On paper, it's Chicago nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek's third NFL season, but he has only one regular-season game to show for it. A foot injury kept him off the field as a rookie and he tore his left knee ACL in the season opener last year.
On the other side of the ball, a knee injury to All-Pro center Jeff Saturday looks to have pressed rookie Jamey Richard, the Colts' seventh-round draft pick out of the University of Buffalo, into action.
So what should we expect in this battle of unknowns?
Nose tackle is definitely one of the least glamorous positions on the Bears' defense. Coach Lovie Smith explained Dvoracek's assignment on each down, saying, "We brought him here to be our nose guard and take on the double teams and like doing it and that's exactly what he's doing."
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Smith goes on to detail why Dvoracek is ideally suited to fill the nose tackle role in the Bears' aggressive defensive scheme, specifically designed for quick and explosive players.
"He's a tough guy, No. 1, and you need that," Smith said. "He's going to get double-teamed just about every play. We need him to hold the point of the attack and he's been able to do that."
Dvoracek is at his best as this disruptive force, using his good initial quickness to put opposing offensive linemen on their heels. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive lineman showed flashes during his one game last season against San Diego. He was credited with five tackles, including one for a loss, before suffering the ACL tear.
By eating space and occupying the blocks of both the Colts center and LG Daniel Federkeil, Dvoracek accomplishes two important missions — first, he keeps his linebackers (Briggs, Urlacher and Hillenmeyer) clean and free to use their speed to make plays. Secondly, he creates a one-on-one match-up for DT Tommie Harris against Colts RG Charlie Johnson.
In contrast, if Dvoracek struggles to hold up at the point and is taken on by just one Colts blocker, then that allows the Colts to either get more blockers upfield or to use the center to help out RG Charlie Johnson with Tommie Harris.
After it became apparent that Jeff Saturday was going to miss significant time, the question turned to who would start in Saturday's place. No official announcement has been made yet by Coach Tony Dungy but all signs are pointing to rookie Jamey Richard as the guy. Dungy confirmed this in comments to the media yesterday, and last week Colts quarterback Peyton Manning began spending extra time in practice with Richard as his center, and said, "I think Jamey is going to be the guy."
When evaluating Jamey Richard for Scout.com before this year's draft veteran scout Tom Marino called Richard, "a limited athlete, but is tough, strong and very physical ... gets after people and showed better than expected upper body leverage."
Marino also warned that Richard "took good angles to second level but was inconsistent to sustain [blocks] ... will also overplay and miss the target."
Marino summed up his report on Richard by saying Richard "is going to need some work, but [I] was very pleased with his work throughout the season."
Jamey Richard is being called to duty a little earlier than anyone likely expected, but has earned this opportunity with his consistent play during the preseason and football smarts. As Eric Hartz noted after the Colts selected Richard in June, "since the Colts offense is quite cerebral, the team likes all its players to be good athletes of the mind, as well. Richard fits this mold."
How Jamey uses his cerebral and physical skills on Sunday against the Chicago's big, quick, talented defensive tackles will tell us a lot about the current state of the Colts interior line.