INDIANAPOLIS – Lost somewhat in all the injury talk surrounding the Indianapolis Colts has been the missing starters on the defensive side of the football.
Filling in for an injured Fili Moala at defensive tackle on Sunday was Eric Foster who was making his 17th career NFL start.
Behind Foster in the middle of the linebacker corps was Pat Angerer. For the second consecutive week, Angerer slid into the middle of the three-linebacker alignment, a spot normally occupied by veteran and captain Gray Brackett.
Foster and Angerer both have started double digit games in their careers, but that is not something that can be said for a third different starter on the defense last Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Inserted into the starting lineup at strong safety due to a shoulder injury to Melvin Bullitt was first-year pro David Caldwell. Caldwell not only was making his first career start, he was playing in only his third career game.
Caldwell spent the entire 2010 season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. He was ready, however, when his number was called.
"Being on IR is like being behind the scenes," Caldwell said. "You get to observe everything without participating. You want to pick up on little things, how guys get ready for the games, their film study habits and everything else like that."
Caldwell comes from a similar background to the two teammates he looks up to in the secondary – Bullitt and free safety Antoine Bethea. Like Bullitt, Caldwell is an undrafted free agent whom the Colts signed following the 2010 NFL Draft. Bullitt followed that same path to the team in 2007 and like Brackett, he is a team captain, too. Lining up next to Bethea, a Howard University product, Sunday night was Caldwell, who played at William and Mary. The geographic proximity of the universities and the manner in which Caldwell and Bethea (a sixth-round 2006 draft pick) entered the league further illustrates the point that no matter where a player may hone his craft, the Colts will be watching.
Opening in front of a national television audience can make things even more nerve-wracking for a player starting his first game in the NFL. However, Caldwell said the veteran safeties told him to keep things simple and just play football.
"We have a group of guys that lead us with Melvin and Antoine at the safety position," Caldwell said. "They help us prepare. The game, that's the fun part. The practice, that's the grind but the game is where you just want to go have fun."
"They didn't overemphasize things and I felt that was good. I didn't overemphasize it. Now you're coming in (to the game) a little earlier (than you planned). I was used to playing but the preseason experience helped me out so it was really just another game. I was really looking forward to playing."
In addition to Caldwell, first-year pro Terrence Johnson and rookie Joe Lefeged also saw ample playing time in the secondary Sunday evening.
Johnson was third on the team with five tackles against Pittsburgh and Lefeged's second-quarter interception helped set up the Colts' final points of the first half. Lefeged picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at midfield in the final two minutes and returned the theft 25 yards to put Indianapolis in scoring position. An Adam Vinatieri field goal with 15 seconds left before intermission gave Indianapolis a 13-10 lead that would hold up into the fourth quarter.
For Caldwell, the biggest difference Sunday night was seeing a few more reps in two phases of the game.
"(It was) more defensive experience. During the year being a backup, you mostly play special teams so now getting into a role where you're playing more defense actually at the safety position it just gets you more and more experience and is something to build on," Caldwell said.
On the evening the Colts defense caused three Steelers turnovers. For the season, the Colts have forced seven fumbles, recovering four. The unit also kept Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to 2.1 yards a carry, well below his 2010 average of 3.9. As a team, Pittsburgh rushed for 67 yards on 28 attempts, a 2.4 average.
"We feel that we did some things well, but there are always things you can improve on. In this league you either get better or get worse, you never really stay the same. We're going to try and get better for next week. The end result was bad of course. We don't like losing but like anything else, you have to just build off the good things you learned and learn from the things we could've done better."