Man in the Middle

With former Colts MLB Rob Morris languishing in free agency limbo, and no sure replacement found through the NFL Draft, who will line up as the starting MLB at the Colts next mini-camp?

For years, the Colts kept telling the media and fans that Rob Morris was developing and getting better with each game.

The fans and the media didn't buy it. And with their silence during this offseason as Morris languishes in free agency limbo, it's apparent the Colts aren't buying it anymore either.

Colts President Bill Polian told the media back on April 30th during the Colts rookies' mini-camp that, "We'll take a look and see where we stand at the end of this camp and see where we are relative to injuries at the position, and how we want to line the position up....The answer is that the book isn't closed.

"We'll sit down and see where we are Monday and Tuesday and see where we go from there."

Well, a couple of Mondays have come and gone now, and there's still no sign of a Morris sighting. The've given his jersey number to defensive lineman Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns. And according to two NFL sources, the Colts have no intention of re-signing Morris providing their current corps of linebackers stay healthy. And they certainly won't do it for anywhere near the $1 million he made last year.

So who will be the Colts' new man in the middle when the veterans gather with the rookies at the next mini-camp?

On draft day, speculation ran rampant that it would be rookie Tyjuan Hagler. And he reportedly had a good camp, but that was in a no-contact situation where he was able to primarily display his open-field speed and his agility.

But odds are that the rookie out of Cincinnati won't be ready by opening day to be the anchor in the middle -- if at all this season. He will certainly be capable of being a contributor on special teams and should make the roster. But Hagler played outside linebacker in college, so asking him to shift to the middle and expecting him to be ready to play a key position like MLB as a rookie is not likely. He will certainly get a look there, but don't expect him to be the #1 MLB at this next mini-camp.

So maybe it's going to be strong side linebacker David Thornton. Actually, that's the guy who probably should be anchoring the Colts middle. Thornton is an intelligent linebacker who has the necessary toughness to mix it up inside. But the Colts are not only ready to open mini-camp with Thornton back at the strongside spot (his natural position in college), but also with Cato June lining up as the returning starter at the weakside LB spot. Gilbert Gardner will get a legitimate shot to dislodge June who had his peaks and valleys last year.

The names are dwindling down. So the Colts must be ready to pursue a free agent like recently released Bengals LB Kevin Hardy, right? He's seen some action as an inside linebacker in the past.

Nope. At least not so far until they see who else may get bumped. ColtPower has learned that no one is expressing much interest in Hardy for an inside linebacker position because they don't think he can do it again. That's one of the reasons why the Bengals moved him to strongside linebacker two years ago. So unless the Colts have thoughts of signing him and moving Thornton to the middle, a Hardy signing is highly unlikely. And as you've seen so far, no one is exactly jumping through hoops to get Hardy signed.

Those same two NFL sources stated that the Colts will open their veteran mini-camp with Gary Brackett lining up as the incumbent at MLB. And one of those sources said that the Colts are still high on Keyon Whiteside, who gained experience at MLB at the University of Tennessee and was one of their leading tacklers. But his torn patella that caused him to miss a good portion of the 2004 season may keep him out of camp this year.

So for now, it appears the Colts will roll the dice with feisty Gary Brackett who -- like Hagler -- is undersized compared to a typical MLB. And while his size is certainly a concern for a team focusing on stopping the run, Bracket at minimum is an upgrade over Rob Morris' pass defense skills. He picked off three passes over the past two years as a part-time player.

Brackett will get a shot, but if he falters even in mini-camp, Polian's trigger finger could get itchy enough to grab a veteran that gets his release after June 1 to hedge his bets.

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