For part two of my look at the 2012 Colts defense, I will look at the linebackers. Outside linebacker, is where the Colts main pass rush must come from this season, due to the switch to the 3-4. Here below are whom I believe will start for the Colts, come day one of the 2012 season, at linebacker.
ILB1- Pat Angerer will be a Colts starter at inside linebacker. Angerer, an ideal middle linebacker in a Tampa 2 type defense is not a natural fit in a 3-4, however he is a tackling machine. He was without doubt one of the Colts best players defensively last season and with a bit of (Andrew) Luck will adapt well to the new scheme.
ILB2- With the players currently on the roster the best option is Kavell Conner. Conner is another player who had a breakout season last year, and is poised to continue to build on his success this coming season. A possible sleeper at this position could be new free agent signing Jerrell Freeman. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he led the CFL in tackles in 2011 and came from the very well known college football program at The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Yes you like me have most likely never heard of it. He does not possess overwhelming size but from watching his CFL games I can see he plays the game instinctively very much like Pat Angerer, and could become productive in the NFL as say another ex-CFLer: Cameron Wake. At least we can dream. Don’t be surprised if Freeman doesn’t make the 53-man roster though, he looks destined for the Colts practice squad in my eyes just as fellow ex-Saskatchewan Roughrider John Chick(now with the Jaguars if you wished to know) did this past season. The Colts seem to have a flirtation with CFL players for some reason, the most successful in recent years probably being running back Kenton Keith. Remember him?
OLB1- The starter here will be Robert Mathis. He appears to be a more natural fit into the outside linebacker role in the new Colts scheme out of him and other stalwart Dwight Freeney. I thoroughly expect Mathis to be effective for the Colts this season. If not, the Colts have made a big mistake in giving him that lucrative new contract. Don’t expect first round draft bust Jerry Hughes to contribute here or at defensive end, his days in a Colts uniform are numbered, maybe in the future he will lead the CFL in sacks. Now wouldn’t that be ironic.
OLB2- We know Dwight Freeney will occupy the other starting outside backer position for the Colts this season. Many people, most notably Bill Polian, have raised concerns over his ability to convert to outside linebacker for the Colts this season and I must admit I am slightly sceptical myself. However Coach Pagano told Dan Pompeii of the National Football Post that he envisions Freeney playing in a similar role to that of Terrell Suggs in Baltimore. This means we should expect to see Freeney doing what he does best; rushing the Quarterback. It looks like the spin move is still alive and kicking in Indianapolis. One point to note is it may benefit Freeney and the Colts to bring in a veteran such as Packers UFA Erik Walden who has a good understanding of a 3-4 defense. Walden in my opinion would be a great addition to the Colts however two things stand in the way of this happening. One, Walden’s off-field antics hampering his potential, and two, Money. Factor in that the Colts have showed no interest in Walden as of yet and you have a deal that’s never going to happen. Still I think the Colts would be making a great decision if they did pursue Walden.
The Colts linebacking corp. this season, is set to see a considerable amount of transitional change for each player who starts. Many, if not all of them, will have to adapt their playing style in order to succeed in the new defense. Pagano appears to be a player’s coach, therefore I don’t believe this should be too much of a problem. Still ‘teaching an old dog new tricks’, is far easier said than done.