Matchup to Watch: Loadholt vs. many

Rookie offensive tackle Phil Loadholt will have his hands full Friday night against a set of speedy defenders that are sure to provide him with a solid first test. Welcome to the NFL, rookie.


While this might sound more like a wrestling match than a football matchup, rookie Phil Loadholt is going to get his feet wet Friday against the Indianapolis Colts. However, with the daunting task the second-round rookie right tackle faces, it may be more like doing a cannonball into the deep end of the pool than dipping a toe in the water, making this the matchup to watch.

Unfortunately for Loadholt, there is a position battle going on at defensive end. Seven-year veteran Robert Mathis, who battled injuries last season, is in another kind of fight. He wants to be the starting right end in the Colts defense and, when the first depth chart was released, he was there. The move pushed back a pair of full-time starters. Raheem Brock, who moved to defensive tackle last year because of injuries and was expected to be the starting LDE, currently sits behind Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney at the right defensive end spot. A fourth end, third-year pro Keyunta Dawson, started 14 games last year and made a pretty solid accounting for himself. They all four want to be on the field, but only two of them can typically be on the field at once.

There lies the problem for Loadholt. The Colts, like every other opponent, come into a game with the Vikings looking to stop Adrian Peterson and the running game. One way to do that is secure the perimeter and keep him bottled up. As a result, Loadholt is going to face a wave of defenders from the opening bell until he leaves. The Colts' defensive philosophy is to move players around and in and out. First up will be Mathis, a savvy veteran who made the Pro Bowl in 2007. When he comes out, Loadholt will have to match up with Brock, who can play the outside on running downs and move inside on clear passing downs. If that happens, he then has to face up with Dawson. Each brings a different style to his game, making adjustments much more difficult. Brock weighs in at 274 pounds, Mathis is a speedy 245 pounds and Dawson has long arms to loop around offensive tackles and keep them off his body.

As if this isn't bad enough for Loadholt's first NFL appearance, Freeney is given the flexibility to move from the right end to the left end position almost on a whim. In any given game, Freeney will jump to the left side for 10-15 plays – usually just for a play or two at a time. No college training has prepared Loadholt for the kind of speed rush Freeney delivers on a regular basis. Even if he only lines up across from Loadholt a couple of times, he likely will show the rookie something he has never seen.

For any rookie, having a chance to start the first preseason game is a thrill few ever get to enjoy. Loadholt has that opportunity in front of him, but it may be against a tough set of defenders for an NFL indoctrination, making this the matchup to watch in Indianapolis.

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