Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Discusses the Team's Middle Linebacker Position
INDIANAPOLIS – Sometimes, what you initially see isn't want you get.
And in the case of Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett, Head Coach Jim Caldwell said that's a positive thing, and it's why Caldwell and the Colts feel good about the middle linebacker position.
No, Caldwell said, Brackett wasn't drafted.
No, he wasn't a prototype.
And there may be middle linebackers around the NFL who look more like how people imagine an NFL middle linebacker is supposed to look, but Caldwell said something else is equally true.
Brackett plays how an NFL middle linebacker is supposed to play.
And that is critical to the Colts' defense, and their success as an organization.
"Sometimes, you'll find that grit, toughness and commitment overcome shortcomings," Caldwell said of Brackett recently in an interview for this story on the Colts' middle linebackers, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on Colts.com this month.
"He's not as tall as you'd like to see at middle linebacker, and maybe he doesn't weigh as much as some others, but in terms of effectiveness, in terms of punch, in terms of the savvy, the knowhow to get his job done – and not only that, to make all the necessary checks – he does all those extremely well."
Well enough to be an integral part of an improving defense.
The Colts made that clear earlier this off-season, signing Brackett – entering his eighth NFL season after signing with the team as an un-drafted free agent from Rutgers University shortly after the 2003 NFL Draft – to a long-term contract extension.
The signing further established Brackett as one of the franchise's core players.
And Caldwell said it also solidified a position that with Brackett starting there the last five seasons has been one of the most reliably consistent positions on the team.
"He's tenacious," Caldwell said. "He's quick. He's determined. He's smart. He's a great leader."
Brackett, who has started at least 12 games in each of the last five seasons, finished second on the team with 115 tackles – 81 solos – and with the Colts' defensive emphasizing attacking more than previous seasons, he developed into one of the team's best blitzers, registering seven pressures and a quarterback sack. One of the defense's most consistent players, he has had at least 113 tackles each of the last five seasons, defending 18 passes and intercepting 11 over that span.
This past season, Brackett had an interception and a pass defensed.
Brackett's re-signing also enabled the Colts to keep their linebacking corps together, something that hasn't always happened from year to year over the last decade. While the Colts throughout much of the last decade historically have fielded solid linebacking corps, often during that period they have allowed linebackers who have become unrestricted free agents to sign elsewhere.
Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington, Cato June and David Thornton all started for the Colts at linebacker during the last decade, and all signed elsewhere as free agents. Over the last decade, that has created a climate of change at the position at times, and since the 2002 season, the Colts have entered each season with a different starting lineup than they did the previous season.
With Brackett re-signing, the Colts have a chance to enter next season with the same lineup at linebacker that finished this past season – Brackett and outside linebackers Clint Session and Philip Wheeler – a lineup that helped Indianapolis win two postseason games and reach the Super Bowl for a second time in four seasons.
"We wanted him back," Caldwell said earlier this off-season. "We know how imant he is to us. He's our quarterback on defense, he's a big-play guy. He's kind of underestimated. Not only that, but what he does for us in terms of leadership off the field."
Caldwell said Brackett, the Colts' defensive captain since 2006, also was helped – as is the case with any middle linebacker – by the improved play of a defensive tackle rotation that developed last season as an emerging area of strength for the defense. Dan Muir, Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster played solidly much of last season, Caldwell said, which enabled Brackett at times to get more single blocking and clear paths to the ball.
"Any time the defensive linemen can draw double teams, to keep that second level blocker on the line of scrimmage, it creates more opportunities for the linebackers," Caldwell said.
The Colts during the 2010 NFL Draft selected middle linebacker Pat Angerer from the University of Iowa, and Caldwell said he could develop into the depth at the position.
As a junior, Angerer registered a team-high 107 tackles and five interceptions, after which Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz told the Iowa City Press Citizen it was "as good of a season as any linebacker we've had."
As a senior, Anger was named first-team All-America by the Football Writers Association of America, CollegeFootballNews.com and Phil Steele's College Football, and was named second-team All-America by the Associated Press.
He also served as team captain, and registered 145 tackles, fifth-best in Iowa history.
"He's certainly a guy who has ability," Caldwell said of Angerer. "He has to learn and keep coming along, but I think he's a guy who has the ability to do so. It takes time, but he has the ability. We have to nurture him along.
"He's got all of the intangibles."