Linebackers: Bill Polian clearly has a plan, but I don't know what it is. Last year's starting trio were much-maligned by fans and the press and clearly deserved some of the slagging they got.
Middleman Rob Morris probably played the best of the lot, but wasn't re-signed and isn't likely to be. David Thornton, a find as a second-year starter in 2003, regressed as he was asked to assume more duties after a shift to the strong side. His replacement at Will, converted safety Cato June, made some plays but was more often out of position or biting on fakes. Neither's job is guaranteed.
Matters are complicated by the presence of 2004 draft picks Gilbert Gardner and Kendyll Pope, who had virtual redshirt rookie seasons as both were hit by injuries. Also in the mix are veteran reserve Gary Brackett and fifth-rounder Tyjuan Hagler, who Polian says will get a shot in the middle. Linebackers, even the starters, are expected to help on special teams and that's often a young player's route onto the team.
Nick Hannah, OLB, Eastern Oregon
2004 stats: 35 TK, 86 AT, 8-35 TFL, 3.5-25 SK, 1-0-0 INT, 4 PBU, 3-94-2 FR
Workout numbers: 6010/230/4.67
Who is he: A friend sent me a CD that had an Eastern Oregon game on it and, although it was hard to make much out of it, I could tell that there was one player who had it all over the others. Hannah was flying around all over the place and shedding blocks like the offensive players were children. In one quarter I saw him play end, inside linebacker, outside linebacker and what appeared to be strong safety, so it's hard to predict where he'll end up. Of course, the level of competition has to be considered but Hannah has a great sense of where the ball is and seems to know how to get to it.
Where does he fit: Admittedly one of the longer of shots to make the team, Hannah will have to really impress on special teams to get noticed.
Chris Laskowski, OLB, Florida Atlantic
2004 stats: 47 TK, 32 AT, 11.5-57 TFL, 3-18 SK, 1-15-0 INT, 1 PBU
Workout numbers: 5092/221/4.47
Who is he: A quick linebacker with constantly moving feet. Many teams projected Laskowski as a safety, but he's more suited to OLB in the Colts' scheme. Better moving forward than back or side-to-side, he's a penetrator. His best quality is an ability to deliver big hits while maintaining proper tackling technique. Laskowski is a terror in the open field. Polian's already compared him to Larry Izzo, a football player's football player.
Where does he fit: The Colts take special teams very seriously and would definitely consider saving a roster spot for an accomplished wedge-buster and coverage tackler. If Laskowski wows them in camp, he'll have a chance.
Dominique Sims, OLB, Minnesota
2004 stats: 48 TK, 26 AT, 10-12 TFL, 2-3 SK, 1 PBU
Workout numbers: 6010/229/4.58
Who is he: Converted to Will after starting his college career at strong safety, Sims plays the position with great mobility. He has an excellent back-pedal and gets deep drops in coverage and understands zones well. He attacks the line of scrimmage with authority and, although he's not a highlight-reel hitter, he knows how to tackle. I've seen him fooled by play-action, then blow up a well-disguised screen the next play.
Where does he fit: Another guy who's going to have to put his licks in on kick-coverage units to get noticed, Sims has superior athletic ability and plays linebacker in the hit-and-run style the Colts like. A smart kid, Sims has surprise or first-cut written all over him.
Mikal Baaqee, ILB, Virginia Tech
2004 stats: 30 TK, 41 AT, 3.5-8 TFL, 1 PBU, 3-0-0 FR
Workout numbers: 5110/231/4.80
Who is he: Noticing a bit of a trend here? Baaqee, like the other linebackers invited to Indy is a fiery, undersized linebacker who flies around the field and gets into trouble when he gets touched by a blocker. Somewhat better than most at play diagnosis and more than willing to fill a gap, Baaqee may find his aggressive style of play may not translate well in the pros where every lineman is a giant. Interestingly, he played much better as a Mike in his sophomore and junior seasons than he did as a Sam last year.
Where does he fit: Although there are few candidates for the inside job, the competition should be even more fierce. Baaqee will have to be pretty stunning in camp to get a shot there.
Cornerback: The Colts like their corners tough and fearless, no matter what their size. Although the team has some nice prospects in Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden, Jason David and Von Hutchins to go with serviceable veterans Nick Harper, Donald Strickland and Joseph Jefferson, they are very open-minded at the position and will take long and serious looks at any candidate.
Jerome Dennis, CB, Utah State
2004 stats: 31 TK, 17 AT, 1-2 TFL, 1-17-0 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 12-280-0 KR
Workout numbers: 6007/196/4.42
Who is he: Here's another potential surprise. Dennis had a pretty fair senior season, showing good skills and instincts, but not really enough to warrant a whole lot of notice as a pro. But when you consider that he was coming back from dealing with a life-threatening blood clot that nearly wiped out his junior season, you want to look a little farther back. Before he was afflicted, Dennis was developing into a top corner and was averaging about 28 yards a kick return. He has all the tools and could be a find if the affects of the blood clot are totally behind him. Besides, he's a published poet and he wears my old high school number.
Where does he fit: The Colts have a million corners in camp, so Dennis' best way on the team will be as a return specialist. If he breaks a few, he could still be in Indy in September. He's also getting a chance at the free safety position.
Who Are Those Guys? Part 4
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