Colts Defensive Tackles Share Common Bond
INDIANAPOLIS – Without question, circumstances motivate them.
And they say it will stay that way for a while.
Because Antonio Johnson said the circumstances in which he and his Colts defensive tackle teammates made the NFL were difficult enough, and unlikely enough, that they will continue to think about them – if not everyday, then often enough, and for a long time.
And for now? Yes, Johnson said, for now it still motivates every day.
Because Johnson said when no one believes in you – not really; not enough, anyway – at the beginning of your career, that sticks with you.
"It's total motivation," Johnson said recently. "We're trying to make it to the top, to come from the bottom to the top. It's definitely motivation.
"You feel like you have a point to prove."
The Colts' defensive tackles this off-season said their point is two-fold:
• To continue proving they belong in the NFL.
• And to prove they more than belong, that they can be not just good, but among the best.
For the Colts' defensive tackles – particularly last year's starters, Johnson and Dan Muir, and key reserve Eric Foster – that means stopping the run, and just as much, it means doing it well enough and consistently enough that they get noticed doing so.
"We want people to know coming into each and every game that they're not going to run the ball," Foster said.
The Colts made strides toward being a dominant run defense last season.
And they did so because of improved play from the interior of the line.
While the Colts were relatively similar statistically in stopping the run compared to the previous season, they developed throughout the season as a solid run defense, utilizing speed and quickness to shut down some of the NFL's top rushing offenses and emerge as a key reason for the team's second AFC Championship in four seasons.
The Colts, who held six opponents under 100 yards rushing in the 2009 regular season, allowed 126.5 yards rushing per game during the regular season. Until the final two games of the season – losses to the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills after their seeding was clinched – the Colts had allowed 112.4 yards per game rushing.
"That's still the motivation," Muir said. "We still feel around the NFL that people feel they can just run the ball all over us. We're not having that. That's the goal for me, Antonio Johnson Eric Foster, Fili Moala.
"Our goal is that they can't run on us. That's what we want to do."
Said Johnson, "We take pride in stopping the run. We work hard in the off-season. We challenge one another and we make sure each other doesn't cheat one another. We take pride in stopping the run so the guys will be able to rush the passer."
As much as the key players on the interior of the Colts line focus on stopping the run, each member of the trio said he does so with an underlying motivation: to continue proving he belongs in the NFL.
Muir, who played collegiately at Kent State, wasn't drafted in the 2007 NFL Draft and signed as a collegiate free agent with the Green Bay Packers. He joined the Colts off waivers early in the 2008 season, and after a season spent adapting mentally and physically to the Colts' scheme, emerged as a starter last season following the team's release of Ed Johnson.
Antonio Johnson's story was similar. A fifth-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft from Mississippi State, he missed his rookie season with a knee injury and was on Tennessee's practice squad when the Colts signed him in 2008.
Foster, who played collegiately at Rutgers, signed with the Colts as a free agent in 2008 and after starting extensively that season, played a key role as a reserve last season.
The trio bonded as a group in the 2008 off-season, and after playing effectively as a unit throughout the season, each player during 2009 OTAs said the connection they feel from having to overcome odds early in their careers still serves as motivation.
"When we all come to work together, we feel like it's those moments that make us who we are, the fact that we have to go 100 percent on everything we do," Foster said. "Nothing was handed to us. We were basically written off, all three of us being in similar situation.
"To know that and overcome that and have proof that when you work hard, and it's not just working hard – you perform and produce – it pays off. It makes it worthwhile."
And Muir said for the three players who played most extensively for the Colts at defensive tackle last season that element is not only what drives them now, it's something that likely will be a motivating force into the future.
"We definitely have a chip on our shoulder, and that motivates us to play each game, each and every Sunday," Muir said. "We just take pride in what we do. You get good results with guys who are hungry and want to be a part of it. You get good results from guys like that. We're just pushing each other, pushing each other to go out and play hard. That's not going anywhere.
"It's different when you see someone who comes in and they're not working, but being able to work with the same guys, they push you. When you're not working as hard, he's telling you you're not working as hard. It may get under your skin sometimes, but you realize he cares about you.
"That's what's imant. We come in here and we push each other."