Rookies Conner, Angerer Playing Key Roles at Linebacker for Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – Pat Angerer figures it's past time to think about being a rookie.
Angerer, the Colts' rookie middle linebacker, said while it's true that he is in his first NFL season – and as such, it's true he's still gaining experience and improving by the game – it's just as true that when it comes to judging his play, that's no longer the context.
It's no longer his context.
And when it comes to he and fellow rookie Kavell Conner, Angerer said it shouldn't be anyone's context. Not anymore.
They're NFL players, he said. And it's only fair to be regarded as such.
"At this point in the season, we don't like to consider ourselves rookies anymore," Angerer said. "I think the other guys on the team hold us accountable just like everybody else.
"We work hard, and we like to be held accountable and do our best."
Not that there has been much choice. Not in recent weeks.
Angerer and Conner, second- and seventh-round selections in this past April's NFL Draft, weren't initially thrust into the starting lineup to start the season, but over the course of what has been an injury-marked season for Indianapolis, each has moved into a prominent role.
"They play hard," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "There's no lack of effort. Those guys have been getting after it. As rookies, you're going to make mistakes, but those guys have constantly been improving and they've been able to help us."
Angerer, who played collegiately at the University of Iowa, has started each of the last six games – starting four games for Brackett at middle linebacker and starting two more at strong-side linebacker.
Brackett has missed the last three games with a toe injury, and with Clint Session out with an elbow injury, Conner – who missed four games this season with a foot injury – has played starting weakside linebacker role.
"That's not an easy thing to do in this league, particularly with some of the different looks that they have to face week in and week out," Caldwell said of the two rookies starting alongside one another.
"They have been able to do a pretty good job as a tandem in there."
Said Conner, "We're both in the same situation, so we try to go out and communicate and make sure we're on the same page so we can be on the same level."
Angerer, who started in place of Brackett in the middle against Washington, moved to the strongside for two games before moving back to the middle when Brackett sustained the toe injury. He has registered 50 tackles in the last six games, and had a sack in his first career start against the Redskins.
"As a rookie, and as a young guy, I think anytime you get on the field it's a chance to improve and a chance to get better," Angerer said. "I'm thankful for the opunity, but unfortunately for me to get on the field, somebody had to get hurt. That's too bad."
Angerer, though emphasizing that he still must improve, said he has seen signs in recent weeks that he has felt increasingly comfortable.
"Mostly in the past couple of games – I've been able to play faster," Angerer said. "That's really what I was wanting to do – play faster and not think as much. It's getting to the point where it's getting better."
Angerer while playing in the middle also has inherited Brackett's defensive play-calling duties, something Brackett said remains a challenge at times for him even after eight NFL seasons.
"Sometimes it is (difficult)," Angerer said, "especially when you have to make checks and you have to tell everybody what the call is – and you're telling everybody what the call is and they're lining up running a play. You just have to make sure you communicate and people are paying attention.
"You have to be in the (play)book and talk to the older guys, talk to the coaches – that helps a lot."
Conner, who played collegiately at Clemson, has started two of the last four games, playing extensively in run- and normal-down situations while veteran Tyjuan Hagler has played extensively in the nickel. He has registered 18 tackles in the last three games and 23 for the season.
"I feel like I'm doing OK," Conner said. "I'm never going to be content. I want to come out and get better every day. Any time you go down with an injury, it's tough on you mentally, because it's unexpected.
"You try to stay in the film room and stay engaged, so when you come back healthy, you'll be right on the beat."
Conner, like Angerer, has played an extensive role on special teams. Angerer has 10 special teams tackles and Conner has three.
"I like going down and covering kicks," Conner said. "It gets you loose and you get some tackles."
And while each has played solidly on special teams, it has been on defense in recent weeks that they each have been asked to play a more prominent, pressurized role. And while the process hasn't been quick or easy, Conner said having a teammate in a similar situation has helped.
Even if they're not thought of as rookies as often anymore.
"You have someone you can relate to, because you're going through the same thing," Conner said. "You're going through the same learning curve and the same struggle.
"It definitely helps to be on the same page with someone."