On Tuesday, the Colts spoke with Ron Brace, a defensive tackle from Boston College. Although he didn't play his freshman year for the Eagles, he played in 47 games over the next four seasons, working primarily on the inside, and amassing 85 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks throughout the course of his college career.
Those stats are actually pretty common for a defensive tackle in this scheme, as they tend to tie up blockers for the linebackers to pursue the ball. Brace actually occupied interior linemen so that current Colt and former Eagle Jamie Silva could lead the team in tackles last season.
Brace takes down Notre Dame's Evan Sharpley during a 2007 game
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
He has quick feet and uses his hands well at the point of attack, but works toward the ball carrier more by penetrating the line of scrimmage or trailing/running around the play than getting off blocks and making the tackle.
At 6-feet-3 and 329 pounds, Brace is just about the same size as current nose tackle Antonio Johnson and would be the perfect size and type of player to play the nose position in the Ron Meeks defense.
However, with Meeks having stepped down earlier this week and active playmakers like Gary Brackett, Bob Sander, and Antoine Bethea in the middle of the defense, Indianapolis may be looking at scheme similar to the one that Boston College deploys — and the Baltimore Ravens used in Ray Lewis' heyday — of using two large men to clog up the middle, giving the more athletic players on the back end a clear path to the ball carrier."Brace is a massive interior lineman who controls the middle. He has a quick first step, uses his hands effectively and is able to take on double teams," Scout.com NFL Draft Expert Chris Steuber said. "He uses his size to his advantage to gain the upper hand against the opposition and collapses the pocket. He's strong against the run and flashes the ability to penetrate disrupting the quarterback."
Part of the reason Bruce was ranked by Scout.com as the seventh-best player at his position and the 115th-best player overall, is because he has spent his career in the shadow of BJ Raji, who is the No. 1 defensive tackle in the draft and the 19th player overall.
The knock on Brace has been that, since Raji is such a gifted athlete and a force in the middle, Brace has a tendency to take plays off, shows an inconsistent motor, and assumed for the bulk of his college career that Raji was going to make the play.
A number of scouts are concerned that the bad habits Brace developed while working on the same line as Raji will follow him to a team that may not have a player of Raji's caliber and the fact that he will be facing a higher level of competition certainly will exacerbate the situation.
"He's not a technician and gets by with his size and strength," Steuber said. "He doesn't always play at a high level and disappears at times. Conditioning is a concern. Brace's ability to hold up the opposition and allow others to have success was obvious. He's not a playmaker, but he can fill a gap and make a difference against the run."
While it's true that Raji authored more big plays in his 50 games with the Eagles — 12 sacks and 29 tackles for loss — he only had 92 tackles for his career, compared with the 85 that Brace had. That means that Brace was just as involved and active as Raji, he just isn't as talented or explosive, which is why Raji will be drafted in the first round and Brace will go somewhere in the second or third round.
The key here is what Brace has done both over the course of his career, steady starter with production and reliability, and in the last six months. His senior season was his best by far and he has turned a lot of heads by performing well, specifically against Oregon's Max Unger, in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl. Now that he is longer on the same line as Raji, he can distinguish himself.
He has already taken a big step forward at this early point in the offseason and projects as more of a second- or third-round prospect, as opposed to a third- or fourth-rounder — he'd land in the late fourth if he were still the 115th-best prospect.
He can continue to separate himself from his former draft grade by performing well at the Combine and his Pro Day, but the true key, it seems, has been stepping out of Raji's rather large shadow.
Whether he works as part of a rotation with Johnson, ends up as Johnson's replacement, or is lined up next to Johnson in an altered scheme now that Meeks has departed, Brace has value for the Colts in the coming season and beyond.
"Having a big interior presence like Brace will take a lot of pressure off the linebackers," Steuber said. "Brace's ability to stop the run and hold up the opposition will allow the Colts to have more success blitzing. He will probably never have more than five sacks in a season, but he will stuff the middle and make plenty of tackles for a loss."
This past season showed that undrafted free agents, late-round prospects, and players plucked off of other teams' practice squads will only get you so far at the defensive tackle position. Perhaps its time that Indianapolis invests a higher pick in a player like Brace, presuming he's available when the Colts pick towards the end of the third round.