Colts Third-Year Player Switches Positions to Defensive End
TERRE HAUTE – Just the shear task of watching Keyunta Dawson in practice can be tiring.
One minute, the 6'3", 254-pound workhorse smashes head-on with an offensive lineman. The next, Dawson is sprinting full-bore down field in a special teams drill, trying to outrun players half his size.
This is what Head Coach Jim Caldwell loves about the Colts' third-year player. Whether it is in a game or practice, from inside or outside, on defense or special teams – "Every single snap, every single drill, 'Key' is an all-out football player," Caldwell said.
For the past two years, Dawson has been a mainstay of the Colts' defensive line. The team's seventh-round draft pick in 2007, Dawson has started at defensive tackle in 18 of the 30 games he has played as a Colt. And in 2008, he started in all 14 games he appeared in while registering 71 tackles, the most of anyone on the team's D-line.
Now, the tireless worker is taking on a new project: defensive end.
When the 2008 season ended, Dawson declared his main offseason goal would be finding a way to get to the quarterback more often. Despite all the playing time in his first two years, Dawson managed only one sack – a statistic he is well aware of.
"I had a lot of close calls and a lot of plays I just didn't finish," Dawson said. "I want to be explosive. I want to be disruptive. And I want to get to the quarterback."
He will have a lot easier time doing so now that he will be attacking quarterbacks from the side, rather than up the middle.
On Monday, Dawson said the acclimation process is going relatively smoothly, but, like anyone in his situation, admits the new position is "a bit different."
"Your vision is different and you have to react and run a bit more," Dawson said. "It is definitely a good position for me. It's more of my natural position. I can do things in more ways and I feel like it is going to be a good move for me."
Caldwell said the position switch is made easier by the fact that Dawson is so versatile.
"When he is playing inside, you can keep your eye on the ball and he'll show up. On the outside, he is good and can make stops. He is a guy that can handle and maintain the line of scrimmage and runs to the ball extremely well."
Dawson said he first learned he would be switching to defensive end when he arrived at mini-camp this past spring. At 254 pounds, Dawson was undersized compared to an average NFL defensive tackle (the Colts have four DTs over 300 pounds). But at defensive end, Dawson will be able to use his size and athleticism to his advantage, something he is welcoming with open arms.
"Last year, I was going against 330-pound guys," Dawson said. "Now I get to go against tight ends and some smaller guys, so I think it'll be a great position for me."
After learning of his impending position switch, Dawson wasted no time asking this position peers for advice.
"I can go to all of those guys," Dawson said. "Raheem (Brock) is the oldest and he has a lot of experience, Robert (Mathis) knows everything about the pass rush and Dwight (Freeney) knows everything about the defensive line, so I can go to them and pick their brains about timing and other stuff, and they let me know what to do," he said.
Which they have. And as Caldwell mentioned before, he does not have to worry about Dawson working his absolutely hardest to become the best defensive lineman he is capable of being. The only part he has to worry about is where to put him on the field.
"He's versatile enough to do a little bit of everything," Caldwell said. "He's a very, very good football player."
After practicing at his new position for the past few months, Dawson is still focused on finishing plays and getting to the quarterback.
"It's a game of inches, a game of small things," Dawson said. "If I take care of those small things, I can make big plays."