Re-Sign or Release? LB Rob Morris

Rob Morris will be an unrestricted free agent in March, just like last year. But after stepping up as a special teams leader and at strongside linebacker, the situation for Morris is a lot different. Jerry Langton provides his take on Morris' future with Indy -- and what they should do if they don't re-sign him.

Rob Morris LB

2006 regular-season stats: 27 tackles, 9 assists, 2-3 tackles for loss, 16 special-teams tackles, 3 special-teams assists

2006 playoff stats: 17 tackles, 4 assists, 1-1 tackle for loss, 1 special-teams tackle

The player: When Rob Morris was drafted in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft, many Colts fans thought they'd finally found the middle linebacker the team had been search for — visions of Zach Thomas danced in their heads. But it didn't work out that way.

Drafted by the Jim Mora regime, Morris didn't fit into the Tony Dungy plan. His legacy was one of missed tackles as he was expected to patrol a huge area inside with very little help from the guys up front or beside him. A throwback, leather helmet type brick wall in the middle, Morris just wasn't built for the speed, action and responsibilities of the Mike position in the Cover-2. Before long, he was supplanted in the middle by smaller, quicker Gary Brackett.

But Morris didn't throw a tantrum or give up like so many players would. He re-signed with the Colts and served as Brackett's backup. More important, though, he played on special teams and excelled. Not only was he effective at tackling return men and busting up wedges, he also showed surprising skills as a blocker and even downing punts.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
When disaster struck the teams's run defense late in 2006 — starting strongside linebacker Gilbert Gardner couldn't tackle to save his life and slow-footed backup Rocky Boiman didn't fare significantly better — the desperate Colts turned to Morris. To the surprise of many observers, the defense immediately tightened up. Morris was adept at sealing the outside lanes, stuffing runs aimed at him and making tight ends and backs suffer when they ran routes in his area.

To tell the truth, even though I always maintained that Colts fans gave Morris something of a bum rap over the years, I thought his success was something of a fluke. The playoffs proved me wrong. Morris played like an all-pro, effectively standing up runners, harassing quarterbacks and terrifying would-be receivers.

But despite his astounding performance at the end of the 2006 season, there are still questions about his instincts, lateral mobility and coverage skills. While Morris has shown that he can be a competent, even impressive outside linebacker, he has yet to prove it in the long run.

Should he stay or should he go: Because of his age (32) and spotty track record, I don't think Morris will get any high-buck offers from other teams unless some divisional rival with a great deal of salary cap space really thinks they can improve their chances by weakening the Colts.

Besides, Morris is the kind of high-character guy who will keep in mind that the Colts stuck with him when he washed out at middle linebacker and also represent his best chance to get back to the Super Bowl.

For the Colts' part, they know that they can re-sign an experienced player who — even if he loses his starting job outside — can back up all three linebacker positions, play defensive end in a pinch and contribute on specials as well as anyone in the league and won't command a huge paycheck or signing bonus. Besides, he's the only Colts defender other than Bob Sanders who can truly lay the wood. While he's no Jim Thorpe as an all-around athlete, Morris lends an intimidating presence the Colts have been lacking at outside linebacker for many years.

Re-signing Morris makes even more sense when you realize June and Boiman are unrestricted free agents and Gardner (who doesn't really have any special-teams value) is a restricted free agent.

Who'd replace him: Well, it's no secret that the Colts think second-year man Freddie Keiaho is ready to start. Where he plays depends on who the Colts re-sign and draft. Should June return (and I think it's no better than 50-50 that he will), Morris could find himself fighting Keiaho for the strong-side spot. Even if he loses, the Colts know they have a valuable player who will do anything they ask him to and, in most cases, do it very well.

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