ANDERSON –Almost every season a team is forced to reshape itself to some degree through injuries.
That is the case with the Colts after one preseason game, after one defensive possession, actually, when starting linebacker Pat Angerer suffered a broken foot.
Angerer, a starter in 27 of the club's last 32 games, is out for approximately six weeks. From the 'mike' position last year, his 146 tackles ranked fourth-most in the NFL, and he assumed that position when starter Gary Brackett went down.
While Angerer will return from the adversity, an opportunity now awaits for another person. It is a stark reality of the game.
"Unfortunately, that's the way the business goes. It's a fast game it's a physical game and guys are going to go down. The next man has to be ready," said safety Jermale Hines. "Guys have been paying attention. They are ready to step up and fill roles. We are in this together. It's not a solo thing. Guys are doing the best they can to fill the roles."
On whom the job will fall remains to be seen. What is known is that the candidates are young, but then so was Angerer when he started 16 times as a rookie in 2010.
Jerrell Freeman, Mario Harvey, Greg Lloyd and Moise Fokou are candidates. None ever has started a game for the club, and Lloyd and Fokou joined the team in training camp via a trade with Philadelphia.
Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky was saddened with the loss of Angerer. His approach always has been that all players have to prepare as if they were starters, and this is a reason why. For now, he said Freeman could lead the pack. He also said the duty of making the defensive calls may be shifted away from the position for the short term.
"It looks like that for right now, because he's (Freeman) had the most reps underneath him, going through OTAs, mini-camp and coming through training camp," said Manusky. "Now it's his time to shine, get in there and step into the starting unit and roll with it."
Lloyd joins the group in being ready to fill the role. He will expend every energy.
"Obviously, when they (starters) go down, you have to be ready. We prepare every week, especially us young guys for opportunities or situations like this where somebody ahead of you goes down and you have to step in and fill their position," said Lloyd. "You can't not know your work. You have to be able (to do it). You have to be ready and willing.
"If the situation (injuries) pops up, it's a shame. You never want to see somebody go down like that. It means that the young guys have to step up and show that, 'Okay, even though I do back this guy up, I also know what I'm going to do and what I'm supposed to do,' so when I step in and play that role it's not, 'Oh (no), we have this guy in there.' "
When it was mentioned the current candidates are not long on game experience, Lloyd agreed, but countered.
"That's true. That's what practice is for. It gets you ready," said Lloyd. "Guys who (don't start), you're getting mental reps and you're getting practice reps. Obviously, it adds nothing game situation-wise, but you know what you're supposed to do, and you go out and do it."
Kavell Conner now is the most experienced interior linebacker, and he is growing like the rest of the unit in the hybrid 3-4 scheme. Conner knows each person should focus on what his assignment is and try not to do more than what a specific role demands.
"He (the new 'mike') has to come out and execute just like anybody else would on the defense. Come out and do your job, that's the most important thing. Just fill in in that spot," said Conner.
"I think it definitely opens up an opportunity for guys to step up, get in there and get some playing time. I totally expect guys to step in and do what they're supposed to do. We have some great talent in the linebacker room. We have a great coach who will get the best out of every player in there, and we expect no drop off at all."
Every position on the defense is a pressure point, and one could argue the 'mike' role carries a bit more. There are nuances to know.
"I would say it's to react to your job," said Lloyd of the most important thing. "In the run game, you have to come down and stop it. You have to know where your help is coming from. You need to know who you're pushing the ball to if you're supposed to be stealing the ball. If you're hammering the ball, you need to know when your help is coming over.
"Obviously since you're the 'mike' linebacker, you have to know your defense. You have to be able to set the front. You need to know what coverage you're in. You're basically the QB of the defense. If you don't know what's going on, you've messed everybody up."
On Monday, Head Coach Chuck Pagano said any time a team loses its 'mike' linebacker that it is a significant event. Pagano lauded Angerer for his talent, passion and poise. A large portion of the defense is run through the position and Lloyd knows being on detail is essential.
"A lot of pressure is on the 'mike' linebacker, but you have a lot of guys who have been out there and know what's going on," said Lloyd. "In case you miss a beat or something, there are 10 other guys who know what the deal is. Everybody is helping out everybody but as a 'mike,' you need to be on top of everything."
Conner knows Angerer will return and do so as soon as possible. Conner will play with a new running mate as the team finished preseason and gets 2012 underway. Hines is newer to the team than Conner, but Angerer's unique personality made an impact, and he sounds like Pagano in complimenting a teammate down for the moment.
"The guy is a ballplayer," said Hines. "The guy is physical. He's a leader. … Somebody is going to have to step in and fill the role. Pat's a great guy, on and off the field. The guy gets along with everybody. The guy makes the team run."