The Indianapolis Colts have a long history of doing more with less at defensive tackle. In the 1995 NFL Draft the Colts selected Ellis Johnson in the first round and in 2002 it drafted Larry Tripplett in the second. It took another seven years for the team to draft a defensive tackle in the first two rounds of the draft, taking Fili Moala in the second round in 2009.
Beyond that, the Colts have had horrible luck with defensive tackles, including the Corey Simon failure, Booger McFarland’s career-ending knee injury in the 2007 off-season, and Ed Johnson’s drug possession and weight control problems ending his short career in Indianapolis. Even former third round pick Quinn Pitcock out of Ohio State, who showed promise in his rookie season, unexpectedly retired on his way to summer workouts in 2008.
If it was not for successful scouting and acquisition of players from other teams, including starters Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson, along with the development of undrafted free agent Eric Foster, the franchise would have been unable to continue its streak of regular-season success. In order to improve the position long-term and hopefully attain top-tier talent the Colts drafted Moala.
While fans and coaches may have been fully aware that it would take time for Moala to develop and be ready to take over as a starter on the defensive line, moving up in the second round to select him suggests a strong expectation that he will be a starting caliber talent. Unfortunately, Moala not only failed to show starting level talent, he failed to even give fans confidence that he made meaningful strides. He appeared in only 10 games in 2009, made 17 tackles, and was inactive in each of the Colts three post-season contests.
John Oehser reported on CBS Rapid Reports that Moala recently said “I struggled. It was a difficult transition for me. I tried my best, but it just didn’t go the way I wanted,” when he was approached about his development last season at this years organized team activities. While it is encouraging that Moala is aware that his progress was unacceptable, his future with the Colts could be on the line this summer.
Keep in mind that the Colts have added numerous players to compete for defensive tackle depth and that the team is in the middle of one of the most complicated contract negotiation situations it has been in since Bill Polian took over as the team’s general manager. It is reasonable to believe that signing long-term contract extensions for former undrafted players, and those added off of waivers, would be cheaper and easier than keeping an unproven draft pick on the roster for a higher price.
Moala needs to become a regular facet in the defensive tackle rotation, at least, by the beginning of the 2010 regular season to make up for his lost time. He should also be starting-caliber and clear competition for a starting spot by the end of the season as the Colts head into the final push for the playoffs. If Moala fails to develop into a potential starter by the end of his second season in the NFL, and does not look comfortable in his role, maintaining his contract long-term will be less attractive and acquiring new options will become a very real possibility.