Between now and the start of training camp, news on Colts-related events is pretty sparse. OTAs are on-going, and in June there is the full team mini-camp. But, really, between now and late-July, the news from West 56th Street is pretty dead. But one thing I've learned in four years of covering the Colts is that just because West 56th Street isn't talking doesn't mean there isn't news or topics to talk about.
Topic discussion is the #1 priority of this site and any other real blog. Lots of places provide news, but very few provide a place to talk about and analyze that news. So, even though the NFL Draft is over, and we are basically just waiting to see how all these new players are going to look in camp, that doesn't mean his blog goes into hibernation, or something.
We will chug along no different as if it were Week Four of the regular season.
For today, I want to chat about defense. Last year, I wasn't excited about it prior to camp. I was cautiously optimistic. I was excited about our then-new coordinator and some of the ideas he might bring with him. Based on what we all saw on the field, I think 2009 showed that Larry Coyer was a better defensive coordinator than Ron Meeks. Again, that's not a knock on Meeks. Coyer should be better. He's been in the league, and coaching football in general, for decades.
Coyer's tweaks to the Tampa-2 (playing more man; blitz packages) helped this defense turn the corner a bit. Had Dwight Freeney not gotten hurt in the AFC Championship, we'd have won Super Bowl 44 and Coyer would have gotten his first ring as a defensive coordinator. But, sadly, once again we walk into an off-season saying "If Freeney hadn't gotten hurt..." Quite frankly, I'm tired of losing because our only pass rusher, other than Robert Mathis, keeps getting significant injuries at very inopportune times. Losing a pass rusher is almost in-line with losing your QB. They are that vital. The Cowboys do not function without DeMarcus Ware. The Patriots defense has been a shell of its former self since Willie "Fake an Injury" McGinest left. Remember how awesome the Giants defense was in Super Bowl 42? Remember how terrible they were last year with an injured Justin Tuck?
Pass rushers are very, very friggin important. This is why I am very excited about Jerry Hughes and the Colts defense in 2010.
The addition of Hughes takes the pressure off players like Freeney, who is beginning to show the wear and tear of eight years in the NFL. He had two pretty significant injuries in 2009 (thigh and ankle), and in the games he was hobbled or missing, the Colts defense suffered. Hughes allows the Colts to rotate Freeney and Mathis more, keeping them fresh and healthy for a possible playoff run.
Seriously, when the Colts are talking about "resting starters," it is Dwight Freeney that they are focusing on. Without Freeney, the Colts defense might as well not take the field in a playoff game.Want to see Bill Polian age twenty years in the span of twenty seconds? Watch him in the booth as Freeney limps off the field.
Adding Hughes to the mix also provides the Colts with additional options in terms of rushing the QB. In 2008 and 20009, the Colts used Raheem Brock as a "joker" linebacker in certain blitz packages. Hughes will likely be used in a similar way. Unlike Brock, Hughes will not be used as a rush tackle, according to Polian.
Other than keeping Freeney fresh, the other area of concern for Bill Polian is back-up middle linebacker. The MIKE in a Tampa-2 is a pivotal position. We saw how different the Colts defense looked in 2008 when Gary Brackett was lost after breaking his leg. Quality depth behind Brackett was a priority for Polian, which is why I think he reached for Pat Angerer in Round Two. Charles Brown filled a higher priority (starting left tackle), and likely is a better prospect, in my not-so-humble opinion. However, general consensus is Polian is just fine with the current left tackles on the roster. Back-up linebacker was his priority. Losing Brackett was a factor in the Colts losing to the Chargers in the 2008 playoffs, and Bill Polian is likely very tired of injuries on defense costing his club playoff wins. Thus, Hughes, Angerer, and Kevin Thomas go in Rounds One, Two, and Three, respectively.
Finally, there is the X-Factor known as Bob Sanders. Bob has been a disappointment these last two years. The cold, harsh reality of pro football is that players who cannot stay on the field are useless. It's just that simple. I say this because I'm a Colts fan first and Bob Sanders fan second, but for my money this is a make or break year for Bob. He lands on IR this year, I don't see how the Colts can face the fans and tell them he is the team's safety for now and the future. The Colts nearly won a Super Bowl without Bob, which tells me he is not really worth the contract he signed.
That said, if this defense gets the Defensive Player of the Year version of Bobzilla, which they really should get seeing as Bob hasn't played a full season of football since 2007 (the year he won that award), there's no reason not to expect them to be a Top 10 group. A healthy Sanders and Freeney paired with a solid DT rotation, improved depth at corner, Jerry Hughes, and the versatility offered by Melvin Bullitt equals BBS smiling ear-to-ear!
And if you hand Peyton Manning and the wide receivers of the Colts a healthy Top 10 defense, the results will be another Super Bowl win for the Colts.
So, yeah, I'm excited. Unlike last year, I am very anxious to see this defense go to places like Houston and New England and thumb those guys. I'm trying to think back to the years of Corey Byrd and Larry Tripplett, wondering how in the world this team won 12 games with defensive players that bad. Well, the answer was a 28-year-old Peyton Manning and a 25-year-old Dwight Freeney. Now, both Big P and D-Free are over 30. However, unlike back then, they have tremendous talent surrounding them.
And, for the 2010 Colts defense, I know my expectations are very high.