Colts Blog: April 16, 2007

With Nick Harper already gone, the Colts are in danger of losing their other starting corner. If Jason David does make the trip down to New Orleans, will the Colts be caught without any starting-quality corners? Will the fourth-round compensation make a difference?

It was just dinner, a workout and a tour, but Colts fans should take Jason David's visit to New Orleans very seriously. While people continually make fun of his size, David has proven to be a competent starter on a Super Bowl championship team. While he'll never be a Champ Bailey, he is developing into something of a Dre' Bly-type. David has steadily gotten better every month he's played and is just now getting into his prime.

It certainly makes sense for the Saints to court him. While they have some recognizable names at the position (Mike McKenzie, Jason Craft, DeJuan Groce and Fred Thomas), all of them are on the downside of their careers and have contracts that pay better than their production would indicate. they have one young guy — Anwar Phillips — but his hold on a roster spot, let alone a starting gig, is tenuous.

Of course, the Saints could draft a corner, but very few positions are as hard for players to make adjustment from college to the pros. The first day of last year's draft yielded nine corners, who started a total of 48 games or just more than five starts per player. And most of them were out of necessity. The old adage is that drafted corners get burned for a few years until they mature into solid starters. It's generally something rebuilding teams put up with, not Super Bowl contenders. And the list of first-day busts at the position is as long as at any.

Besides, the Saints could easily afford to sign David to a contract the cash-strapped Colts couldn't match. The Colts would then be balmed with a fourth-round pick, but the chances of getting a first-year starter there is almost zero.

Making matters worse is the fact that the Colts have already lost their other starting cornerback, Nick Harper, to free agency. While it may not be that tough to replace one starting corner, two would be a much bigger hurdle. The Colts have three recent high draft picks at the position — Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings — but they have produced little. Between them, they had five regular-season starts last season, compiling a 5-4 record, meaning the team went 7-0 without them.

These days a team needs at least three solid starters at corner, so all of those guys would have to work out, but they all have flaws. Jackson's a touch slow and somewhat clumsy, Hayden has little or no understanding of zones and Jennings is even slighter than David. Heck, Jackson is such a good corner, many coaches want to shift him to safety. But there's always TJ Rushing and Tanard Davis — actually, forget I said that, they are special teamers at best.

If David stays, the Colts will have to break in a new starter (my money's on Jennings, who is an ace in man coverage and has 4.34 speed); but if he goes, they have to pick another starter, hope the third guy doesn't get injured and draft a guy like Auburn's David Irons to develop.

Besides, David is often considered the secondary's de facto leader and spokesman. I'm not sure how valuable it is, but I'd hate to see it go.

• Speaking of places where the Colts need a draft pick badly, have you looked at defensive tackle? The starters are misplaced strongside end Raheem Brock (3 sacks, 3.5 TFL in 2006) and golden oldie Anthony McFarland (2.5, 2.5). The third guy — all important in the Colts wave defensive plan — is recently arrested Darrell Reid (0, 3), who was never all that good anyway.

I think it's safe to say that "sick" Corey Simon isn't coming back and that the other guys on hand — Tom Johnson and Dan Klecko — aren't going to help all that much.

This is a serious problem. Although Colts president Bill Polian (and his staff) are famous for uncovering talent, no position is held at a higher premium than defensive tackle. Year after year, fat slugs and obvious psychopaths are drafted well above their station simply because there are very few humans born with the potential to be big and strong enough to play the position.

The Colts have the last pick in the first round, and many know-it-alls have anointed Tennessee's Justin Harrell as the trendy pick. While I certainly respect the young man and think he has a future in the NFL, I don't see Polian gambling a first rounder on a defensive lineman with truly rudimentary pass-rush skills who missed 10 games as a senior with one of his many injuries, no matter what his 10-yard dash time.

More likely, the Colts would find a way to get North Carolina State's Tank Tyler, Oklahoma State's Ryan McBean or Harrell's teammate Turk McBride on the first day. They all have their faults, but all were more sturdy and more productive than Harrell. My money's on Mebane, mainly because he's a heck of a guy and that important to the Colts. Besides, he looked great at the Senior Bowl.

• Last blog I wrote about NFL Europa and a reader noted that I forgot to mention one Colt — strong-legged kicker Shane Andrus. There's a temptation to forget Andrus because Adam Vinatieri is Mr. Everything at kicker, but Andrus is a legitimate prospect who could earn a kickoff specialist spot or net the Colts a draft pick in trade if he excels in preseason or in Europe. Also, quarterback Mike McGann is back with Hamburg.

In the first week of the season, Andrus had an up-and-down day in Hamburg's 24-18 loss to Cologne. While he missed his two point-getting kicks (an extra point and a 51-yard field goal attempt), he did have a nice special-teams tackle and some nice kickoffs. He made four boots for 232 yards, a 58.00-yard average. McGann was active but did not play as the Sea Devils' third quarterback behind Casey Bramlet and former Colt Rod Rutherford.

On the other side of the ball in the same game, defensive tackle Tom Johnson started and recorded three tackles. He had a roughing the passer penalty, but also recorded a tackle four yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Colt Matt Ulrich started at left guard for Berlin in their 15-3 win over Rhein. No penalties, no sacks allowed and the main guy they ran behind, he looked awfully good — like an NFLer in NFL Europa.

I'd give Ulrich a B, Johnson a C+, Andrus a C- and McGann an incomplete. Problem is, you'd better be getting straight As in NFL Europa to get much of a chance to make it in the NFL.

• Looking at the other teams in the AFC Central, it would appear that the Texans are much improved by the addition of Matt Schaub and Ahman Green. I'm one of those guys who thinks Schaub can be a top-10 NFL quarterback (certainly better than Michael Vick in most offenses) and that Green, a consummate pro, has enough left to represent a huge improvement over what they had at the position last year. Their presence doesn't erase the huge mistake they made in not drafting Reggie Bush, Vince Young or Matt Leinart last season, but it nudges their arrow upwards.

Tennessee will continue to get better as Vince Young, a rare talent, does, but the rest of the team is falling apart around him. They need to get draft lucky before they can challenge the Colts.

The wild card is Jacksonville. While super-back Maurice Jones-Drew will win some games on his own, the lack of a reliable quarterback combined with an aging defensive core and a number of under-producing receivers makes me fear them less.


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