AFC South: Eric Foster

Early thoughts on some key Colts scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13.

Thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive right and restricted free agents.

QB Kerry Collins – He may not have filed paperwork, but he’s retired.

QB Dan Orlovsky – Showed enough to be on a roster in the league as a third quarterback in a crowded situation or a backup somewhere with a sure-fire starter.

WR Pierre Garcon – He’s inconsistent, but this team needs a speed receiver for Andrew Luck and it’s better to keep the one they’ve been developing than going searching.

WR Anthony Gonzalez – Was completely in the doghouse at the end and could not get on the field. Probably needs to sign for a season, in Indy or elsewhere, and prove he can be healthy and contribute.

WR Reggie Wayne – Has said he’d stay and be honored to be part of a rebuild, but they’d have to be fair. Other teams will court him and somebody will pay him better than the Colts would if they pursued him, I suspect.

TE Jacob Tamme – Was quite a good receiving option for Peyton Manning in 2010, but how much of that was Manning? I think Tamme is a valuable piece they should want back and can certainly afford.

OT Ryan Diem – Did well to serve as a veteran example for a young line and was flexible, playing some guard. But his time is going to be up.

OG Mike Pollak – Has played a lot and not gotten a lot better. They got new tackles last year; it’s time for a new guard or two.

OC Jeff Saturday – If Manning is gone, it would make sense to turn the page with Saturday, too. Reportedly the Colts and at least one other team would like him in their front offices.

DE Robert Mathis – Will be a commodity, for sure. Never mind his age. He can help you rush the passer for the next three years. Colts should want to keep him, but will they pay what he costs?

LB Philip Wheeler – If the Colts are getting bigger on defense, they’ll probably move on here. He’s consistently failed to get in or stay in the lineup for extended stretches in a defense for which he’s better suited.

Other UFAs:
Indianapolis' offensive line and interior defensive line are so thinned out by injuries that Jeff Saturday joked with Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star about deviating from the team’s next-man-up mantra.

"We (are) going to have to start bringing in some next men," Saturday said.

Monday night in a loss at Tampa Bay, defensive tackle Eric Foster dislocated his right ankle. Tuesday he had season-ending surgery. Starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo left the stadium with a boot on his left foot and walking with the aid of crutches and his replacement, Ben Ijalana, had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter after damaging his left knee, Chappell says.

According to the report, Ijalana could be out for the season with ACL damage.

The team is expected to elevate one of the defensive tackles from its practice squad, Ricardo Matthews or Ollie Ogbu.

The Colts were already thin on the offensive line before Monday night’s game, with Ryan Diem out and Joe Reitz hurting. They signed offensive tackle Mike Tepper from the practice squad Monday afternoon. He wound up playing right tackle after Castonzo and Ijalana went down.

We’ll learn more about the offensive linemen today.

But things are certainly a mess on the injury front. Again.

UPDATE, 12:15 p.m.: The Colts put Ijalana and Foster on IR and waiveed linebacker Nate Triplett. They signed offensive tackles Michael Toudouze and Quinn Ojinnaka as well as Mathews.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 24, Colts 17

October, 4, 2011
Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 24-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Colts are 0-4 for the first time since 1998, and while things have gotten a bit better they are still flailing. They rank with the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings as the NFL’s remaining winless teams.

What I didn’t like: A gruesome leg injury suffered by defensive tackle Eric Foster that left teammates ashen-faced and fearful. Clearly in great pain, he pounded his chest and the roof of the cart as he was taken from the field with his leg in a blow-up brace. The Colts also lost starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo and his backup, fellow rookie Ben Ijalana, to injuries. That meant Mike Tepper, signed off the practice squad earlier in the day, was with the starting offense at the conclusion of the game.

What I liked: The inconsistent Pierre Garcon made two giant plays for Curtis Painter, for 87- and 59-yard touchdowns. While he lost a fumble and absorbed four sacks, Painter's 13-for-30, 281-yard effort with the two scores and no picks was a good enough effort to win.

Not assertive enough: With 8:27 left in the third quarter of a 10-10 game, Painter threw an incomplete pass on third down with less than a yard to go near midfield. Then the Colts punted. The Colts have to run there, and if they don't then they have to run on fourth down. For years we’ve talked about how they need to be able to run for a yard. Even with a dinged up offensive line, Delone Carter can’t get a yard?

Ugly numbers: The Colts allowed 466 net yards, left their defense on the field for 39 minutes and let Tampa Bay get away with 14 penalties worth 106 yards.

Still wondering: After watching Terrence Johnson, Jacob Lacey and Chris Rucker work as cornerbacks, I was still left wondering why the Colts decided to release Justin Tryon last week.

What’s next: The Colts host the Kansas City Chiefs, who just got their first win Sunday. The Chiefs could provide Indianapolis’ best chance to win yet.

One area of progress for the Colts

September, 21, 2011
Thanks to Adam Grigely of ESPN Stats and Info for pointing me to this surprising note on the Colts' rushing D: The Colts' rush defense has been suspect in recent years. But the numbers so far this season actually show improvement.

Opponents are averaging only 3.64 yards per carry in 2011, which is down from 4.35 in 2008-10. Indianapolis has been stronger up the middle, yielding up 2.7 yards per carry, down from 4.1 in 2008-11. And Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall has been struggling rushing up the middle in 2011.

The Colts defense has allowed 64 rush yards up the middle, with five first downs and a touchdown. Mendenhall has gained 26 yards up the middle so far for a 1.7-yard average, with two first downs and a touchdown.

It's a positive sign in a sea of despair.

Of course it comes with a bad note attached. Two of the guys helping the defense in the middle, tackles Fili Moala (ankle) and Eric Foster (hamstring) were among the 11 players who sat our practice Wednesday because of injuries.

Indianapolis Colts cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
Check here for a complete list of the Indianapolis Colts' roster moves.

Surprise moves: Tommie Harris seemed to play well enough to stick, but the former first-round defensive tackle apparently wanted to be treated like the team’s top defensive linemen and the team didn’t like the attitude. Defensive end John Chick had solid games but couldn’t get past Jerry Hughes. Undrafted rookie tight end Mike McNeill made it, as did four others who were not April selections: running backs Darren Evans and Chad Spann, linebacker Adrian Moten and safety Joe Lefeged.

No-brainers: Veteran additions on defense made good impressions in the preseason and are sticking around -- ends Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton and linebacker Ernie Sims. Anthony Gonzalez may be injury prone, but none of the other options at receiver is a better player.

What’s next: They’ve got only four defensive tackles in Fili Moala, Antonio Johnson, Eric Foster and Drake Nevis. It could be a spot where they look to add or upgrade on Foster. Offensive linemen Mike Pollak and Jamey Richard will have to prove they deserved to stick ahead of Kyle DeVan.

First look: Colts' depth chart

August, 9, 2011
ANDERSON, Ind. – A first look at the Colts’ first unofficial depth chart gives us some nuggets to consider:

RTC: Connor Barwin rehab update

March, 4, 2011
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans were active, locking up Owen Daniels, Shaun Cody and Derrick Ward, says John McClain.

It was a good day for Rick Smith, says Richard Justice. Nice context on how Smith has operated.

Justice talks about owners opening books. Interesting that he says the Jaguars are playing in front of “acres of empty seats” when they weren’t blacked out once last season.

A Connor Barwin rehab update from Nick Scurfield.

The ultimate Texans draft guide from John Harris via Stephanie Stradley.

Is the Daniels contract money well spent? Chris Watkins considers.

Indianapolis Colts

Agents told the Indianapolis Star that Clint Session, Daniel Muir and Eric Foster got restricted tender offers. Foster’s is the only one that will stick if free agency reverts to four years.

Mike Chappell on Bob Sanders to San Diego.

Anthony Schoettle thinks Sanders owed the Colts. I disagree.

Colts strategies during CBA uncertainty from Laura Calaway: Part III, Part IV.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Marcedes Lewis signed his tender and Jason Hill re-signed on a busy day for the Jaguars, says Tania Ganguli. They also told Mike Sims-Walker they were moving on from him.

Sims-Walker tweeted a goodbye.

Eben Britton says the Jaguars will be nastier, according to John Oehser.

Tennessee Titans

As the player rep, Jake Scott looks to keep the Titans informed, says Jim Wyatt.

Nashville is on notice with the potential loss of football, says Nate Rau.

Fernando Velasco is recovering from a knee scope, says Wyatt.

Looking at defensive tackles with Andrew Strickert.

Wrap-up: Cowboys 38, Colts 35 (OT)

December, 5, 2010
Thoughts on the Cowboys’ win over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

What it means: The Colts are at 6-6, in second place in the AFC South, a game plus a tie-breaker behind 7-5 Jacksonville.

What I didn’t like: Four picks by Peyton Manning, two were returned for touchdowns, two turned into field goals. With Dallas scoring 20 points off turnovers, the thinned out Colts simply couldn’t overcome things without a takeaway of their own. Tashard Choice had 100 yards rushing for a career day. The Cowboys had a 217-40 advantage in rushing yards and had eight third down conversions in 15 chances.

What I liked: An awful lot of fight to pull even after trailing 17-0 at the start and by 13 entering the fourth quarter. A ridiculous, 14-catch, 200-yards, one-touchdown day from Reggie Wayne. Two rushing touchdowns from Javarris James. A blocked punt and a resulting touchdown from Taj Smith.

Major gaffe: A leverage penalty against Eric Foster on a late Dallas field-goal attempt in regulation gave the Cowboys a first down and allowed them to ultimately score a go-ahead touchdown and 2-point conversion. The Colts offense bailed Foster out with a giant touchdown drive to force overtime. But they could have been in position to win it.

What’s next: The Colts have a quick turnaround and a Thursday night game in Nashville against the Titans in an AFC South matchup.

Peyton ManningAP Photo/Kevin TerrellThe Colts take a serious, business-like approach to the game. The team has fun after it wins.
Late Monday afternoon, we’ll see the obligatory shot of Peyton Manning walking into Lucas Oil Stadium in a sharp suit. For many big-time players, it’s the standard pre-uniform uniform.

In the case of Manning and the Colts, it’s fittingly symbolic.

Some teams may match Indianapolis’ business-like approach. I don’t know that anyone surpasses it.

Serious has produced a lot of success in the Manning era. Preparation and semi-stoic personalities are staple elements of the team’s culture.

Colts president Bill Polian is a serious guy. Head coach Jim Caldwell is a serious guy. Manning is a serious guy. Their humor tends to be understated or deadpanned. Manning’s known for telegenic sarcasm, not whoopee cushions and hand buzzers.

A good organization takes on the personality of people in those positions, and most of the Colts follow the lead of the team’s power trinity.

I’m not around the team daily, but I’ve spent a good bit of time with the Colts since 2008. Big personalities are a big part of the NFL. But even the Colts’ bubbliest guys -- Gary Brackett, Jeff Saturday, Pat McAfee -- often strive to be reserved. (I bet McAfee shows a lot less personality than he used to when he returns from a one-game suspension for an alcohol-related arrest.)

Players in Indianapolis sometimes try to be uninteresting and bland. It’s safer. It takes less time. It can’t become a distraction.

Given all that serious and calm, I sometimes wonder where having fun ranks in the team’s pyramid of success. It’s something I’ve pondered since training camp and something I think can be looked at, like chemistry, as a chicken-and-egg question.

Do you need success to have fun? Do you need to have fun to have success?

Caldwell gave me a nice chunk of time on the subject during training camp.

“I think success breeds fun,” said Caldwell, whose team meets the Houston Texans in an AFC South showdown on Monday night (ESPN, 8:30 ET). “Guys have to believe in what you’re doing, they have to be able to in execute it, and that’s hard work. It’s discipline, it’s fortitude, it’s toughness. All of those things -- there is no easy way to get that done.

“I really do believe the fun comes after. And you can enjoy it. These guys enjoy it and have passion for what we do. Passion, enthusiasm -- those are high on the list. That’s different than fun. And I think fun comes after winning. That’s my take on it.”

Weekly preparations can be monotonous. There are moments in an NFL day and times in an NFL week that laughter can help pass time better than anything. I am sure the Colts, like other teams, have plenty of those times.

But you won’t come across stories of the Colts dressing up rookies in Halloween costumes for a flight or of a position group deciding to all grow mustaches or mullets. You won’t find two of their top players doing a reality show on Versus or a star with a weekly fantasy football radio show.

Stuff like that just isn’t part of the way the Colts operate, and their fun comes in different, less visible, ways.

“I think when you think of the Colts, you think of the mellow-type guys who take everything business-like and serious,” second-year cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “But we’ve got a lot of jokes going on on this team. We’ve got a lot of different personalities. You see Dan Muir and Eric Foster and them in pregame warm-ups trying to see who can dance the best. You’ve got Peyton in the funny commercials and all that. They bring that type of excitement to the team.

“We have fun, we cut up and play around. But when it’s time for football, that’s what it is: It’s football.”

And while Caldwell might go into great detail about work and discipline, fortitude and toughness, he does talk fun too.

“When Coach Caldwell has a meeting, it’s ‘We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that, we’ve got to do this.’ But he always ends with ‘let’s have fun and win,’ ” Powers said. “People take it to heart … I think we have fun, just in our own way. You might not see a guy going out of the ordinary, trying to get attention. But we have fun out there.”

And laughs and smiles and jokes are hardly the only measure of whether football players are having fun.

Seeing a smart plan work is fun. Executing with a precision that frustrates an opponent is fun. Carrying a coaching tip into a game and seeing it work against an opponent is fun. (Cashing large paychecks must be fun, too.)

Clyde Christensen, a Tony Dungy disciple who is now Caldwell’s offensive coordinator, said he looks at the whole job and setting as fun.

“I just give them the same bullet points that I have with my life, you know?" Christensen said. "What a great privilege to make your living in football. I’m going to enjoy it, I’m going to enjoy every day, I’m going to enjoy practice, I’m going to enjoy the guys.

“Now I have found ... winning is really fun. But I’m going to enjoy it either way. I love doing it, I love coaching, I love teaching, I love being around these guys, I like the relationships; I enjoy all that’s part of it. It is an awful lot of fun to win a football game. It’s an awful good feeling to head into that locker room with the guys you did that with.”

Things differ from guy to guy. Christensen cited injured tight end Dallas Clark as a fun-all-the-time type. Caldwell knows he comes across differently, and freely admits he doesn’t relax much until his work is done. There might be a few weeks during the offseason when he really asks if he’s finished.

Everything else qualifies as prep time.

“Our guys enjoy playing. Just watch our guys when they take the field -- there is a lot of enthusiasm, they have a great time,” he said. “But I also believe this: the fun is in winning. In our preparation to do so, we have a good time.”

Thoughts on Bills 34, Colts 21

August, 20, 2010
Sometimes geography and TV schedules make seeing a preseason game impossible. In New Orleans, I was unable to see the Indianapolis-Buffalo game. But from highlights, write-ups and statistical review, here are some bullet-point thoughts on the Colts’ 34-21 loss to Buffalo on Thursday night in Toronto.

  • Joseph Addai showed great burst and was slippery on his 17-yard touchdown run.
  • Jacob Tamme found a nice space between three defenders and Peyton Manning put a perfect pass there for a 21-yard score.
  • Bob Sanders was back on the field for the first time since Nov. 1, 2009.
  • Curtis Painter fared far better than he did in the preseason opener, completing 5 of 6 passes for 97 yards, a touchdown and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
  • Devin Moore had a nice night as a return man, with two punt returns for 51 yards and four kickoff returns for 129 yards.

  • Dwight Freeney and Antoine Bethea were among the players who slipped off of C.J. Spiller during the rookie’s 31-yard touchdown run.
  • The Colts stutter-started with early penalties against Ramon Humber and Tony Ugoh and a Manning tipped-ball interception that was returned for a touchdown.
  • Just one sack, from Eric Foster.
  • Three lost fumbles, including one from Ray Fisher who’s trying to win a return job.
  • Not that they care, but ... this was Indy's 21st loss in its last 25 preseason games.

AFC East wizard Tim Graham was there to look at things from a Buffalo perspective. Here are his notes and his column on Spiller.
John Davidson from Boston writes: Paul, what are the Colts chances of getting an inside pass rush this year? Thanks.

Paul Kuharsky: It should be better -- Daniel Muir, Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster are improving and Fili Moala should start to contribute. But they are content and fine with the edge guys doing the bulk of the pressuring and sacking as they’ve invested far more into Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Jerry Hughes. Inside guys doing dirty work on inside runs and getting some push on pass plays will often be enough.

Ben from Katy, Texas, writes: Paul, we know you love Chris Johnson and all but he is not the fastest player in AFC South. That would be Trindon Holliday. Your boy is fast and had one good run at the combine but Holliday has world class speed. Either way, it's questionable.

Paul Kuharsky: Yeah, one good day at the combine.

And a handful of mile-long TD runs with no one closing on him.

And more than 2,000 yards.

I’d take my chances with Johnson against Holliday, who's unquestionably fast. I'd take my chances with Johnson, quite frankly, against anyone in the league right now.

Holliday isn't the only one with a track background. As I mentioned in this post from the Seattle game, Johnson finished second in a Florida state high school final to Walter Dix in the 100-meter dash, and Dix finished third behind Usain Bolt in the Beijing Olympics.

And if we were only lining up guys who’ve shown they can play, Holliday wouldn’t even qualify yet. He has to learn how to field punts and passes if he's going to stick.

Will from Nashville writes: For future off season columns, you think you could do articles of athletes who do good things for the community that most people don’t hear about? Just an idea - I would rather read about that than watch VY try to beat up someone at the strip club.

Paul Kuharsky: If I went that direction, the blog would be filled with nothing but charity appearances and foundation news.

Here’s my general line of thinking on this topic -- guys should be doing good stuff, just as you and I should be.

It’s not generally news that’s worthy of comment if you or I or John Doe from the Texans does something we’re expected to do. We’re all counting on that from each other.

If you do the opposite and get yourself arrested, that’s news- and commentary-worthy.

All the oil rigs in the gulf were operating effectively and we weren't reading about them. It was the one that failed to do what was expected of it that was the news, right?

Also, you can typically find such news on most team websites.

Ben Fruehman from Indianapolis writes: Earlier this offseason it was reported that Coach Caldwell indicated he might use four-wide receiver sets given the depth and talent at the position. Keeping Dallas Clark in the lineup basically makes it a 5WR set. Do you think the Colts have the offensive line to block for that kind of set even with Peyton's quick release? How long is that going to work before team's start taking the Rex Ryan approach and throwing the kitchen sink at us? I love the idea, but giving the O-line no support makes me nervous, too. Thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: Caldwell wasn’t talking base formation. He was talking once in a while. They can do it once in a while and Manning will have one of them open short to get it out quick if he needs to. He has that no matter how many receivers are on the field. Throw the kitchen sink at Manning, the ball is out before anyone can get to him. He usually welcomes it.

Chris in Miami writes: With the Jaguars improvement last season, do they have the potential to make a playoff appearance? I feel their problem was finishing games.

Paul Kuharsky: Not only would the Jaguars have to get significantly better to get there, but they’d need at least two teams in front of them to get significantly worse. I think it’s a lot to ask to happen all at once. Put them in the AFC West or the NFC West, they’d be contending for a Wild Card from second place. IN the AFC South, they can make big strides and still wind up third or even fourth.

Peter in Nashville writes: I read the Football Outsiders article about top prospects. I was a little surprised to see Jacob Ford. I saw that you made a post about it, but you mainly relayed the information as opposed to giving your take on the matter. I was curious to hear what you thought about Jacob Ford. It seems like William Hayes and Derrick Morgan will be the main ends with Ford, Ball, and Babin rotating in. Do you see Ford making an impact?

Paul Kuharsky: I think Ford can be very good and very productive. My questions about him concern his durability. At least four guys should see significant action at end.
"Reading the coverage" this morning pointed you to this Mike Chappell story about the load of Colts heading toward free agency in 2011.

But before anyone who likes to wear a blue horseshoe panics, here’s a run through of Chappell’s list of the 19 guys who will be in line for restricted or unrestricted contractual freedom, divided into handy categories:

Will be signed this summer

QB Peyton Manning -- The Colts plan on ensuring the NFL’s only four-time MVP is the league’s highest paid player.

Close to essential

S Antoine Bethea -- The underrated glue of a secondary that does well limiting big plays.

LB Clint Session -- The Colts usually let linebackers leave, but this playmaker he should be an exception.

S Melvin Bullitt -- Presuming Bob Sanders’ time is close to over, this versatile defensive back won’t be easily replaced.

Like to keep, but replaceable

RB Joseph Addai -- He’ll be 28 for 2011 and Donald Brown should be ready to be the lead guy, but if Addai’s price is right and his health is good…

PK Adam Vinatieri -- A healthy and clutch season can make retaining him more important.

OT Charlie Johnson -- A versatile piece who's nice to have, but if he can secure a starting job elsewhere he could want to move.

Rather have than lose

DT Dan Muir -- They’ve invested a lot of time and effort in developing him.

DT Antonio Johnson -- They’ve invested a lot of time and effort in developing him.

Would keep for cheap

DL Eric Foster -- A versatile piece who’s a small, fast interior guy well suited for Colts.

DL Keyunta Dawson -- Ranks as the fourth end now, but can contribute as role player.

G Kyle DeVan -- Did admirable work as a surprise starter last year, but they added a few interior guys.


OT Tony Ugoh -- His stock could change, but at this point could rate as the team’s fourth tackle.

TE Gijon Robinson -- Might not make the roster this season if fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge is the blocking upgrade expected.

S Jamie Silva -- Doesn’t seem to me to be in line to inherit a starting spot if a frontline safety leaves.

DE Ervin Baldwin -- Late add in 2009 is behind two Pro Bowlers, new first-rounder Jerry Hughes and Dawson.

WR Sam Giguere -- With quality crowd ahead of him, not going to find room to work as a receiver.

To be determined

G Andy Alleman – Haven’t seen him in Colts’ uniform yet.

OT Adam Terry -- Haven’t seen him in Colts’ uniform yet.
The Colts just released this statement from Bill Polian regarding the civil suit against defensive linemen Eric Foster:

“We are aware that a civil action seeking monetary damages has been filed against Eric Foster.

“The alleged incident was investigated by law enforcement officials at the time the allegation was made. The appropriate authorities decided that there was no basis for charges to be filed.

“Based upon those facts, we have no reason to take any action, or to make any further comment on this matter. Eric Foster is a member of our squad and will participate in our off-season program.”

That's a good development for Foster, though the league will still look into the matter. The most recent reports still leave cause for some questions. Here is one from the Indianapolis Star that includes reaction from Foster’s lawyer, and another from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Colts' Foster facing accusations

April, 20, 2010
Colts defensive lineman Eric Foster is facing sexual assault allegations in a civil suit stemming from an incident alleged to have unfolded at the team hotel in the early morning hours before the AFC Championship Game.

It’s a civil, not a criminal case, because it was botched by authorities, the woman’s lawyer told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Colts have declined comment.

The Colts have typically steered clear of off-the-field incidents, putting a large emphasis on character.

Defensive tackle Ed Johnson, who had an especially short leash, was promptly kicked off the team in 2008 after he was charged with marijuana possession. Brought back in 2009, he didn’t last long, but that time the team said it was over conditioning and performance.

It’s unclear what the team knew about the accusations against Foster and when. The timing of the suit making it to court is also not yet apparent.

But these days an NFL franchise’s security department is surprised by little. I expect Colts president Bill Polian and the NFL have known the details for some time.

League spokesman Greg Aiello said it was “not relevant” when the NFL became aware of the allegations and that “we will look at the facts but will not speculate what, if any, action could be taken” under the personal conduct policy.

It’s terrible if true, of course, and we need to hear from IUPUI officials about how things were handled at the time of the accusation.

For the time being, we have to give Foster the benefit of the doubt and the presumption of innocence.

The Colts might have been ready to take a defensive tackle for depth in the draft anyway. Now if they do, we'll be wondering if it has anything to do with the case against Foster.
Dan Muir, Antonio Johnson & Eric FosterUS Presswire/Getty Images/AP PhotoDaniel Muir (left), Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster will face the league's best rushing offense Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2009 Indianapolis Colts needed to be stouter.

Item No. 1 on virtually every team's list of needs after the 2008 season was defensive tackle. A new head coach with a new defensive coordinator would still want quick interior linemen, but a little more beef would help the team better tamp down the run.

Thus, the Colts selected Fili Moala out of USC in the second round of the 2009 draft. They grabbed Terrance Taylor from Michigan in the fourth round. They recruited Adrian Grady from Louisville as an undrafted free agent. They ultimately brought back veteran Ed Johnson, who had been waived early in the 2008 season.

Things were going to appear a whole lot different between veteran defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Months later, here stand the Colts, a game away from their second Super Bowl in four seasons. The three defensive tackles who will key the run-stopping efforts Sunday against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game are... the same three guys they intended to replace with upgrades.

New York has a Pro Bowl center in Nick Mangold and a Pro Bowl left guard in Alan Faneca, two key pieces of an offensive line that blocks for the NFL’s top rushing team. The Colts will counter with starting defensive tackles Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir and Eric Foster as the primary changeup.

Of all the "upgrades," only second-rounder Moala stuck -- and he's inactive when the guys ahead of him are healthy.

The three holdovers are used to beating long odds. Antonio Johnson was signed off the Tennessee Titans' practice squad in early November 2008 and played eight games with the Colts that season. Muir was a waiver claim from the Green Bay Packers in late August 2008. Foster was an undrafted free agent from Rutgers signed in 2008.

And so it’s no-names versus big-names in the trenches when the Jets have the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it could be the matchup most telling in who wins the AFC title and advances to the Super Bowl.

(Read full post)