The State of the Colts: Middle Linebackers

The Colts head into draft weekend with the same three linebackers they had on the depth chart after draft weekend last year. Jerry Langton takes a look at this key position and what the Colts might do in 2006.

Current status
The Colts defense worked so well in 2005 because they have a pretty good middle linebacker. Despite a lack of height and bulk, Gary Brackett (5'11, 235) uses speed, toughness, intelligence, positioning and quickness to make plays. Nobody understands the Colts' defense better than him and nobody tries harder. 

When Brackett took over the job last season, he silenced many critics (including me). But it's not too surprising that he didn't inspire much confidence. Although he'd already spent two seasons as an effective nickel 'backer, his size and lack of credentials led many to believe he wasn't up to the job.

His back-up, former first-round pick and starter Rob Morris is strong and fast, but much too straight-linish and slow to react to be an effective NFL middle linebacker. He is, however, an exceptional special teamer.

Tyjuan Hagler was a fifth-round pick in 2005 and spent his rookie season on the team's PUP list. Still, the explosive little (5'11 1/2, 236) fireplug has a great nose for the ball, is smooth in coverage and brings a load when he tackles, with a penchant for forcing turnovers. 

What they'll do
Brackett is signed through 2009, so it's very unlikely the Colts will be looking for a Day 1 starter in the draft or free agency. They may bypass the position in the draft altogether if they keep Hagler inside.
 
How about
Although it's been widely reported that the team has been interviewing two-down types like North Carolina State's Oliver Hoyte, I think they're much more likely to target a coverage specialist who can also play the run in the mold of Brackett and Hagler. 

San Diego State's Freddy Keiaho (11.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 int.) fits the description well. Although he has a lot of growing up to do as a player, he may be drafted too early for the Colts. After the draft, they will look at guys like Lafayette's Maurice Bennett (13 TFL, 7 sacks), Florida A&M's Darius Fountain (11.5 TFL, 1 sack), Furman's William Freeman (11 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 int.), Northern Iowa's Darin Heideman (13 TFL, 3.5 sacks) and VMI's Justin Huggard (11.5 TFL, 2 ints.). Not surprisingly, the Colts scouts were front and center at private workouts for Bennett, Freeman and Huggard.


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