One of the more interesting revelations from my podcast with Colts beat writer and blogger Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star had to do with new starting strong safety Tom Zbikowski. Tommy Z is a pretty darn good safety. Nothing flashy. Nothing awe-inspiring. Just a good hitter and tackler who can cover well and has a good head on his shoulders (Notre Dame grad... Matt Grecco made me write that).
So, why did he lose his starting job in Baltimore last year to Bernard "Brady's Knee" Pollard, a guy who couldn't cover a toddler on a Big Wheel if he ran a route out of the backfield?
Phil B told me:
Phil B: By Tom's own admission, I lost my edge in Baltimore. I lost my job. I took it for granted. I wasn't the same player.
Brad: So he told you that?
Phil B: He did tell me that, and he said, I need to prove myself and show people the kind of football player I should have been there, and I'm not gonna be [that] guy who lost his job.
Baltimore fans would have more insight into Tommy's decline with the Ravens than I would. Perhaps factoring into him losing his edge and taking things for granted was the lockout. From March to July last year, while owners and the NFLPA were arguing with each other over a new collective bargaining agreement, Tommy Z was training as a boxer.
In fact, he fought (and defeated) Richard Bryant by TKO on March 16, 2011:
Personally, I think it's kind of cool to have a strong safety who is also a pretty decent boxer. However, part of being good at football is being able to focus on it, and it's possible that Zbikowski's dedication to that sport cost him his job in Baltimore. However, when the lockout ended and the season began, All-Pro safety Ed Reed went down with injury. Zbikowski stepped in for Reed and played well along side the guy who took his job, Bernard Pollard.
Then, when free agency came along, Zbikowski followed Chuck Pagano to Indianapolis (Pagano was his D.C. in Baltimore, and prior to that was his secondary coach).
I was a big fan of this signing when it happened. The strong safety position has been a revolving door since 2006, with various injury-prone players stepping into the void. Some were great (Bob Sanders) and some were awful (Joe Lefeged). What is needed is a stable player who can man the position, provide some leadership, and make some plays.
Speaking of making plays, Zbikowski tipped a ball yesterday during a training camp drill that resulted in an Andrew Luck INT. Last year, under Pagano's guidance, the Baltimore defense snatched 15 INTs, which is nearly double the 8 total INTs the Colts defense had in 2011. The last time the Colts defense grabbed more than 15 INTs in a season was 2009, the year they lost the Super Bowl to the Saints.