When Indianapolis Colts' inside linebacker Pat Angerer went down with an injury in the preseason, he was labeled as a player the team couldn't afford to lose. Now, entering week four of the regular season (the Colts' bye week), there is talk amongst fans and analysts alike whether Angerer should be starting or not.
The reason isn't because of anything Angerer did, but rather because of what his replacement, Jerrell Freeman, has done.
Freeman is a guy that I was very high on this summer when I looked position-by-position at the talent on the Colts' roster. I thought he was a guy with great potential, and when given the chance with Angerer's injury, Freeman has flashed that potential even brighter. Through the first three games of the year, Freeman has 27 total tackles (18 solo), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception (which he returned four yards for a touchdown), and 1 pass deflection. In the Colts' only win of the season (week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings), he led the team with 13 total tackles. In each of his first two career NFL games, he forced a turnover. Freeman, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans in 2008 out of Mary-Hardin Baylor but didn't make the final 53-man roster, spent the last three seasons in the Canadian Football League. Last year he led the league with 105 tackles and really made some people notice. He's doing the same in Indianapolis this year.
Freeman has been great early on this year. But all along, wasn't he just a fill-in for the promising young Angerer (who is actually a year younger than the 26-year old Freeman)? I mean, Angerer recorded 148 tackles last season. That kind of production doesn't just get replaced. But take a look at Freeman early on this year and you'll see very good play as well.
So why don't they both just start? After all, there are two inside linebacker positions on this defense. The other man in this debate is Kavell Conner. Conner, 25, is himself a young linebacker who has shown promise in his two years in Indy. While not quite up to the production of Angerer's 236 career tackles in two years, Conner recorded 161 in his first two. He too topped 100 tackles a year ago (104). And he too, like Freeman, has started the 2012 season off well. Through three games he has 17 total tackles (14 solo) with 1 sack and 1 pass deflection. The duo of Freeman and Conner has seemed to work so far this year, although the overall defensive statistics don't quite show it (the Colts are actually surrendering more points per game this year than they did last year - 27.7 to 26.9).
So the big question has become - what happens when Pat Angerer returns, which all signs indicate he will following the bye week?
This much is for sure - Pat Angerer is too good to sit on the bench when healthy. We have still yet to see how well he can play in this 3-4 defense (he only got a few drives in preseason before he got injured). But if he can't make the transition as well (which I do not think will be a problem), then the Colts need to move him to a team running the 4-3. Again, he can't just sit on the bench.
So yes, I am saying that Pat Angerer needs to be starting when he returns. But I also don't think it's as easy of a decision as some may think. I don't pretend to know what the Colts are thinking, but I know that their plan is to thrust Angerer into the starting lineup when he's healthy.
Let me now say that what the Colts need to do is continue to start Freeman as well. Start Angerer and Freeman and give Conner quite a bit of playing time as well. Whatever the Colts decide to do, they will have depth and they will have three players who they need to get significant playing time at inside linebacker.
I don't think there is much doubt about what the Colts will do regarding Pat Angerer, and that is start him. I also agree that the move is the correct one. However, they then have to decide who will be starting alongside him, and I say start Freeman. You could make a very strong case for Conner as well.
So yeah, Pat Angerer will return to the starting lineup when he's healthy - which figures to be after the bye against the Green Bay Packers. But no longer would I label him a player the Colts can't afford to lose. Because now, the Colts have options at inside linebacker. No matter what the defense does overall as a unit, the inside linebacker one looks to be deep. And while the defense as a whole has been underwhelming, the inside linebackers have been a bright spot. Factor in the return of last year's leading tackler and the position becomes even more of a reason for optimism on an otherwise disappointing defense.