INDIANAPOLIS — It’s easy to overlook Jabaal Sheard during an offseason of change for the Indianapolis Colts defense.
It’s also a mistake.
The 30-year-old defensive end doesn’t have the flashy resume of free-agent addition Justin Houston. And he lacks the intrigue of rookies Rock Ya-Sin, Ben Banogu and Bobby Okereke.
But Sheard offers a steady consistency that can’t be overstated.
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus knows exactly what he's going to get each week from the veteran leader, and Sheard’s skillset should be amplified by a tweaked role this season.
After two years as the Colts’ primary pass-rush option — and, accordingly, the focal point for opposing offenses — Sheard is likely to play more of a supporting role to Houston.
He's better suited to the right side, where his excellent run defense is more valuable, and he's more than happy to welcome the four-time Pro Bowler to the fold.
“I thought it was a huge help to the team, man,” Sheard said this spring. “Obviously, the more pass rushers, the better the team is. When you got teams in third down, it obviously helps when you’ve got a pass rusher coming off the edge, adds more depth, and just looking forward to (playing alongside Houston).”
Sheard has recorded 5.5 sacks in each of his two seasons with Indianapolis.
Last year, he added 50 tackles, four pass deflections and a fumble recovery. But the numbers only scratch the surface of his impact.
If there was a stastic for sack assists, Sheard likely would rank among the top 10 in the league.
He consistently disrupts the pocket, forcing the quarterback off his spot and often hurrying throws or flushing the passer into the arms of a waiting teammate.
Now, he has a true force of nature on the other side of the defensive line.
Houston has 78.5 sacks in his eight-year career, including 18.5 over the past two seasons. And he figures to have a big impact on a host of young pass rushers, including Banogu and second-year defensive end Kemoko Turay.
In fact, Sheard already saw signs of it during spring practices.
“He loves teaching, man,” Sheard said. “He’s another leader that’s stepping up and helping guys get better. And he’s out there showing it, not just talking it. He’s showing it.”
It’s a contract year for Sheard, who already has spent his share of time on the transaction wire since becoming a second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2011. He played four seasons with the Browns before moving on to the New England Patriots and picking up a Super Bowl ring.
He signed with Indianapolis in 2017 and was one of the earliest additions by general manager Chris Ballard.
The Colts have received plenty of return on the investment as the franchise has transitioned into a new era. Sheard has delivered as a locker-room voice capable of holding others accountable, and he’s helped to curate a culture of professionalism first-year head coach Frank Reich credited during last year’s turnaround from a 1-5 start.
This year, outside expectations are soaring.
Indianapolis is widely seen as an AFC title contender, and the defensive talent has significantly improved over the past two years,
But Sheard believes the work is just getting started. Seven of the team’s 10 draft picks were defensive players, and Ballard stated his goal was to make the unit faster and more athletic.
Some of that will be accomplished naturally as the Colts adjust in their second season under Eberflus.
The rest must come from the old-fashioned work ethic Sheard has helped to instill since his arrival.
“I just gotta continue improving,” he said. “Obviously, the additions are helpful. We added some more leaders and a lot more youth. The more talent, the better the competition is, and it gets everyone better.”