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What will the 09 D look like?

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Colts rookie DT Fili Moala
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Colts rookie DT Fili Moala media.scout.com

With the change from Dungy to Caldwell and from Meeks to Coyer there will be changes defensively. The question is, How big of a change will it be?

The comments from the organization and the lack of a purge on the defensive side of the ball this offseason both set the upper limit on the change. The Colts will still be running a Tampa-2 with speed and quickness the primary player traits. The (pretty safe) assumption that a defense any smaller and more speed focused wouldn't be viable in the NFL sets the opposite boundary. The Colts D will be a small speedy Tampa-2, somewhere between the Dungy era Ds and a defense like the Bears who run a base Tampa-2, but change up the scheme much more often than the Colts have in the past.

We won't know for certain where in that range they will fall, and likely won't know until they've played a few regular season games, but there are some key positions and players to watch as OTAs, Training Camp and Preseason develop. SAM, UT and NT are the undecided starting spots on the D right now. How they are filled will go a long way towards determining what flavor of T-2 they'll be running.

If it's a big change, the D will look like...

SAM: Phillip Wheeler (6'2" 240lbs) or Adam Seward (6'2" 250lbs) will win the starting spot over Tyjuan Hagler (6'0 236lbs) and Freddy Keiaho (5'11" 226lbs).

UT: Fili Moala will be the fixture with the smaller Eric Foster and Keyunta Dawson pushed into specialist roles or off the roster in favor of bigger DTs.

NT: Terrence Taylor will see significant time and will play at a weight on the upper end of the spectrum he was listed at pre-draft (305-325). Antonio Johnson will be the other main role player and both Ed Johnson and Daniel Muir will make the roster.

Scheme: the LB blitz will no longer be a vague legend in Indy. Wheeler, a top blitzer and former DE in college, will be a 5th rusher regularly, with Gary Brackett and Clint Session at the least chipping in some run blitzes.

If it's a change in personnel not scheme the D will look like...

SAM: Unless Wheeler takes major strides in cover skills, Hagler or Keiaho will win the remaining LB spot.

UT: Eric Foster and Keyunta Dawson will be the regulars, with Moala only playing UT in clear run situations if at all.

NT: Moala becomes another in a long line of athletic NTs employed by the Colts, spending most of his time playing the 1-tech. Daniel Muir has little to no chance of making the roster, while Ed and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for 1 job.

Scheme: Meet the new DC, same as the old DC. Tampa-2 'til you're blue in the face, with the cover-3 coming in only when teams are determined to grind down the clock.

I expect the D will look like...

SAM: Wheeler and Hagler battle it out for one spot, good shot to split time if Wheeler still isn't ready in coverage, Wheeler for blitzing, Hagler for coverage, both are pretty well suited for run D.

UT: Eric Foster starts, Moala shifts between the two DT spots playing UT on some run downs and NT on most passing downs, Dawson is a 3rd down specialist.

NT: Ed Johnson reclaims his starting spot (if he stays out of trouble) Fili Moala is the 3rd down NT (or starter if Ed blows chance #4), with Terrence Taylor limited to goal line situations. Mookie cut if Ed stays on the straight and narrow, Muir cut for sure.

Scheme: Plenty of T-2, but Wheeler will bring some added heat at times, the extra bulk at NT and the option to go big at UT will force teams out of the grind it down strategy.

Players to watch

  1. Fili Moala, where he plays, and who he plays over will tell a LOT about where the D is going
  2. Phillip Wheeler, more about usage than whether he plays (since his PT will likely be tied to how much he progresses in coverage). If Wheeler spends the summer chasing Sorgi and Painter around then we can expect Coyer to bring some added pressure at times.
  3. Terrence Taylor, starting NT, situational player, or project?