INDIANAPOLIS – The 2012 draft class brought a smile to Ryan Grigson’s face with exploits that accounted for the most scrimmage yards by a rookie bunch since the NFL merger.
The return of a player on the other side of the ball in 2013 will broaden Grigson’s smile even more.
The gritty Alabama lineman played the majority of his last year on one leg, and the season ended with a national title.
Chapman started his rookie season on PUP, meaning he was inactive for the first third of the year before having a chance to play. The Colts could elect to sit him the remainder of the year, however, and that is what happened.
For a battler, the inaction took a mental toll.
“It really did. Throughout the whole process, I thought I would be back by training camp, or right after my PUP period was up,” said Chapman. “It kind of frustrated me because I’d never been down before in my life. For me to miss a whole season, it messed up my mind.
“I listened to a lot of older guys, ‘Don’t come back until you’re healthy.’ I listened to the coaches. One of them said, ‘You can play for four weeks or 10 years.’ I’d like to get healthy now and be ready for the long haul. The advice helped me, and I learned a lot from the older guys.”
Chapman played in 54 games with Alabama. He sat after three games in 2007, then played in 51 outings over the next four years.
Success was a typical companion. The Tide ranked third, second and fifth in the nation in total defense his last three years, topping the SEC in most categories along the way.
Chapman loves the combat in tight spaces. He allowed yards grudgingly at Alabama, a role he relishes in Indianapolis.
“I can bring the presence in the middle of the defense. I love being down in those trenches, taking on the double teams,” said Chapman. “That’s one thing that’s always appealed to me – stopping the run, stopping the run. I feel I can do that and get push up the middle on passing downs.”
The club will not start on-field work until the spring, and Chapman is doing what he can to be ready.
“Physically, I feel good and my mind is right now,” said Chapman. “It’s progressing every day, and I listen to the guys in the weight room and training room. I’m getting this (knee) stronger.
“We’re trying to get everything right. The knee is the main point. Your full body has to be working for your knee to be right. Basically, it’s getting everything right. I have the upper body strength back. It’s getting the quad strong and knee strong so I can get my mind off of just trying to play on one knee.
“My mind has registered to play on one knee. I’m trying to revert back to playing on both, letting my mind know the other knee is healthy now. I am basically relearning things. I’m so used to putting so much pressure on my right knee that it’s like, ‘Hey, man, your left knee is fixed now.’ It’s bringing the memory back.”
Chuck Pagano saw his defense thrive in some moments last year in the new 3-4 scheme, but he saw other moments of concern. Pagano knows Chapman can be a vital cog.
“I expect great things from Josh,” said Chuck Pagano. “From a physical standpoint, he could have gone last year had we pushed him. He would have done that. We felt like the best thing for the team and for Josh was to not push the issue there and to force him to do something (harmful). He was close, but he certainly was not where he is today.
“Josh is going to give us a big, strong presence inside playing the nose. He’s going to command double-teams. He’s going to be a guy who helps our run defense when we plug him in. He was just coming on when he got hurt in college. He was one of the unsung heroes coming out of that locker room at Alabama. You heard about (Courtney) Upshaw and (Dont’a) Hightower and all those guys, but Josh was the guy who knew that defense inside and out. He’s very, very bright. He’ll digest a ton of information. Even though he didn’t play, he knew everything we were running from A-to-Z. He will emerge as a big-time leader for us.”
Chapman’s football story was delayed by a year. This could be his year.
“We have a pretty good team this year from a defensive standpoint,” said Chapman. “This 3-4 defense is built on stopping the run. I’ve always heard if you stop the run you can have some fun. If you stop it, you can dial up the good pass rushers, they go rush the passer and everyone has some fun.
“I’m anxious to get going. I played on the high school and college level. Now, I’m here. It’s a dream come true. The road is right there. It’s time to get on it.”