Colts Blog; April 25, 2007

While Josh Thomas hasn't really become a household name, the Colts offered him a high tender, which he has since signed. Do they have big plans for him, or have defensive linemen become that valuable on the open market? The smart money says a bit of both.

Amazing what a mere $1.3 million buys these days.

When the Colts first signed Josh Thomas as an undrafted free agent in 2004, I thought they were doing Dwight Freeney a favor by giving his best pal a deal. Thomas had some production at Syracuse, but didn't really excite scouts much with his measurables or his observables (like snap explosion or agility). I was sure he'd be gone by the end of camp.

But he wasn't. Thomas hasn't turned out to be one of those shocking Bill Polian finds with just five sacks in three years, but he is a valuable spare part who can hold up against the run and rush the passer. You don't want him starting, but you like having him around.

So why did he get a $1.3 million tender while three-year starter Jason David was offered just $850,000? Are defensive backs that disposable? Are defensive linemen that valuable?

In a word, yes. Thomas is an honest 6'5 and plays at about 280. He's not the most talented guy around, but he will stick his nose into trouble, fight his way to the passer or ball carrier and play any of the four positions on the line. Besides, he keeps Freeney happy, and that's worth a lot.

• Speaking of defensive linemen, the Colts really need some. That's not news, but it is a thinking point. When the run defense broke down last season, the first instinct Polian and coach Tony Dungy shared was to move tackle Raheem Brock back outside to end to relieve Robert Mathis. As good as Mathis is (and he is very good), he's much better on third down than on first and second. At 235 pounds, he simply can't stand up against the 330-pound right tackles he faces every Sunday. And if you look at the film, you'll notice that most of the long runs that came against the Colts were off-tackle or even farther outside and many of them happened over a prone Mathis. It didn't happen because the team didn't have a replacement for Brock inside after Montae Reagor was lost to a car accident and Corey Simon to illness.

The run defense didn't solidify when the Colts acquired Anthony McFarland to clog the inside, but when they installed Rob Morris to seal off the outside behind Mathis.

With a decent-sized guy holding the fort at left end on first and second, the Colts defense could force some of those third-and-long situations in which Mathis is truly lethal.

I'm not sure that Thomas is the guy, though. As helpful as he is, he just doesn't have the explosion off the snap to be a starter. And Brock, well, he's better off inside, especially now that the similarly skilled and sized Reagor is no longer with the team.

This leaves the draft. The Colts will select one first-day defensive lineman who will probably play extensively as a rookie. While the obvious answer is that they should draft a tackle, I'm not sure that's what will happen. See, the premium on tackles is huge. Any guy over 280 pounds with a helmet on has the chance to be drafted as a defensive tackle on the first day — and many of them are slugs. Remember Sione Pouha, Atiyyah Ellison, Junior Siavii, Donnell Washington, Dewayne Robertson, Jimmy Kennedy, William Joseph, Ryan Sims, Wendell Bryant, Eddie Freeman, Charles Hill, Dorset Davis, Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis, Willie Howard and Steve Warren? They were all first-day defensive tackle picks since 2000 someone wished they hadn't taken.

Ends are more of a sure thing. So the Colts could presumably make the defense against the run better by sitting Mathis and against the pass better by having a well-rested Mathis available on third down if they brought in an effective run stopping end.

The guy I know they like, and I like too, is Texas end Tim Crowder. Kid's known as a pass-rusher, but can also seal the outside run and ruin even the most esoteric run-blocking schemes. He may not be an obvious choice, but he'd be a good one.

• A trio of San Diego reporters collected all the public arrest records of NFL players since 2000, and it's a pretty interesting bunch of data. The Colts have a reputation as a squeaky-clean, high-character team and the San Diego study backs that up. Of the 304 incidents they tracked, just 11 were against Colts.

More interestingly, of the ten Colts mentioned (Darrell Reid, Dominic Rhodes, Dede Dorsey, Cato June, Sweet Pea Burns, Nick Harper, Mike Doss, Montae Reagor, Joseph Jefferson and Keith Elias), only two (Reid and Dorsey) are still with the team, and Reid's status is shaky at best. Interestingly, only one player who was arrested while playing for another team during that period signed with the Colts later. That what Fred Lane, the talented but troubled halfback who was later killed by his wife.

I once read a magazine article which had the very convincing thesis that NFL players are arrested less frequently than other men the same age but we think they are because when an NFL player is arrested, it makes news, but when a regular guy is, we never hear about it. Still, Polian, when he was GM of the Carolina Panthers, drafted the NFL's only convicted murderer. Rae Carruth (eat your heart out, O.J. Simpson) had his wife killed and was later found hiding in the trunk of a car in a parking lot after his grandmother told the cops where he was.

There are a few things to be learned here. While the Colts are very unlikely to be interested in a player with legal troubles, you never can tell who's a bad guy and who isn't — Carruth was considered Mr. Clean before he was better known as a murderer than a wide reciever.

• The Colts generally don't pay much attention to their European vacationers, but perhaps they should this year. Tom Johnson — an undrafted free-agent defensive tackle out of Southern Miss the Colts signed last year — has been tearing things up over over there. This weekend, he started and had 1.5 sacks for 23.5 yards for Cologne in their 18-13 loss to Frankfurt. He had a really nice stand-up running play at the line of scrimmage as well, but it was wiped out by a stupid penalty by a teammate.

The other two Colts in action played against each other. In Hamburg's 16-7 win over Berlin, kicker Shane Andrus went 3 for 3 on field goals and kicked the only extra point he attempted, accounting for 10 of Hamburg's 16 points. He also had some nice deep kicks (5-304), although they were so low that they none fell for touchbacks. He won't unseat Adam Vinatieri, but could well earn the Colts a draft pick if they trade him or be around if Vinatieri were to strain a muscle or something.

Berlin looked awful at the start of the game, but it wasn't really Matt Ulrich's fault. The team allowed two early sacks and ran for just 61 yards, but Ulrich didn't have much to do with it. He played okay, the team sucked around him.

• Andrus' success has made me think about Reggie Hodges, the punter the Colts recently re-signed. Despite all his talent, there's no way he'll push Hunter Smith out of the way. Not only is Smith one of the NFL's top punters, he's arguably the league's best holder. While Hodges is an NFL-quality punter who can also pass, run, tackle and hold, he won't make the team unless Smith falls down a manhole.

But he's an awesome, high character kid who, with a good camp, could net the Colts a sixth- or seventh-round in trade.


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