In a 3-4 defense like the one the Colts run, the nose tackle is a position of great importance. That's why last year, fans were real excited to see what Josh Chapman could do. They understood that the 3-4 needed a good nose tackle in the middle of the defensive line and they hoped Chapman could fill that role.
That's the same place we're at now - except for that the expectations may be even higher. But we just don't know.
By now, you've all heard the story of Josh Chapman over and over, so I'll rehash it really briefly here. Basically, he was the anchor of the defensive line of the best defense in the country at Alabama and won two national championships with the Crimson Tide. During his senior season, he tore his ACL but played through it until after the championship game. He was then drafted by the Colts in the 5th round with the knowledge that he wasn't going to be able to play right away. He started the season on the PUP list and then, after more evaluation after coming off of that list, the decision was made to place Chapman on injured reserve. It was a wise move to allow him to get fully healthy before trying to get back on the field, but it led to even more expectations among fans who were thinking that he is the answer on the defensive line.
He very well may be, but again - we just don't know. As a result, that is something that myself, along with most fans, will be watching in training camp and preseason. No, we won't know whether or not he will anchor the middle of the defensive line for years to come or anything like that, but we will be able to gauge just a bit of how much of an impact to expect from Chapman right away.
Based on that, we will then be able to much more clearly determine who will be starting week one against the Raiders.
Chapman enters camp as the favorite, but Brandon McKinney and Aubrayo Franklin could both make pushes for the startng spots, and even then don't completely rule out Martin Tevaseu as a dark horse candidate. McKinney too is coming off of an ACL surgery that forced him to miss the entire regular season last year after following Chuck Pagano from the Ravens to the Colts. Franklin was signed as a free agent this offseason, and Tevaseu played well when he was given the chance last year.
It really comes down to this, however: Josh Chapman should the starter if he's healthy and ready to go. Unless one of those other three really impresses during camp, Chapman will get the starting nod at nose tackle. But, of course, there is a rotation and the battle for playing time should be quite competitive. Heck, even the battle to make the roster between these four guys should be competitive, as the gap between the first and fourth guy isn't as much as some of the other positions. Maybe I'm too high on Tevaseu, but I think he's a good young player. He's clearly entering camp as the fourth guy however, so he'll need to have a good camp in order to earn playing time. McKinney and Franklin are the two who are really going to be battling it out for a lot of playing time.
Bottom line, however, is that this position will be defined by the success of Josh Chapman. The coaches have talked him up quite a bit, the media has talked him up quite a bit, and the fans have talked him up quite a bit. There are big expectations for the big man. Here' s what I wrote as a summation of my defensive line preview:
The way we judge this position at the end of the year will come down to Josh Chapman. Can he really live up to the expectations set for him? Will he become the anchor that we all think he can be? If those answers are both yes, the Colts will not only have a real good defensive line this year, but for years to come as well.
So while there indeed will be a battle for a starting job, the other guys are at a disadvantage to Josh Chapman. The battle for significant playing time, however, is much more even and should provide for plenty to watch and discuss during training camp, preseason, and into the regular season as well.
For more on Aubrayo Franklin, check out Josh Wilson's free agent profile on him here.
For more on Aubrayo Franklin possibly starting at nose tackle, check out Brad Wells' analysis from earlier in the summer here.
For more on the nose tackle position, check out Josh Wilson's defensive line preview here.