INDIANAPOLIS – An injury late last year cost Fili Moala the final five games of a season where he was asserting himself in a new defense.
A freak play that nailed two Colts – an interception return that was fumbled and turned back to Buffalo – was the play where Moala tore an ACL.
The game against the Bills was his eighth start in the new 3-4 scheme, and it was one that fit Moala well.
Moala is rehabbing from his injury and has been in Indianapolis for most of the off-season. He has signed a contract extension, avoiding free agency, and looks to return to a scheme that he enjoys.
"I feel this is the best defense I've a part of. Scheme-wise, it fits me better," said Moala. "I can't speak for anyone else, but I feel it's a blessing to have this defense come in here last year. I think it helps me show my talents, and I think I can contribute to the team."
The club made the shift from a 4-3 when Chuck Pagano arrived. It meant new duties for some players who were in Indianapolis prior to his arrival.
Moala had been one of those guys, having started 31-of-40 outings since being a second-round pick in 2009. He started the final game of his rookie season at right tackle, then was one of four defensive players in 2010 to open every game. Moala did so 12 times at left tackle and four times on the right side.
He started 14 games at left tackle in 2011, the final year of the 4-3. The new system was a relatively easy adaptive process.
"I feel the infancy stages were a learning process but once you got the hang of it, basically the jobs were similar," said Moala. "It was all about knowing which side the blitz was on. It was about doing your job. I think I had an easy time adapting to it."
One notion some have about the scheme is that it is set for linebackers to thrive. Moala does not buy into the notion.
"I think that's an urban myth with a 3-4 defense," said Moala. "Of course, we have to keep the linebackers clean and able to make plays but if you can make the play, make it.
"Don't not make the play. You play within the framework of the defense, but it allows you the chance to make plays."
In starting 39-of-48 career appearances, Moala has totaled 86 tackles, 54 solo, two sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Last year, he had 21 tackles, 11 solo, and one pass defensed prior to getting hurt.
"Fili is a big and versatile player in our scheme who has a motor that never stops," said Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson. "He's been working his tail off rehabbing his knee, and we're very optimistic about his recovery. We're excited to keep him in the fold."
The team does not start on-field work until mid-April. When Moala will return is to be determined, but he likes his progress and prospects.
"I feel like I'm ahead of schedule. I feel great coming back from the torn ACL," said Moala. "The medical field has come along vastly I'd say in the last five years. Hopefully, the knee turns out and I'm healthy.
"I feel like I'm going to be fine. I'm sure whatever happens, it will all be for the better. Guys like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have proved it's an injury that can be taken care of, that guys can come back.
"I'm thrilled to be back as a member of the Colts. Last year was a special season and we want to continue that momentum. I'm anxious to get back on the field with Coach Pagano and the rest of my teammates."