Colts Linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, who has often been injured in the past, has been placed on the IR with a ruptured biceps suffered in last week's game against the San Francisco 49ers. However, the Colt's top-ranked scoring defense, which is allowing just 13 points a game, might not be significantly less productive without Hagler for the rest of the season.
The team's "next man up" philosophy will again be tested, but this time it may be closer to a "first man up" situation. Hagler's replacement, second-year veteran Phillip Wheeler, was actually the starter at strong-side linebacker throughout training camp. Hagler quietly took over the starting job just before the start of the regular season.
Since Wheeler was ahead of Hagler on the depth chart for most of the offseason, Wheeler has plenty of experience playing with the first team defense. He put his experience to good use when Hagler left the 49ers game in the third quarter, quickly racking up six tackles and a sack.
The Colts defense was much improved in the second half of that game, and some of that can be attributed to Wheeler's play. San Francisco got the majority of their rushing yards and all of their points in the first half.
Wheeler is a more prototypical pass rusher than Hagler and played at defensive end in college. He provides an interesting weapon for defensive coordinator Larry Coyer to use in his blitz schemes. In the last few games, Coyer has been employing more zone blitzes that drop defensive linemen into coverage. Wheeler certainly has the speed to get to the quarterback when he is utilized as a pass rusher.
As injuries build, the area that suffers the most for the Colts is generally the special teams unit. The team has been much better in kickoff and punt coverage this year compared to recent seasons. With Hagler on the injured reserve, the team has added preseason waiver acquisition Cody Glenn to the active roster, and he will definitely be expected to contribute on special teams.