With Hagler On IR, Wheeler, Humber Expected to Step Up
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts improved to 7-0 and extended their regular-season winning streak to 16 games last Sunday, but also had one of their starting linebackers suffer a season-ending injury.
On Wednesday, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell announced fourth-year veteran Tyjuan Hagler had been placed on Injured Reserve due to a biceps injury he suffered in Sunday's win against San Francisco.
In place of Hagler, who was fourth on the team with 36 tackles, the Colts plan to use second-year veteran Philip Wheeler and rookie Ramon Humber at the 'Sam' linebacker position. To fill Hagler's roster spot, the Colts activated rookie linebacker Cody Glenn from the practice squad.
Wheeler, the team's third-round draft pick in 2008, is a likely candidate to fill the starting position, using the team's "Next Man Up" theory. After replacing Hagler against San Francisco, Wheeler registered two tackles and a sack. Despite it only being Wheeler's second year, Caldwell said he expects him to step up and fill in well.
"He has no choice," Caldwell said. "He's a guy that certainly has been around us for a couple of years. He's been in the system. He knows it. He is going to get his opportunity. Philip is not a rookie, and we fully expect that if he's in there, he'll play well."
Wheeler competed against Hagler for the starting position during the preseason, but was edged out by the more experienced linebacker.
"Coach felt it was better for the team, and there were no hard feelings on that," Wheeler said. "I've been looking forward to it for a long time. I've just been waiting for my opportunity."
Wheeler – a 6-2, 240-pound linebacker – has played mostly on special teams this season, but impressed Caldwell with his defense against the 49ers.
"In the short period of time when Hagler went out and from what I saw on film, he did a decent job," Caldwell said Monday. "He was just feeling his way a little bit. It was the first bit of extensive action he has gotten."
THE HUNTERS, NOT THE HUNTED
Currently atop the AFC South, the Colts know they are going to get the Houston Texans' best effort this Sunday when their division rival comes to Lucas Oil Stadium.
But defensive end Dwight Freeney said the Colts use a certain mentality in order to have a mental edge come Sundays.
"We like to say we are the hunters," he said. "Instead of having the bullseye on our back, we put it on everyone else's. So we are out there trying to hunt and accomplish our goals and our mission."
Freeney has been hunting quarterbacks all season. The four-time Pro Bowl defensive end has a sack in eight consecutive games and has been a major contributor to the Colts' NFL-best scoring defense, which is allowing 13 points per game.
"The comfort level is definitely getting there," Freeney said. "The pieces are fitting together. It is still early to me, until we get to December it is early, but this November is a month you really start to build that momentum and you really see what type of team you do have. I definitely think we are putting something together that's special, so hopefully we can keep it going."
The Colts issued Thursday's injury report with the following players listed as did not participate in practice: WRs-Anthony Gonzalez (knee) and Reggie Wayne (not injury related-rested), DBs-Kelvin Hayden (knee), Marlin Jackson (knee), Bob Sanders (elbow) and Jamie Silva (hip), DE-Robert Mathis (not injury related-rested) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee). Dwight Freeney (not injury related-rested), who did not participate in practice on Wednesday, was listed as full participation for Thursday's practice.