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Colts training camp preview: Defensive line

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Kendall Langford #90 and Robert Mathis #98 celebrate during the game against the Tennessee Titans. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The next step in the Indianapolis Colts’ bid to put an unfulfilling 2015 season behind them comes Tuesday when they report to Anderson University for the start of training camp.

Over the next several days, we’ll take a positional look at how they’ve positioned themselves not only to challenge for the AFC South title, but a possible run at Super Bowl 51.

Today we focus on the defensive line.

Projected starters: E Kendall Langford, NT David Parry, T Henry Anderson.

Potential backups: Zach Kerr, T.Y. McGill, Kelcy Quarles, Hassan Ridgeway, Sterling Bailey, Ricky Lumpkin, Delvon Simmons.

Suspended: Art Jones.

  • Early setback(s): We’ve considered the line potentially a defensive strength, and it still might be over the course of the season. But that won’t be the case when the Colts start playing for keeps Sept. 11 against the Detroit Lions.

Friday, the team was informed Jones had been suspended without pay for the first four games for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing substances policy. He missed the entire offseason workout program while recovering from surgery on his left ankle, and it was uncertain when he might return.

Now, it’s Oct. 9 against the Chicago Bears. That is, of course, providing Jones still is on the roster. The suspension will cost him more than $588,000 and is the latest setback for one of general manager Ryan Grigson’s pricey 2014 free-agent acquisitions (a five-year, $33 million contract). Jones has missed 23 of a possible 32 regular-season games, including all of ’15, with a pair of ankle injuries.

Jones agreed to a salary adjustment in the offseason, lowering his base salary from $4.5 million to $2.5 million. This latest setback undoubtedly is testing management’s patience, and it could part ways with him. Cutting Jones would result in $3.3 million in “dead money,’’ but actually free up $300,000 under the salary cap.

Jones’ situation is compounded by Anderson’s recovery from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Owner Jim Irsay mentioned last month Anderson might not be ready for the start of the season. He’ll likely open camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Grigson was optimistic Jones and Anderson would make full recoveries from their injuries and help boost a defense that a year ago ranked No. 26 in total yards allowed and No. 25 in scoring.

“I’m always glass-half-full in everything I do around here,’’ he said last month, “but I’m also realistic and all I can do is get the information from the medical people. I’m bullish on Henry because he’s putting in the work, and Art as well.

“But those guys have to stay healthy and they have to be able to still produce at a high level despite what they’ve done in the past.’’

With Jones missing the first month of the season and Anderson’s blurry timeline, it’s anyone’s guess who might start at tackle. McGill? Kerr? Ridgeway?

Two-thirds of the defensive front is composed of Langford at end and Parry at nose tackle.

  • Rookie hopeful: Perhaps lightning strikes the defensive line twice in as many seasons. Last year, Anderson, a third-round pick, and Parry, a fifth-rounder, contributed immediately. Anderson was in the midst of an all-rookie season before the knee injury. Parry was one of two defensive rookies to start all 16 games.

Next up: Ridgeway, a fourth-round pick in the April draft. He was a two-year starter at Texas and is expected to be heavily involved in the rotation of first-year coordinator Ted Monachino. At least initially, that might be at tackle and it could be in a starter’s role.

“He’ll be an interior guy for us,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said after the draft, adding Ridgeway possesses “flexibility.

“Hassan is a big, strong guy that can give you push inside.’’

In 36 games at Texans, Ridgeway collected 92 tackles and 9.5 sacks.

During the Colts’ offseason work, he simply followed his marching orders.

“It’s all across the line right now,’’ Ridgeway said. “I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. I had no expectations. They came in and told me what I needed to do and I’m just trying to do it.’’

  • Worth noting: Grigson’s free-agent shopping spree last offseason brought in several high-profile veterans, most notably wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore and linebacker Trent Cole.

Langford almost seemed like an afterthought when he agreed to a four-year, $17.2 million deal. In retrospect, it was arguably the most impactful transaction.

Langford started all 16 games and collected 40 tackles and his career-best 7 sacks tie Robert Mathis for the team lead.

His value greatly increased when Jones missed the entire season and Anderson suffered his season-ending knee injury Nov. 8.

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