Banged-Up Colts Add Two Linebackers

With all the injuries that have hit the linebacking corps, the Colts have added a couple of free agents. Who are they and can they help? What are their odds of making the roster? Brad Keller has the analysis.

With only five players healthy enough to practice at the linebacker position, the Colts acted fast, signing two prospects this week in Dedrick Harrington and Danny Verdun-Wheeler.

Harrington is an intriguing player that played his college ball at Missouri.  He originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys following the 2007 NFL Draft.

He was eventually cut by Dallas and spent time on the practice squads of the Rams and your Indianapolis Colts.  The Colts must have seen enough from Harrington last season and brought him back.

Harrington at Missouri
AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Given his familiarity with the defense, the move makes sense.  But, the fact that Harrington is still very much classified as an "athlete" and not specifically a linebacker, it's going to be difficult for him to make the roster.

The reason that Harrington went undrafted is that teams were unsure of whether he projected better at linebacker or tight end.  As someone with experience on both sides of the ball, the advantage in knowing the overlaps is obvious, but there is also a distinct disadvantage associated with not specializing in either position.

Harrington's athleticism is primarily what has given him as many opportunities as he's had, but, realistically, he is too big at 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds and not fast enough — or polished enough — to stave off the competition when all the linebackers are healthy.

He also had problems staying healthy at Missouri, so that's something to keep an eye on as well.

Indianapolis most likely brought him on to have another able body to line up and practice, as well as the ability to test different lineups in the preseason.  The fact remains, though, that Harrington is currently on the roster and has the right to fight for a roster spot like everyone else, so the onus is clearly on him to show the Colts coaches something.

Verdun-Wheeler played for Georgia in college and was signed by the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent following the 2007 draft.  He spent some time on various practice squads, finding his way onto the 2008 roster of the Washington Redskins.

Washington waived him on Tuesday and the Colts successfully claimed him on Wednesday.

Verdun-Wheeler with the Bears in 2007
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

At almost 6-foot-1 1/2 and 243 pounds, he is probably also too big to play any linebacker position for Indianapolis.  He projects more as a classic middle linebacker in the two-down mold that the Colts tend to shy away from.

One of the things that made most scouts shy away from him in last year's draft — Tom Marino did not classify him as even a priority free agent — is that his style of play and lackluster 40 time of 4.7 seconds associated him with the now lost position of a tackle machine that can play on first and second down, but doesn't have the range to cover on third down.

He is probably another example of a player brought in to be a "live body" in training camp and someone to fill the depth chart for preseason outings.

But, he is on the roster just like everyone else and has a fair shot at making the final 53-man cut.

Given their skill sets, abilities, and the tendencies of the Colts, both Harrington and Verdun-Wheeler face steep challenges to make the roster.  In the Polian and Dungy era, though, the regular rosters have been filled by men that overcame the odds to either start on Sundays or fill an important role, so it is up to these young men to establish themselves in the next month and force the front office to make some difficult choices.

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