Colts still suffering from issues at defensive tackle

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 26: Head coach Jim Caldwell of the Indianapolis Colts watches as his team takes on the Green Bay Packers during a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 26, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Colts 59-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This past offseason there wasn’t a salary cap, but outside of the Bears that didn’t mean that teams broke out their checkbooks to sign free agents to lucrative deals. For the most part, things were business as usual in the NFL when it came to free agency.

That’s why it’s not a surprise that teams like the Colts are still affected by decisions they made in previous years. Is Indy in decline? No, they still have the same issues this season as they did last year when they represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. But since they’re 2-2 now, those issues have become magnified.

Those that were paying attention this summer knew that once again Indianapolis would have trouble stopping the run. GM Bill Polian has been ignoring the defensive tackle position for years and even when he tried to upgrade the position, he whiffed (’09 second round pick Fili Moala has yet to make an impact).

The Colts are 2-2 not because they’re in decline, not because Jim Caldwell picked the wrong time to be aggressive with his timeouts last Sunday (seriously Jim, just play for overtime – you had all the momentum), but because they failed to address their biggest weakness in the offseason.

The two teams that the Colts lost to were able to run the ball. In Week 1, somebody forgot to tell Arian Foster that he wasn’t Earl Campbell and he went off for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Last Sunday in Jacksonville, you knew if the Jags could keep the ball on the ground with Maurice Jones-Drew that they were going to have a shot in the end. Jones-Drew didn’t go Earl Campbell Foster on the Colts, but Jacksonville did rush for 174 yards and David Garrard actually resembled a starting NFL quarterback for the first time this season.

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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.

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Top 10 Impact Defensive Rookies for the 2009 NFL Season

My colleague (and inspiration according to him) John Paulsen did a great job of highlighting the impact that this year’s offensive rookie class could have in terms of fantasy football, so I thought it would only be appropriate to show some love to the defensive rooks.

I’ve ranked the 10 rookies who I feel could make the biggest impact for their teams in 2009. This doesn’t mean that I think they’ll put up gaudy numbers, although they could. These rankings are more of a reflection of how I feel each rookie fits into their specific defensive scheme and what teams can expect in terms of overall production from these players in their first season.

Side Note: I stuck to only the defensive players that were drafted in the first two rounds. While plenty of mid-round picks have started and were successful in their rookie seasons, it’s a little hard to project at this point which third and fourth rounders could have an impact with training camps still a month or so away. Maybe I’ll re-visit this topic once again before the season starts and dedicate another piece to the mid-rounders that could have an immediate impact.

1. Aaron Curry, LB, Seahawks
Curry might not have been the first defensive player to come off the board in April (that honor went to LSU’s Tyson Jackson, who was selected with the third overall by the Chiefs), but he was the best defender that the 2009 draft class had to offer. Curry has the ability to play all three linebacker positions in a 4-3, although he’ll likely start on the strong side, allowing the Hawks to keep LeRoy Hill at weakside ‘backer. Curry has outstanding speed (4.5), size (6’2”, 254 pounds) and can stay on the field in passing situations, unlike some linebackers, who are often replaced in nickel packages because they can’t hang with backs, tight ends and receivers. Curry isn’t one of those situational prospects – he’s a complete player and should make a significant impact in his first year.

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