’s just a matter of putting it on the field and working my butt off to get to a point where I can really contribute and help this team. I feel like it’s a great opportunity for that.”

At worst, he’ll be a solid special-teams player with a knack for blocking kicks and a situational defensive end. At best, maybe all that size and athleticism will become manifest, and the Colts will have something more than a guy with an interesting story on their hands.

COLTS 2017 PLAYER MOVEMENT TRACKER

ADDED

>> Brian Schwenke (one year). Started all 25 games he played his first three seasons in Tennessee but lost the job to Ben Jones last season. He has played primarily at center but has experience at guard and stands to replace Jonotthan Harrison as the primary interior backup.

>> Margus Hunt (two years). Despite remarkable physical skills in a 6-8, 295-pound package, Hunt remains a largely unfulfilled promise with just 1.5 sacks in four years with the Bengals, none the last two seasons. The Colts are hoping the native of Estonia who didn’t start playing football until 2009 at SMU is a late-bloomer. 

>> Jabaal Sheard (three years, $25.5 million). One of the most productive edge rushers on the market, Sheard has 36 sacks in six years with the Browns and Patriots. He’ll have to make the transition from defensive end to rush linebacker, but should be able to step right into that role.

>> John Simon (three years, $13.5 million). An ascending pass-rusher and tough run-stopper who had 8.5 sacks in 12 starts with Houston over the past two seasons, Simon is also a high-energy player with a strong reputation for leadership on and off the field.

>> Jeff Locke (two years, $3.45 million). A solid veteran punter with a knack for pinning opponents inside the 20 (which he did 34 times last year), Locke succeeds the retired Pat McAfee.

>> Barkevious Mingo (one year, $2.5 million). Drafted sixth overall in 2013, Mingo never flourished in Cleveland and was traded to the Patriots prior to last season, winning a Super Bowl ring as a situational pass-rusher and special-teamer. He’s an unusual athlete, certainly worth the low-cost look.

>> Fahn Cooper (two years, $1.02 million). The former fifth-round pick of the 49ers spent last season on the San Francisco practice squad, and the Colts hope he can add depth at both guard and tackle.

RE-SIGNED

>> Robert Turbin (two years, $4.1 million). A valuable third-down option, Turbin led all NFL running backs, converting first downs on 81.8 percent of his third-down runs (nine of 11). He also racked up eight touchdowns (seven rushing) and had a career-high 26 receptions in 2016.

>> Jack Doyle (three years, $18.9 million). Coming off the best year of his career (59 receptions), the hard-working blocker and reliable receiving target cashed in, receiving $7.5 million in guaranteed money. Roughly half the overall contract is in base salaries, with the rest in incentives, including a $7 million roster bonus for 2017.

SUBTRACTED

>> Erik Walden (not re-signed). Last year’s sack leader apparently will be replaced by Simon on the strong side. Walden was a solid, productive player but he’ll turn 32 before the season begins and didn’t fit in the team’s younger defensive makeover. 

>> Zach Kerr (signed with Denver). In a surprising move, the Colts did not submit a tender offer that would’ve made him a restricted free agent, thus he hit the open market and was quickly picked up by the Broncos. Kerr was a productive, versatile member of the defensive front and an upbeat personality in the locker room.

>> Patrick Robinson (released). Injuries kept him from having much of a chance at filling the role of starting cornerback opposite Vontae Davis. When he did play, he wasn't effective, so this move came as little surprise.

>> Dwayne Allen (traded to New England with a 2017 sixth-round pick for a 2017 fourth-round pick). Doyle’s deal signaled Allen was no longer the lead tight end, and the Colts apparently decided they didn’t want to absorb a $4.9 million cap hit this season for a backup. 

>> Mike Adams (released). Despite 12 interceptions and two Pro Bowl appearances in three seasons, Adams was not re-signed by the Colts. Though he turns 36 this month, Adams believes he still has something to offer and intends to pursue a job elsewhere via free agency.

>> Joe Reitz (retired). The Swiss Army Knife of the offensive line for six years, Reitz started at every position but center, providing invaluable versatility and depth. But the combination of physical decline -- he dealt with lingering back issues last season -- and the rise of 2016 draft picks Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark contributed to his decision.

>> Pat McAfee (retired). The departure, due to recurring knee injuries, of one of the NFL’s most effective punters and kickoff specialists came as a surprise and left the Colts with multiple roles to fill. Whether they can do it with one player remains to be seen.

>> D’Qwell Jackson (released). The combination of declining productivity and an ill-timed PED suspension for the final four games of the 2016 season led the Colts to make the decision to part ways with the veteran inside linebacker who led them in tackles in 2014-15. At 33, he still hopes to catch on with another team.

>> Robert Mathis (retired). Unable to recapture the magic of his 19.5-sack season of 2013, Mathis totaled 12 sacks his final two seasons and exited as the franchise’s all-time leader with 128. He’s also the NFL career record-holder with 46 strip sacks.

 

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