When Indianapolis Colts fans think about Antonio Morrison, their explanations of what he brings to the table can be mixed. Most often though, they fear that his potential has already been realized. His coverage skills are disappointing, he lacks consistency in any aspect of his game, and against the run — which is supposed to be his strength — he lacks the discipline and vision to truly take that next step.
One of Morrison’s most coveted skills, may not actually be a skill at all. His aggression as a hitter/tackler tends to earn the attention of his coaches each year in camp, but once the season kicks off it typically leads to silly penalties and missed tackles.
By virtue of his position within the Colts’ two-gap, 3-4 scheme of the Pagano era, Morrison was able to rack up a ton of tackles (108) to lead the team last season. Coming in to camp last season, Morrison appeared to have all the stars aligning for a break out season.
I was as guilty of drinking the kool-aid from what I was seeing as anyone. His production — on paper — looks nice and shiny, but again, he was a chink in the Colts’ armor far too often last year.
He continually got sealed off by offensive linemen due to his indecisiveness, he lacked the control to finish ball carriers and was a glaring vulnerability against the pass. Morrison got a lot of playing time as a rookie, started all but one game last season, and yet, he’s only earned a single solitary pass defensed and still hasn’t landed an interception as a pro.
Morrison is still on his rookie contract, so he’s extremely inexpensive which offers good reason to continue to see if his trajectory can get going in the right direction. However, on a roster deep in the throes of transition his time may be limited.
With the Colts’ move to a 4-3 base front and reverting back to the Tampa-2 coverage scheme, finding Morrison a role in which he can succeed is not all that easy. As an inside backer in the 3-4, Morrison’s role was to fill gaps and pursue the ball. There really isn’t such a role expected to be available to him in the new system, thus Morrison’s future with the team immediately comes into question.
Regardless if rookie Darius Leonard turns out to be the starter or not at the WILL position, nothing about Morrison’s game leads him to that spot come Week 1. Covering running backs and attempting to pursue through the trash to the opposite side of the field are literally what he struggles most at.
At the MIKE position, you might think that he’d fit in there more naturally, however, in the Tampa-2 system Morrison would be required to drop deep into the middle of the field — splitting the safeties — when reading pass, and his recognition in play action is sketchy to say the least. The MIKE/ILB role is typically the leader or captain of virtually every defense in football, but it could be the most critical individual spot on the defense, especially with what the Colts will be running.
His tackling would have to be excellent. It’s not. His read-and-react ability would have to be top-notch. To this point in his career, it’s far from it. This is not a fit for Morrison, period.
Now, as for the SAM spot on the defense, this may be a better fit for Morrison’s skill set.
The SAM doesn’t quite get the snaps the other two linebackers receive, mostly due to the position being filled by the nickel corner or a third safety on late downs. The SAM role isn’t designated for the best tackler on the team, but rather the one who may be described as the most physical or willing to take on the most contact.
This backer typically takes on any lead blocker, whether it be a fullback, tight end lined up in the backfield or even a pulling lineman at times. I mean, if he’s typically getting picked off by blockers anyhow, the Colts may as well allow him to fill the role in which he’d actually be used in matching physicality by design, right?
The SAM does have to cover at times, usually a tight end if working in man coverage, but when covering a zone he stays closer to the line of scrimmage and reads the quarterback’s eyes more or less. As a SAM, Morrison would occasionally be expected to blitz as well. Considering his aggressive nature, that could actually be quite fun to watch.
In short, the SAM is a far more natural fit for Morrison than the other two positions. He’s not an ideal fit right now, but he’d be relied upon to use his most inherent traits as a player to the team’s advantage. I think he may even be able to flourish in this role in spite of it limiting his time on the field.
Morrison has been seen at the SAM spot thus far during offseason workouts, and to be perfectly honest, if he doesn’t at least prove that he can be an early-down contributor in this role it may just be his last hurrah with the Colts altogether.
I think it’s fair to say that Morrison has a ton to prove this summer in order to make the roster. He may even have much more to prove during the season if he hopes to show that he can grow in the league, in attempt to add some versatility to his game.