The Colts have been actively rebuilding the defensive tackle position. Not only did the team lack consistency at the position for many years, it also went through a pretty sizable transition in the kind of player it desired to play the role. It used to be commonplace for the defense to be considered small, fast, and under-sized compared to most NFL teams. While that is still true to a degree, the disparity is much smaller than it used to be.
One requirement that remains for the front four of the Colts defense is that the players must be quick enough, fast enough, and astute enough to gain penetration, pressure the quarterback, and wreak havoc in the opponent’s backfield. To that end, Indianapolis still retains smaller, quicker, players that are capable of achieving this end and one player that has started to establish himself in this role is Eric Foster.
Foster joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and was thrust quickly into a starting role after former starter Ed Johnson failed to make a successful transition back into his starting role and was cut from the team. As a rookie, Foster started in 11 games, played in 13, and contributed 49 tackles.
His weakness, which is unsurprising given that he is listed at 6-foot 2-inches and 265-pounds, was against the run and certainly played part in the Colts having the 24th ranked rushing defense in the NFL in 2008. He excelled far more at getting penetration and played much bigger than his size, making an important goal-line stop against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, allowing the Colts to win in the Steel City for the first time in 40 years.
Foster was not happy with the fact that, despite getting close on a number of occasions, he was unable to bring down the quarterback and register a sack. He made it a point to improve in that capacity in 2009 and was successful. Foster played in all 16 games, earned five starts, made 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks, blocked two passes, and forced and recovered a fumble.
More important, possibly, is that Foster looked bigger, stronger, and more comfortable in the Colts defense and delivered in the ways the Colts require players in his role to deliver. He is already in the process of forming goals this season, after reviewing his play a year ago, and hopes to continue making strides to get better.
Following one of the recent organized team activities, Foster stated, “As I evaluate the entire season, me and (Colts Defensive Line) Coach (John) Teerlinck came up with the fact that I’ve got to explode out of my moves. I was doing a great job beating my guys. It’s just that extra little push.” It is clear that Foster realizes he has some things to work on and he took it a bit further when he said, “You can’t stay the same. You have to find something in your game, and it’s always something you can improve on. The hardest thing is to focus in on what exactly it is you need to focus in on.”
Foster showed a lot of energy on the field in 2009, bringing back the “bushwhacker” arms from old-school professional wrestling. He played with a great deal of intensity, saw the backfield more regularly, displayed the versatility to play inside and outside, and played a key role along the defensive line. He is entering his third NFL season, his second in defensive coordinator Larry Coyer’s new system, and is determined to improve on a fairly solid body of work as a key backup at defensive tackle and defensive end.
While some have suggested that Foster could be the odd man out over the summer, with the addition of Ricardo Mathews, Mitch King, and development of Fili Moala, I think Foster stays on the roster and continues to play an important role in the defense. Foster is a player who could potentially fill a Brock-like role on the defense, or will give King and Mathews a lot of competition as a hybrid player along the defensive line who lines up opposite whomever takes Brock’s role.
Put it this way, Foster should be around longer than Keyunta Dawson will be, and I think if he continues to improve he could continue to be a key part of the rotation on the defensive line.