Last year, with their run defense getting repeatedly gashed up the middle, the Indianapolis Colts gave up their second-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to add Anthony McFarland's 300-pound bulk to the defensive tackle position.
McFarland started eleven games after his arrival in Indy, making 45 tackles (40 solo), 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery. During his four postseason appearances, McFarland made 12 tackles (9 solo) and two sacks.
But as the season progressed, it was McFarland's veteran presence that meant more to the team's overall success than his ability to stop the run. Even with McFarland anchoring the left defensive tackle spot, the Colts still failed to keep opponents below an average of 5 yards per rushing attempt in all but two games.
But if McFarland can't play, who will the Colts turn to? Looking down through the available free agents, there's no one out there who would be a starting caliber player. And the Colts aren't likely to reverse their decision on Corey Simon -- nor should they. But you can rest assured that they will evaluate every defensive tackle transaction that hits the waiver wire or termination list between now and their opening regular season game against the Saints in September.
Meanwhile, here are their current options -- a few of which might make them less anxious if they can step up during training camp and show that they can handle the opportunity:
|Quinn Pitcock (Getty Images)|
Ed Johnson: The former Nittany Lion may be the biggest beneficiary of McFarland's injury if he's done for the year. Look at height and weight and Johnson matches up almost exactly with Pitcock, falling just three pounds shy at 296 pounds. Johnson's reputation is first and foremost as a run-stuffer, so if he can turn in a solid camp, he should do no worse than a practice squad spot so the Colts have someone of his size easily accessible in the wings. At the end of his first week of camp, it was evident (understandably) that Johnson was still learning the scheme and his role, but if he can pick up the pace and immerse himself in the playbook, he could become an important figure in helping the Colts on rushing downs.
Keyunta Dawson: Sure, he's a rookie and he's only 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds. But Dawson is already impressing in camp as a disruptor whether he lines up at defensive end or defensive tackle. The Colts may not want him out there in short-yardage situations, but he could throw off the rhythm of running backs with his ability to shoot the gap, similar to the way Montae Reagor did the last couple of years, and that would allow others to swarm in for the tackle. As an added bonus, Dawson can put some terror into quarterbacks on passing downs.
Dan Klecko: After his first week in camp, Klecko is already showing a better command of the defense than last year. At 275 pounds, he doesn't eat up as much space as McFarland either, but he's got slightly better mobility. If he pairs that up with better reads, he could be an option.
Darrell Reid; At 6-foot-2, 288 pounds, Reid has the physical presence to clog up the left side. He's got the motor to play a full four quarters, but he has to show that he can play with discipline and read the flow of the action better than he has to date if he's going to claim the starter's role.
Tom Johnson: Fresh off an NFL Europa stint, Johnson simply isn't ready to take the leap to starter this season. He'll be trying to earn a practice squad spot.
Ramel Meekins: He's 5-foot-11 and weighs in at 284 pounds. Meekins is the kind of player you have to love, one who won't quit no matter what the odds or how big the guy is who is lined up across from him. But much like fellow Rutgers alumni Gary Brackett, Meekins will have to make this team as a special teams player first, so don't count on him to be a major factor in filling any void that McFarland may create.
So what's it all mean? At the moment, the Colts have to hope that Pitcock or Reid emerges as the big, physical presence that can hold his own on likely rushing situations while Dawson could emerge as their pass-rush specialist at the position. If McFarland has been lost for the season, the left defensive tackle position has now become the top camp battle to watch in Terre Haute.
Ed Thompson is the Colts team expert and an NFL Writer for the Scout.com network. He's also a member of the Professional Football Writers Association.