I'm taking a break from bashing Mike Florio to actually talk about something important: Free agent rookies!
Now, I know some of you out there are scoffing, making fun of the fact that I care about who the Colts sign as rookie free agents. The truth is rookie free agents as important, if not more important, than the draft. Don't believe me? Ok then, who had a bigger impact on the Colts in 2007: Anthony Gonzalez, or Ed Johnson? You can make a strong argument for both, but I personally think Johnson edges out Gonzo because without big Ed the Colts defense reverts back to the regular season defense we all were tortured with in 2006. Remember when we all stated that the Colts could not afford to lose Booger McFarland, and then two days into training camp they did... for the season! McFarland was quickly replaced by an undrafted, free agent rookie named Ed Johnson. Johnson started every single game at DT for the 2007, and the Colts defense became the #2 defense in football.
So, when I say undrafted free agents are important, I damn well mean it! Oh, and nobody finds diamond-in-the-rough rookies via free agency like Bill Polian. No one.
Today, we'll focus a bit on two gents the Colts signed as rookie free agents: DE Curtis Johnson out of Clark Atlanta and SS Jamie Silva out of BC.
Both Curtis Johnson and Jamie Silva were Scouting Combine invites, and both have very strong scouting reports available at NFL.com. Both fit the bill for a Cover 2-style defense. Both are high character individuals with speed, explosiveness, and a knack for getting the football.
Starting with Silva, NFL.com compares him to Arizona's Corey Chavous:
Few safeties in the professional ranks have the instinctive feel for the ball and knowledge of the action in front of him that Chavous displays. Silva plays with the same field vision, ball anticipation and determination. He is a physical tackler who excels in run support and does a nice job of impeding the ballcarrier's forward progress with his hard-hitting wrap-up tackling skills. He has small, yet natural hands to make the interception and is very good at gaining placement in attempts to reroute the receiver. What he lacks in hip fluidness and explosive second gear, he makes up for with solid tackling skills, taking proper angles and great anticipation skills. Toss in his total disregard for his own well-being, determination to make the play and an added bonus with his kamikaze-style of play on special teams and you have player who is certain to be a fan favorite.
The Colts have some excellent depth at safety with Bob, Antoine, Giordano, and Melvin Bullitt. However, if a player like Bullitt is to retain his job in Indy, he needs to prove that he can become an excellent special teams player. With Silva, he seems to have the speed and ballhawking ability needed to play safety in Dungy's Cover 2, but it is not another safety Indy needs.
Indy needs a special teams ace, and if Silva can play the kind of special teams that the Scouting Combine people think he can play, he could beat out Bullitt. Small side note, Silva could have played college ball at IU, but rejected their offer.
Photo: Patsy Collier
With Curtis Johnson, the Colts have another speed rusher off the edge similar to 5th round pick Marcus Howard. Scouts compare Johnson to Joey Porter, who played DE in college, but was transitioned to LBer in the Pittsburgh 3-4 package.
Johnson is not as instinctive as Porter in locating the ball and will need to totally revamp his pass drop and coverage skills, but he has a violent hand punch to overpower big blockers and a good burst off the edge to be a superb edge rusher. His strong hands have seen him have good success dislodging ballcarriers from the ball. With his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield, he will bring instant value in pass-rushing situations. He is also a very capable coverage defender on special teams. The big thing here will be getting Johnson a patient coach. Doing so could unearth a Pro Bowler before long. He was tried at both inside and outside linebacker in postseason all-star action and held up very well on the edge. The mental aspect of playing inside will be too much for him to grasp at this early stage of his possible shift to a stand-up defender from one with his hand on the ground. Look for Johnson to become the first noteworthy CAU product since former NFL fullback Chuck Evans (1993-2000), who was drafted in the 11th round in 1992.
Like with Silva, Johnson could find his niche on the team as a special teams gunner. However, I'm of the mindset that the more pass rushers Indy has, the better. Losing Freeney, Mathis, and Brock killed Indy's chances of repeating last year. I do not want that to happen again, especially with excellent secondary Indy has. Johnson's one problem is his lack of bulk. He's taller than Robert Mathis and Marcus Howard, but weighs less. He will need to add some muscle in order to stay healthy in the NFL. Johnson was considered on of the "best kept secrets" in college football after he impressed many during his last year in college.
If Curtis Johnson displays the same knack at getting to the QB as he did in college, adding him (along with Howard and potentially Rosevelt Colvin) would make Indy's pass rush even more deadly.