Summer Showdown: Philip Wheeler v. Pat Angerer

It is extremely rare for a rookie, even a high draft pick, to start and regularly contribute to a team in the NFL.  Only the top 15 or so picks in each draft are really expected to be first year starters who perform at levels above their veteran successors while the rest of the early draft picks are generally expected to develop into an impact role by the end of their first year.

For Pat Angerer the expectations on him to push for a starting job are even lower as he was one of the last picks in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft and is considered the future heir to Gary Brackett’s starting spot at middle linebacker.  How then could Angerer be in a competition against former third round draft selection Philip Wheeler for the starting position on the strong side of our linebacker group?

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This photo goes a long way to give fans an idea why Pat Angerer could bring something so unique to the Colts linebacker corps that he may win a starting spot outright.

The Colts defense was exposed for a weakness in mid-field pass coverage from its linebackers on the biggest stage, in the Super Bowl earlier this year against the Saints.

Current starting strong-side linebacker, Philip Wheeler is big (6-foot 2-inches tall, 240 pounds) and fast (4.64 40 yard dash) but he only really excels rushing the passer, so much so that Indianapolis has experimented with him as a pass rushing defensive end.  He is not fluid enough in his hips to do well in coverage and performs better playing straight ahead.  Despite this fact, Wheeler only started to show reliability containing rushers on the edge and staying disciplined to his gaps in the final few games of the 2009 season.

Gary Brackett would easily earn honors as the team’s best pass coverage linebacker, and Angerer has been compared to Brackett often since he was selected in the draft, but he serves a very demanding role at the heart of the Colts defense in support and will not always be able to release and cover receivers who tear down the middle of the field.

When Clint Session is thrown into the mix, who is clearly not a pass coverage specialist, the picture becomes clearer.  The Colts defense is weak covering the middle of the field, particularly the short zones for which linebackers are responsible.

While Angerer also posted a 4.64 40-yard dash time at his Pro Day (same as Philip Wheeler) and is two inches short at 6-foot tall, he excelled against the pass in his two seasons as a starter at Iowa.  In those two seasons he managed six interceptions and 14 passes broken up.  He also accumulated 252 tackles in his two seasons as a starter and shows a mean streak, attacks the football, and can lay some big hits on unsuspecting ball carriers.

Despite the opportunity Angerer has to do something that is relatively rare for rookie linebackers who play for the Indianapolis Colts, expectations for him to win a starting position should be tempered with one caveat; the likelihood that Angerer starts the season with the first team defense is nearly non-existent.

If he develops a quick understanding of the defense and works hard though, it is possible that he could take a starting spot away from Philip Wheeler, or possibly Tyjuan Hagler (if he returns), midway through the season.

There is a lot to be excited about as the Colts enter the 2010 summer workouts with what promises to be one of the deepest units at linebacker it has had in some time.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, if Colts fans like Pat McAfee for his antics on and off the field and love for the game, get a load of this guy.

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