Position Battle: Linebackers

Many of the Colts linebackers spent a good deal of their season either in the training room or on injured reserve. Will the new faces they brought in add enough depth should the injury bug strike again? Brad Keller takes a closer look.

Rob Morris spent all of last season on injured reserve, Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho struggled with injuries and Gary Brackett was the only man in the unit to start all 16 games last season.

The primary backup and a player that filled in admirably for his fallen comrades was Rocky Boiman, who was allowed to depart via free agency to the Eagles this offseason. Morris was released after failing a physical.

If Morris will have recovered from the knee injury that erased his 2007 season by the time the 2008 season starts, there's a chance the team may try to re-sign him, since he is the most experienced, quality player behind the starting three, with second-year veterans Victor Worsley (also finished 2007 on IR), Clint Session, and Ramon Guzman.

Guzman and Worsley contributed primarily on special teams and neither was overly effective when given a chance to play on defense.  Session, a fourth-round selection in the 2007 draft, more than held his own in limited action last season with two interceptions and a forced fumble in one start and 13 appearances.

Philip Wheeler
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The Colts usually go into the regular season with six linebackers and, presumably, Session has that fourth spot behind Brackett, Keiaho and Hagler locked up given his excellent play in spot duty last season.

Though the fifth and sixth linebackers would primarily work on special teams, the possibility does exist that they could see some action on defense on Sundays, so Indianapolis wisely hedged their bets against keeping Guzman or Worsley on the regular roster by drafting Georgia Tech's Phillip Wheeler in the third round and signing Jordan Senn as an undrafted free agent.

Both Senn and Wheeler are incredibly gifted, fast athletes, but Senn was considered a little small at 5 feet, 11 inches and 225 pounds to play linebacker at the NFL level — even, at first, by ColtPower — and he played against a lower level of competition at Division I FCS Portland State.

Wheeler had the college production at a major program, the measurables that teams look for (6 feet, 2 inches, 240 pounds), and the athleticism that was too good to pass up in the third.  The Colts had their eye on him since the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, and, when he was still available in the second day, they tabbed him with their first selection.

While it's still too early to hand a slot to Wheeler, it would be an upset if he did not claim a roster spot by the time the final cutdown to 53 players occurs in September.

At this point, it is Wheeler's job to lose, even if Indianapolis does not put as much weight on where a player was drafted once camps start.  He is simply too big, too fast, and too talented to not win the job outright, provided he fights for it.

That would leave the sixth spot up for grabs and Worsley, Guzman, Senn and possibly Morris to fight for it.

The important thing to note is that, if they clear waivers, Senn, Worsley, and Guzman will all be eligible to sign onto the practice squad.  Though the journey from the taxi squad to the regular roster is not an easy one, both Worsley and Brandon Archer (now with the Broncos) were called up due to injuries in 2007, so there is definitely the possibility that Senn could learn the system while on the practice squad, then make the roster at some point during the 2008 season since the Colts linebackers certainly seem to be a fragile lot.

Whoever is the odd man out between Worsley and Guzman will most likely get picked up by a linebacker-needy team that also deploys the Cover 2 as their base defense, since they have experience in the Indianapolis system under Ron Meeks and Tony Dungy.

The Colts certainly have options, but what remains to be seen is if they will have the depth, talent, and luck to make it through 2008 with this group holding up the middle of their defense.

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