Position-by-Position: The Middle Linebackers


The Ninth in an Off-Season Position-by-Position Series on the Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – As Jim Caldwell saw it, the value was unquestioned.

Gary Brackett, the Colts' starting middle linebacker since 2005 and the defensive captain the past five seasons, has been a critical part of the Colts' defense throughout that time.

He has called defensive plays. He has made checks at the line of scrimmage.

He has made big plays, and he has made routine ones.

That has been true for more than a half decade, and as the Colts made their way to a seventh AFC South title in the last eight seasons this past season, it remained true again.

Brackett, who originally joined the Colts as a free agent shortly after the 2003 NFL Draft, throughout his career has been one of the most-productive, critical players on the roster, and throughout that time, his presence has ensured the middle linebacker position has remained effective and productive.

In 2010, that was the case yet again.

"Obviously, you can't discount his leadership, his experience and he's a guy that the guys have relied upon for a number of years getting them in the right spot and the right place," Caldwell said late in the 2010 regular season.

That's one aspect of Brackett's game.

Another is that when it comes to making critical plays, Brackett is one of the Colts' more reliable defensive players.

Brackett this past season again ranked among the team's top tacklers, finishing third on the team with 74, including 53 solo. He also registered a half a sack and three quarterback pressures.

Brackett also defensed three passes.

The performance was key for the Colts during a season in which they improved against the run late in the season.

The Colts, after allowing more than 100 yards rushing in 10 of 12 games to start the season, in an early December loss to Dallas allowed 217 yards rushing. The Colts at that point had lost three consecutive games, and had allowed 171.3 yards a game rushing during that span.

The Colts at that point moved to a simpler approach on defense, something Caldwell and veteran players said late in the season allowed the team to play faster and react more quickly.

The improvement also coincided with Brackett's return to the lineup.

"Gary has been around and you can't discount the years of experience and his leadership," Caldwell said. "He is one of our captains. There is a lot he brings to the table whenever he returns."

Brackett, who played in 12 of 16 games last season, missed Games 9-11 with an injury. He returned against Dallas, and shortly thereafter, Indianapolis closed out the season with four of its better defensive games of the season, particularly against the run.

The Colts played three of the NFL's top running backs in a season-closing four-game stretch that included two games against the Tennessee Titans and three-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 2009.

Johnson rushed for 111 yards in Game 14, a game the Colts won, 31-28, and the Colts in the regular-season finale limited Johnson 39 yards on 20 carries in a victory that that helped Indianapolis clinch a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons.

The Colts in Week 15 held Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew – a Pro Bowl selection the last two seasons – to 46 yards on 15 carries in Week 15. Darren McFadden, who rushed for 1,157 yards this past season, rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries for Oakland in a Week 16 Colts victory.

The Colts finished the season 25th in the NFL against the run, allowing 127.0 yards per game, but allowed 79.8 yards per game over the last four games.

"We eliminated some calls, some things that were a little bit confusing," Brackett said last in the season. "We went back to base to about two or three things and do them well. Our mantra has always been that we are going to do what we do better than what the other team does what they do.

"I think it means a lot. That is what we pride ourselves on, flying around to the football. I think it leaves a message. I think it started a few weeks ago, just saying to ourselves that we wanted to go out there and stop the run, and for the last three games we got that accomplished.

"We eliminated some things and guys were a little bit hesitant. When you are out there and you're hesitant and you're not the first to react, then you are usually on your heels, and now we want to be on our toes and fly around and dictate the pace ourselves."

The 2010 season also marked the Colts debut of rookie middle linebacker Pat Angerer, a player Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian said showed signs of being a consistent, effective player in the future – and Brackett's likely successor at the position.

Angerer, a second-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft from the University of Iowa, started the final 11 games of the season. Seven of those starts came at outside linebacker, and four came in place of Brackett when the latter was injured.

"He is learning and developing, but he also has been able to make plays," Caldwell said of Angerer. "I think he has certainly stepped in and done a nice job."

Angerer finished the season with 75 tackles, including 50 solos, and also had 16 special teams tackles. He had a quarterback sack, a pressure and two passes defensed.

"We already know (linebacker) Pat Angerer is a football player," Polian said. "He can play 'Sam.' He can play 'Mike.' I hope (middle linebacker) Gary (Brackett) plays a long time, but whenever he's ready to hang it up, Pat's ready to step in, obviously."

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