Should the Colts be concerned about their defensive tackles?

HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 29: Defensive lineman Daniel Muir #90 of the Indianapolis Colts on the bench in the game against the Houston Texans on November 29, 2009 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. The Colts won 35-27. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Colts and their potential issues at defensive tackle.

Same story, different year for the Colts.

Until Peyton Manning has to enlist the aid of walker to get onto the field on Sundays, the Colts will compete for a playoff berth every season. Their strength is their dynamic offense and the speed of their defense, but even a team with as many division titles as Indy has over the last decade has at least one weakness.

It’s seems like every year we’re talking about the Colts’ issues at the defensive tackle position. That’s because the team refuses to upgrade those spots and they decided to ignore the positions once again this offseason.

The projected starters this year are Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson. On most teams, the duo would be fringe starters or excellent backups. On the Colts, they’re counted on to anchor a defense that primarily relies on speed and the pass-rush that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis generate from their end positions.

The 25-year-old Johnson was a restricted free agent this past offseason and was brought back on a one-year, $1.684 million salary. He’s athletic for being 6’3 and 310 pounds, but he can be pushed backwards at the point of attack and he’s not consistent against the run.

Muir, the former undrafted free agent out of Kent State, emerged as an every down player last season and produced an impressive 52 tackles, but he doesn’t come without his drawbacks either. He’s more apt to keep his starting job than Johnson is (especially after a productive ’09 campaign), but he lacks burst when it comes to providing a pass-rush. He can also get pushed around at the point of attack.

The wildcard in the group is 2009 second round pick Fili Moala, who worked with the first-team defense during OTAs this summer when Johnson was battling an injury. Moala failed to impress last season as a rookie, but he has the talent to eventually leap over Johnson on the Colts’ depth chart. The problem is that most defensive tackles need at least three years before they’re productive, so it may be another season or two before Moala cracks the starting lineup.

Obviously the Colts aren’t overly concerned with the defensive tackle position seeing as how they didn’t address the need in free agency or the draft. And considering they did just fine with the combination of Muir and Johnson last season by making the Super Bowl, this probably won’t be something that holds them back in 2010.

That said, if an injury sidelines one of the two stud defensive ends like it did last year when Freeney was hurt throughout the playoffs, Indy’s entire defensive line could be a major liability. Plus, even when Freeney and Mathis are healthy, offenses often double-team the duo because they know Muir and Johnson aren’t skilled pass-rushers. So it stands to reason that unless Moala takes a major step forward in his development, the Colts’ defensive tackle position could be a weakness all season.

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