Where Does New Linebacker Fit In?

The Colts recently signed linebacker Michael Okwo to a 2009 contract. Who is he and how does he fit into their future plans? Brad Keller breaks it down.

On January 13th, Indianapolis signed linebacker Michael Okwo to a 2009 contract.  Okwo was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the third round (91st overall) of the 2007 draft.

He played his college ball at Stanford and, leading up to the 2007 draft, was rated by Scout.com as the seventh-best middle linebacker prospect and the 122nd-best prospect overall.  He had a fourth-round grade, so for him to go at the end of the third round was not surprising.

Tom Marino scouted him as, "An explosive, undersized player with good playing instincts," coming into that draft.

Okwo at Stanford

According to John Crist of BearReport.com, Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo, "went on and on about how Okwo jumped off the film at Stanford and seemingly made every tackle.  Plus he was known as a solid contributor on special teams."

Various injuries led to Okwo missing the 2007 season and, coupled with the fact that Lance Briggs — the man Crist and others suspected Okwo was drafted to potentially replace — re-signed with Chicago, there was less urgency to develop Okwo at any given position.

"Okwo got turns both in the middle and on the strong side,"  Crist said.  "He never distinguished himself and had trouble elevating above the third team in training camp, so the Bears scrapped him last year when making the cut down to 53 players.  The Bears usually give their draft picks every opportunity in the world to succeed, so it was quite newsworthy that they gave up on Okwo after only one injury-plagued season."

Crist also added, "Okwo might be able to provide some depth in Indianapolis because he's familiar with the (Cover 2) system there, but it's hard to imagine him ever becoming more than a special teamer."

At 5-feet-11 and 232 pounds, he certainly fits the mold of what the Colts looked for in a linebacker during the Meeks/Dungy era.  He has the kind of motor and explosiveness that the Indianapolis coaching staff used to covet, as well as a lack of stopwatch speed (4.73 in the 40) and the ability to play much faster than that time.  He also has experience at both linebacker positions in the Cover 2 defense that the Bears deploy, which is very similar to the variety that Meeks and Dungy coached during their time in Indianapolis.

However, it's interesting to note the timing of the signing.  Dungy retired on January 12th.  Okwo was signed on January 13th.  Meeks resigned on January 20th. 

When they signed him, the Colts might not have known that Meeks was going to step down, but they had to expect that changes were coming with a new head coach at the helm — even if the changes have been fairly minor so far.

To expect Okwo to step in and play any position on any type of front is not realistic, but, since the rest of the personnel on defense is skewed towards Cover 2 defenders, he should fit in just fine.

At this point, he's still basically a prospect and, at 24 with very little wear and tear on his body — even if he does have an injury history — he is not far removed from the explosive Stanford standout that Angelo was enamored with in April of 2007. He's a low risk signing with a high possibility of reward, assuming that Indianapolis decides to stick with the variety of the Cover 2 they've been running for nearly a decade.

While he's also not far removed from being cut 18 months after being drafted in the third round by a team that places a premium on draft picks, it at least makes sense for the Colts to bring him into the offseason, see what he can do in OTAs and mini-camps — provided he can stay healthy — and see what happens with him in training camp and the preseason, given that Indianapolis does not have a ton of bodies at the position.

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