It is shocking to believe that anyone who follows the Colts closely would be writing a serious article about the Colts defensive line with such a positive perspective when the defensive line’s recent history, particularly on the inside, has been so frustrating. Yet, the magician Bill Polian has worked his magic again and managed to put together a group of defensive lineman, inside and out, that should be considered with the elite defensive lines in the National Football League.
Consider that during the 2008 season the Colts primary starters at defensive tackle were 254 pound Keyunta Dawson, in his second season, and 265 pound Eric Foster, in his rookie season. Neither player should be criticized for the effort they put into filling such large roles (no pun intended) so early in their careers but they were certainly not ideal starters, with Foster as the nose tackle and Dawson as the under tackle.
If Dawson and Foster remain on the team in 2010, Dawson will be relegated to defensive end and Foster will serve as a pass rushing under tackle on passing downs, and run stuffing defensive end in goal line and short-yardage rushing situations. Their replacements, Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson, 312 pounds and 310 pounds respectively, will be entering their second seasons as the starting defensive tackles for the Colts under defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.
The trio of Muir, Johnson, and Foster will should improve after gaining experience in their roles in 2009. But what makes the position more promising is the continued development of Fili Moala and addition of Mitch King, Ricardo Mathews, or both to the rotation. When final cuts are made, this will arguably be the deepest, most talented group of defensive tackles the Indianapolis Colts have ever had.
The picture outside at defensive end is just as promising. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are both playing great football, and give the Colts a Pro Bowl pass rushing tandem. The addition of first round draft pick Jerry Hughes in the 2010 NFL Draft increases the strength of the Colts already feared pass rush.
Hughes will likely become a unique part of the team’s defensive scheme, giving the defense alignment options it has not had previously. Maybe even more important, Hughes provides the Colts with security behind Mathis and Freeney that it has not had before.
What makes the defensive end position even more intriguing is the fierce competition that will ensue for the final roster spots. John Chick, the 2009 Canadian Football League’s Defensive Player of the Year, could earn his way onto the roster as a fourth outside pass rusher. Second year player Ervin Baldwin, who impressed in limited action to close out the 2009 regular season will be spending his first training camp with the Colts, and should certainly benefit from attention he was unable to receive when he joined the team last year.
Ricardo Mathews, seventh round pick, may prove he can fill Raheem Brock’s vacated hybrid role. Players like Mitch King and John Gill will try to prove they can fill that role better. Even if none of the new players pan out, the Colts still have Dawson on the roster and he is entering only his second season in a defensive end role.
The NFL should be on notice, the Colts have an outstanding collection of talent competing for spots on the defensive line, and whoever enters 2010 filling the Colts’ roster will provide a formidable challenge to opponents, in both phases of the game.