The Colts recently conducted a mandatory minicamp at Franklin College, and John Oehser of Colts.com and Indyfootballreport.com was kind enough to report on some pressing questions. I asked him about the influx of talent at defensive tackle, and how it was playing out in the organized team activities:
John Oehser (courtesy of The Indy Football Report): "I’ll preface the answer by saying being at OTAs or around Indy might not give you significantly more insight into your questions. With no contact and no pads, the practices don’t really show anyone pulling away from anyone else at any positions. The Colts are rotating guys at defensive tackle, and while it’s hard to tell in mini-camp who’s starting, Antonio Johnson and Ed Johnson got some work with the first unit this weekend. Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster—last year’s starters—are getting a lot of work, too, but everybody’s getting a lot of work. I’d be surprised if Ed Johnson doesn’t start, and as for the second tackle, one or both of the two drafted rookies –Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor — almost certainly will play a key role in the not-too-distant future. If I had to guess, I’d say Johnson and Johnson open the season as “starters,” with Moala and Taylor being brought along as quickly as possible. Dawson could play a hybrid tackle/end role, and Foster could still be a valuable reserve."
I agree that Ed Johnson will likely step right back in to his starting roll; he was the Colts' best defensive tackle in his rookie season and he still has room for improvement.
Assuming Raheem Brock continues playing primarily at left defensive end (he had 14 starts at left end last season and one start at left tackle against Jacksonville, as opposed to 11 starts at tackle in 2007) the other defensive tackle spot appears to be wide open. I expect the battle for this position to be a close contest between Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster, possibly continuing through training camp and into the preseason.
Antonio Johnson made a huge impact after being signed off Tennessee's practice squad last season, and arguably saved the team's playoff chances after the Colts lost Ed Johnson and Quinn Pitcock at the beginning of the season. He was a monster on the field, registering 31 tackles in eight games, 21 of which were solo. He was promoted to starter for the last four games of the regular season and started at left tackle for the Wild Card Playoff game against San Diego.
Eric Foster started 11 games at left defensive tackle last season, and if he doesn't retain his starting spot this year he should at least be a consistent contributor in the rotation. However, it is somewhat telling that he was used as a reserve in the Colts' only playoff game last year.
In the past the Colts have shown little, if any, hesitation at thrusting their best players into the starting rotation whether they are undrafted rookie free agents or veteran first round draft picks. If either Fili Moala or Terrance Taylor displays exemplary talent in training camp, the Colts will make sure that they make an impact on gameday.
I also asked John Oehser about Phillip Wheeler's progress in the minicamp. Wheeler is projected to take over the starting strong side linebacker position this year, but veteran linebackers Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho will certainly compete for the starting role:
Oehser: "Strong-side linebacker will almost certainly be his job to lose entering training camp, and I’d be surprised if he’s not the starter."
Moving Clint Session to the weak side linebacker position seems to fit his playing style perfectly, but whether or not Wheeler will provide a boost to the strong side remains to be seen.
Special thanks to John Oehser of the Indy Football Report