Colts Defensive End Keyunta Dawson: "I Try to Stay as Versatile as I Can"
INDIANAPOLIS – Suddenly, things have changed for Keyunta Dawson.
Some things at least.
Suddenly, Dawson said he is no longer a young player, but rather, he is a veteran player with experience all around the Colts' defensive front, having emerged in three NFL seasons as a valued, versatile player very capable of playing multiple positions in the defensive line rotation.
He has started at end. He has started at tackle.
He also has played as a reserve at both positions, and in his three seasons, he has played just about every possible role on the defensive line.
Now, he said things have changed.
Because suddenly, looking at his career, he's a bit older as he once was.
"It went by real fast," Dawson said recently following a session of the Colts' organized team activities, four weeks of team-oriented on-field work that ended at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center in early June.
"I'm like an old guy now."
Well, Dawson (6-feet-3, 254 pounds) may not be old, exactly.
But he's certainly a veteran, and in three seasons, he has emerged as a solid, reliable contributor on the line.
A seventh-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, Dawson played extensively as a rookie in 2007 as part of a defensive tackle rotation that included not only himself, but rookies Quinn Pitcock and Ed Johnson. The latter two are no longer with the team, but after starting 14 games at tackle in 2008, Dawson started at end in 2009, registering 15 tackles and a quarterback pressure.
Entering next season, Dawson said he's not sure, exactly, where he will play.
Colts Head Coach Jim Cadlwell said late in the off-season Dawson is capable of playing some version of the role played much of the last decade and vacated by longtime starter Raheem Brock, who played both tackle and end, depending on circumstances and personnel situations.
Dawson said it doesn't much matter where he plays.
Either way, he said he plans to contribute to the defensive rotation as a whole.
"I think it will all come out," Dawson said. "There are a lot of reps out there to be taken. I'll just try to fill in as much as possible. Wherever they want me to be at, I'll be at."
Dawson said if he has learned anything in three NFL seasons it's that on the defensive front there are no guarantees of where or how long a player will be playing in a given season, or even a given game.
"With how long the season is, you always have to be prepared for anything to happen," Dawson said. "It's next guy up. God forbid there are injuries or anything like that, but you might be called up and you have to be ready to take on that role."
That, he said, is a universal approach on the defensive line.
'We all try to do our job and we all take on our roles," Dawson said. "We kind of follow the leader and try to do our best."
Dawson, who played primarily end in college, said he has taken the approach in the NFL of trying to be as versatile as possible, the idea being the more a player can do, the more valuable he can be. Changing positions, he said, has meant being adaptable and being prepared, and he said he has been helped in his situation by one of the top defensive line coaches in the NFL, Colts defensive line coach John Teerlinck.
"I try to take coaching," Dawson said. "JT does a great job, getting me prepared for everything. I played end in college. When I got here, thy moved me to defensive tackle and I tried to pick up everything I could.
"I got with some of the older veterans, and that helped a lot."
Dawson said while he no longer feels like a particularly young player there are certainly areas he can improve. The first, he said, is staying healthy. He missed four games last season, and he said in a year in which he was trying to adapt to a new position, missing games meant missed developmental time.
"I definitely want to be healthier this year," he said. "I had an injury last year that I struggled with a little bit, and I definitely want to stay out there this year. I just want to be able to go contribute, add to my stats, and help the team out."
And that, Dawson said, is his primary focus entering the season. No matter where he plays, he said he wants a chance to contribute. He said that's the approach that has allowed him to go from a seventh-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft to contributing force on the defensive line of one of the NFL's top teams, and it's the only way he knows how to approach the future.
"The motivation is to just get better every day," Dawson said. "I try to stay as versatile as I can. Any opunity I get, I try to take advantage of it and try to be a big contributor to the team, special teams, defensive tackle – anything."