Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
On Tuesday, while people were still debating the merits of signing a high-priced backup for Andrew Luck, the Colts quietly picked up a veteran nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin (6-1, 317 pounds, turns 33 in August), from the San Diego Chargers. A little over a week ago, U-T San Diego’s Michael Gehlken was reporting that San Diego wanted to re-sign Franklin, calling him a “proven fit in the Chargers defense.”
Franklin, however, nearing the end of his career, opted to play for a winning team and an old coach instead and signed a one-year $890,000 contract with the Colts. “Just the chance to get back with my former defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky,” he said yesterday. “Plus these guys made the playoffs and I feel like they are a contender again.”
San Diego fans and writers alike seem to have a favorable opinion of Franklin, including Bolt Beat’s Ernie Padaon, who adamantly expressed that losing Franklin “sucks.” He then went on to say:
Franklin was a big part of the run defense last season. He clogged up blockers and allowed the middle linebackers, Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler, to make plays in the run game. Franklin was a big part of the defense.
After four years each with the Ravens and 49ers, the Colts will be Franklin’s third team in as many seasons. His year in New Orleans only proved he isn’t a good fit in a 4-3. Franklin is a true 3-4 nose tackle who has built his career on stopping the run and holding off double teams in the middle to keep the linebackers free to make plays. Like many at his position, Franklin’s stats have not been particularly flashy, as his main job is to be huge, be strong, and draw double teams.
Franklin made a respectable 20 tackles in twelve games with the Chargers last year but finished 2012 on IR because of a knee injury. Throughout his career, however – including his injury-shortened 2012 season, he has been a picture of durability. After being used sparingly in his first two years with the Ravens, Aubrayo Franklin has played 119 of 128 possible regular season games over the next eight years, or about 93% of the games in that span.
Franklin’s best years in the NFL came under Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky in San Francisco. There, he started 59 of 62 games, compiled 115 tackles, 3 sacks, and an interception. It is no wonder the 10-year vet is so eager to play for his old coordinator again. “Yeah I mean we were real close in San Fran,” Franklin said of Manusky. “We came in at the same time. It was his first defensive coordinator job and it was my first year up there so we grew together.”
Three things we can deduce from this signing. First, this signing falls right in line with the Colts defensive free agent strategy: stop the run. Though the NFL is a passing league, for many years, the key to beating the Colts was simply to run, and run and run. It’s difficult to defeat any team when your own offense can’t get onto the field, and last year, they gave up just over 5 yards per carry.
Chuck Pagano does not want other teams to be able to dictate the game by running the ball. His philosophy, like that of his former team, is to be strong against the running game, force the opponent to be one-dimensional, then unleash a wild array of blitzes, coverages, and pass rushes on them.
Second, Ryan Grigson is not afraid to pull the trigger on a player coming off an injury. Recent signees Greg Toler, Gosder Cherilus, and LaRon Landry each have a recent injury history. At nearly 33 and coming off a knee problem, however minor, Franklin’s impressive durability will be put to the test this year. If he passes, he can provide considerable value to the Colts this season. Should second year man Josh Chapman also be healthy this season, nose tackle could become apposition of strength in 2013 (and beyond, if Chapman works out).
Finally, the Colts are about full at the nose tackle spot, meaning Antonio “Mookie” Johnson, last year’s starter is not likely to be re-signed. Franklin provides some great depth as an early down lineman, and many fans and experts believe Chapman will be the starter if he’s finally healthy and ready to play. The Colts also still have Martin Tevaseu (6-2, 325) and Brandon McKinney (3-2, 345) on the roster, along with Ricky Jean Francois, who can also play NT from time to time.
Tevaseu worked his way into the rotation in 2012, partly because of injuries to other players while McKinney spent his season on IR. If the Colts do happen to bring in another NT, which would most likely be through the draft or as a UDFA, he would most likely be in competition with McKinney and possibly Tevaseu for a roster spot.
Overall, this is a smaller contract for an aging veteran. If he works out, even if it’s just for this year, Ryan Grigson will come out looking like a genius for this and hopefully a few other free agent signings.
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