Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Discusses Team's Defensive Tackle Position
INDIANAPOLIS – All in all, Jim Caldwell likes what he sees on the defensive interior.
Caldwell, entering his second season as the Colts' head coach, said that's because what he saw on the interior of the team's defensive front a year ago was something not only intriguing and productive, but also something with a lot of potential.
There was a solid starting duo. And a dynamic backup.
There also was an improving young reserve.
And because that was the makeup of the Colts' defensive tackles, and because they all return this season, Caldwell said it doesn't much matter if the group is well-known outside the team.
The Colts know their defensive tackles.
And they know they like the situation there.
"We've developed a pretty formidable group there," Caldwell said recently in an interview for this story on the Colts' defensive tackles, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on Colts.com this month.
That group isn't the most well-known position on the Colts' roster.
But last season, it emerged as one of the most reliable.
And it did so despite being a group of largely unknown, low-drafted players who two seasons ago many analysts and fans may not have believed would have been in the league entering the 2010 season.
• Antonio Johnson.
• Dan Muir.
• Eric Foster.
"There was a time where we just felt, 'Maybe we just weren't as stout in the middle as we should have been,' Caldwell said. "They did give us that punch and they gave us a little more bulk in there, but we didn't lose any of the mobility we've always had in terms of speed, shake and explosiveness."
The above-mentioned overcame relatively long odds to become front-line NFL players.
Johnson, who started 15 of 16 regular-season games and three postseason games last season, signed with the Colts midway through the 2008 season off the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans. He moved into the Colts' starting lineup later that season, and finished this past season with 57 tackles and a sack while providing a run-stuffing presence.
Muir, acquired off waivers from Green Bay just before the 2008 season, played sparingly in 2008, and spent the offseason trimming and re-shaping his body to better adapt to the Colts' one-gap style of defensive tackle play. He made the team out of training camp, and when the Colts released Ed Johnson – a starter in 2007 who had re-signed the previous offseason after being released from the team in Week 2 in 2008 – he moved into the starting role.
By season's end, Caldwell said it was a duo playing effectively.
"The core, with Dan Muir and Antonio Johnson, is two big guys who can move," Caldwell said. "They both give you great effort and are guys who you aren't just going to knock off the ball easily."
Muir finished the season with 66 tackles, best among Colts defensive linemen, and also had a half a sack.
"Dan Muir is a guy who just keeps getting better," Caldwell said. "There was one ball game (last season) where he had as many tackles as an interior linemen we've had in a number of years. Not only that he can rush the passer."
Foster, who started 14 games as an undrafted rookie from Rutgers the previous season, played a critical role as a reserve in 2009, finishing the season with 43 tackles, two and a half sacks and 12 quarterback pressures.
His 12 pressures were the Colts' best at the position.
The group helped the Colts improve their run defense last season. While the Colts were relatively the same 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 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.
"They'll be able to give us some run-stopping ability, but also some interior pressure as well," Caldwell said.
The Colts last off-season selected Fili Moala from Southern California in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and while he said late in the season he struggled at times to adjust to the NFL, Caldwell said late in the season Moala was progressing. He had 17 tackles in 10 games.
"Often at that position, there no question about it – it just takes a little time for some guys to find their niche," Caldwell said. "There's a development that goes along with playing on the interior and facing all the different little schemes they get from the offensive linemen.
"He's improving. There's no question about it."
John Gill, a defensive lineman from Northwestern, spent the final regular-season games on the active roster last season, registering five tackles against the New York Jets in Week 16. He also was on the active roster for the postseason.
The Colts early in the offseason also signed first-year veteran and former Iowa tackle Mitch King, who spent part of last season on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad.