Ben Banogu Gives Colts Intriguing Athlete For Evolving Defense
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INDIANAPOLIS – If you want a look at to how the Colts might use Ben Banogu, you would be hard pressed to find that player or exact replica fit when watching 2018 film of Matt Eberflus defense.
Nope, Banogu is bringing the Colts something they didn’t have on their roster last year.
A guy with a frame (6-3 and 250 pounds) many scouts thought could hold up as an NFL defensive end, yet with the athletic traits (a broad jump of 11-2 and a vertical jump of 40 inches) that make the Colts believe he can really play in space.
“Ben is an intriguing athlete,” Chris Ballard says of the 49th overall pick in 2019. “We will probably start him out at SAM (linebacker), but saying that we also think he has got a lot of rush to him. I hate comparing names but when Jamie Collins came out of Southern Miss, I saw the same type of athletic talent and I think when you watch the Senior Bowl, he did some impressive things now. They line him up at outside backer and rushed him, they rushed him from the three-technique, they played him at SAM, they played him at MIKE some.”
The Colts had pitched this hybrid role to him during the draft process, with the TCU defensive end showing off his linebacker ability during January’s Senior Bowl.
“They have been talking about playing everywhere in the front seven from linebacker to rushing on pass downs, just trying to maximize my athleticism,” Banogu said after the Colts took him in the middle of Round 2.
“Doing some of the linebacker stuff at the Senior Bowl really opened my eyes to all the neat ways that you can kind of create plays and turnovers for your team.”
In his two playing seasons at TCU, Banogu was a defensive end in their 4-2-5 defense. But, unlike the rest of the Big 12, TCU actually puts a premium on their defensive scheme with responsibilities for Banogu extending well past simply getting after the quarterback.
Banogu was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2017 after transferring up from Louisiana Monroe. He had 8.5 sacks in each of his two seasons at TCU, and a total of 34.5 tackles for loss.
But the Colts walked away from the Senior Bowl week thinking Banogu could be a linebacker in their system.
It was Banogu’s first linebacker exposure since high school.
Projecting Banogu into a 2018 position from the Colts defense is impossible. Last year’s SAM linebacker was Matthew Adams and he was mainly used on run downs against run-heavy teams.
Banogu’s role figures to be much more expansive than being a seldom used linebacker.
When the Colts go to their nickel and dime packages, will the Colts move Banogu around to more favorable rushing situations, as he looks like a guy who could excel in the stunts that Eberflus likes to use?
“They were saying playing right next to (Darius) Leonard,” Banogu says of the Colts’ pitch to him. “Doing a little bit of that and then also getting around the edge and pass rushing. Doing the stuff that I have been doing and what I am comfortable doing but they also see that I can do a lot within the front seven.
“So they were saying wherever they put me they feel like I can excel at and they were looking at me as a guy that is a jack of all trades that can do just about anything. That’s the kind of vibe that I got from it.”
From seeing Banogu move in space as a linebacker at the Senior Bowl, the Colts then watched him light up the Combine.
His broad jump was a Combine record for defensive linemen. His vertical jump was the highest of any prospect in his position group.
The on-field possibilities the Colts have for Banogu remains to be seen.
They believe his mental makeup can handle a bigger position switch, while wanting to use those elite athletic traits in a defense looking, and needing, to evolve.
“We think (Banogu) has got a lot of versatility and his speed and athleticism and ability to run down quarterbacks is important in this league,” Ballard says. “We think he is going to be great on our turf.”