This series analyzes Colts players who have some of the most interesting storylines heading into the 2012 season. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments on who I should put "Under the Microscope" in future articles this summer. The series started with Jerry Hughes and Joe Reitz, and continues now with safety Tom Zbikowski.
As a Colts fan, there isn't much I enjoy more than searching for Bob Sanders in the Stampede Blue archives.
If you skip past the last four years and land back in the 2007 regular season or the Super Bowl playoff run, I think you'll see why.
Just take a look at this article. Or this one. Or this one. It doesn't take much to remember how Sanders made every opponent fear all 5'8 of him as soon as he took a step onto the field, or how his toughness and determination lifted the entire defense to a higher level of play.
It seems almost foreign after witnessing the past few seasons of Colts football, but this team really did have an absolute badass at strong safety only five years ago.
And with the addition of former Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski this offseason, I think the Colts have another one.
It isn't the raw talent or difference-making abilities that Zbikowski shares with Sanders. At least when Sanders was on the field and healthy, which probably dates back to when I was in junior high, he was an All-Pro player.
Zbikowski is obviously not. At best, he's a career backup who's done well when he's had to contribute in the starting lineup and on special teams. He's just never been a full-time starter, and that makes his abilities in that role a question mark.
But when it comes the sheer passion for football and the desire to punish opposing players hit-for-hit, I say Sanders and Zbikowski mirror each other.
Zbikowski provided enough proof after he signed with the Colts. In response to a question about the team's "Build the Monster" motto, he said the team wants to "beat the crap out of people," this year.
Seriously, how awesome is that?
I haven't even mentioned yet that Zbikowski has a professional boxing career. Most Colts fans should know that by now.
With all of that in mind, I'm pretty sure Zbikowski will play a big part in bringing a new attitude and sense of toughness to the Colts defense. That will only take him so far with the team, though.
In his four-year career since being drafted by the Ravens, he's played in 53 games, starting 14. Even though he'll be counted on to take over as the Colts starting strong safety, his 10 starts from 2009-10 actually came in relief of free safety Ed Reed.
In 2011, he opened the season in a timeshare with Bernard Pollard at strong safety, starting the first four games of the season before he suffered a concussion. As luck would have it, he was hit with another concussion in Week 17 against the Browns. We've all seen that story before with Austin Collie.
So after a disappointing, injury-plagued season, the Ravens let Zbikowski walk in free agency to the Colts.
Prior to his signing, the SB Nation Ravens blog Baltimore Beat Down posted this article asking whether or not Zbikowski should be kept. And it's interesting to see the debate on what kind of player he was for them.
From what I gathered, Zbikowski has a versatile set of skills that help him on defense and special teams. He has decent speed and isn't mistake-prone. After the Colts dealt with such horrific strong safeties last year, that's the type of player they need. The only questions are whether he's recovered from his injuries and if he can succeed as a full-time starting player.
Here's a updated scouting report from Scouts Inc. on what Zbikowski brings to the table:
Zbikowski has adequate size, strength and athleticism for the position. He is solid in filling the alley in run support and has pop and power on contact. He does a nice job maintaining leverage when defending the run and the pass. He lacks great speed and recovery quickness in man coverage but can be effective in combination-zone schemes. He has contributed some as a kick and punt returner but his production is nominal and is best as a core special teams player.
To start, I don't think Zbikowski will be in contention to be the Colts kick returner. Besides the need to keep a starter out of danger on special teams, he wasn't overly effective in only nine returns for the Ravens. The Colts should keep his primary role on defense with some occasional work on the kick and punt coverage units.
When it comes to his defensive skills, Zbikowski sounds like a well-rounded player who can cover the pass and defend the run well. We'll probably see him making positive plays in both areas.
The best factor Zbikowski has going for him is that he doesn't need to be relied upon as the secondary's best player. The Colts already have that in Antoine Bethea. Hell, I even have hope that a healthy Jerraud Powers (which is a stretch at this point) could finally become the great player this year that we've expected him to ascend to for years.
If healthy, Zbikowski can fill in as a role player that the Colts don't have to worry about. I'll admit his injury history from last year is slightly concerning, but if he's able to overcome that and take his play to another level as a starter, I believe the strong safety position will be manned by the best player the Colts have had there in five years.
Here's what we can expect from Zbikowski: toughness, leadership, reliability, and hunger.
This goes beyond what the defense needs. This is the type of player that the entire team, from the front office to the janitors, needs to have around.
He is the definition of "Build the Monster."
No matter what, I'm looking forward to seeing Zbikowski in a Colts jersey. As long he comes through on beating the crap out of people, maybe I'll be searching for his name in the archives five years from now.