Indianapolis Colts Get Active, Sign Tommie Harris and Other Defenders

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The Indianapolis Colts have taken pride in their organizational philosophy — build through the draft, re-sign your guys and stand pat during veteran free agency — often to the dismay of their fans.

Well, after the first two days of Colts training camp in Anderson, Ind., the franchise sent a message to those fans: Here you go.

Indy brought in three outside veteran defensive players — former All-Pro defensive tackle Tommie Harris and former top-10 draft picks, linebacker Ernie Sims and defensive end Jamaal Anderson — on one-year contracts.

My take? Low risks, potentially nice rewards. Oh yeah, and now those angry fans can finally hush.

Harris is the biggest name of the bunch. The 28-year-old, who made three trips to the Pro Bowl and earned two All-Pro distinctions during his seven-year tenure with the Chicago Bears, has seen his career slow down after injuring his knee during the 2007 season. He started just six games in 2010.

Nonetheless, the Colts have had rotten luck with their defensive tackle positions.

The team signed Corey Simon to a huge contract before the 2005 season, but he lasted just one year before falling out of playing shape. The Colts traded a second-round pick for Anthony “Booger” McFarland during the 2006 season, during which their woeful (and highly publicized) run defense surrendered a record 173 yards rushing per game. McFarland helped shore up the middle in the short-term and aided in Indy’s victory in Super Bowl XLI, but he tore his ACL in training camp the following summer, ending his career and leaving the Colts without a first-round pick in 2008 (they had traded back into the second round of the 2007 draft to select bust offensive tackle Tony Ugoh).

Since then, Indy has seen former undrafted gem Ed Johnson be cut twice and had been relegated to starting two significantly undersized defenders — 254-pound Keyunta Dawson and 285-pound Eric Foster — at defensive tackle in 2008. Terrance Taylor, a fourth-round pick in 2009, didn’t even make it out of camp, and the second-round pick from that draft, Fili Moala, finally cracked the starting lineup last year after making a marginal impact as a rookie.

I think I’ve made my point by now.

So why, you might ask, would the Colts want to gamble on Harris, who appears to be on a rapid decline from his Pro Bowl form? Simple. He’s on a one-year deal that likely isn’t worth that much money. If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to bolster the team’s needy defensive tackle rotation — one that features an improving Moala and a promising rookie in Drake Nevis. And if he can’t? The Colts can cut him (or not re-sign him) and move on without consequence.

While Harris is the most notable of the Colts’ recent acquisitions, he actually was just the most recent pickup.

Indy also added defensive end Jamaal Anderson, the No. 8 overall selection by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2007 draft, on Monday. The 6-6, 289-pound defensive lineman from Arkansas never fulfilled expectations of becoming a consistent pass-rushing threat for the Dirty Birds; he amassed just 4 1/2 sacks in four seasons in Atlanta. The Falcons released him last Friday.

What might the Colts see in Anderson? One former Colt came to my mind when I heard about the acquisition: Raheem Brock. The popular defensive lineman had a unique role during his eight years in Indy; he would line up at defensive end on early downs, mainly to help defend the run while allowing Dwight Freeney and/or Robert Mathis a snap or two to rest, and would shift inside — or even assume a rushing linebacker position — on long passing downs.

That’s what I can see Anderson doing for the Colts. He has a slightly bigger build than Brock, who measures 6-4 and weighs 274 pounds. He wouldn’t be counted on for every down, either. And, like Harris, he’s on a one-year contract, which means the Colts would have no trouble cutting their losses if he were not to work out.

Indy’s other high-profile defensive get, one that appeared quite popular with fans on Twitter and message boards alike, was outside linebacker Ernie Sims. The Florida State product was selected No. 9 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2006 draft and made big contributions to their defense the following season, recording 124 total tackles, 81 of them solo, in 16 starts as a rookie.

A disappointing 2009 campaign led to Sims’ being traded to Philadelphia in the 2010 offseason, and he finished fifth on the team in tackles in 15 starts.

At 6-0 and 230 pounds, Sims fits well into the mold of a Colts ‘backer — quick and hard-hitting — and very well could start at one of the outside positions, filling the void left by free-agent departure Clint Session. The Colts like the young linebackers they have in Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner, but depth at the position was a concern going into training camp. It was a cheap, smart decision to bring in Sims, who at the very least could provide depth and insurance and at best could be an effective starter on Indy’s defense.

All in all, I applaud Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian — particularly the latter, who is in his first year of overseeing most of the franchise’s football operations — for bringing these guys in. Each of them fits the ideal veteran free-agent acquisition perfectly: a low risk with the potential to pay nice dividends. Plenty of fans have complained about the organization’s tendency to refrain from bringing in outside help (despite its streak of nine consecutive 10-plus-win seasons and playoff appearances). If these moves don’t please them, then they’re probably beyond hope.

It will be interesting to see how the newcomers fare as camp progresses.

Also noteworthy: the Colts’ first-round pick, Anthony Castonzo, signed his rookie contract and reported to camp Tuesday. The holdup resulted from a standoff in which Castonzo’s agent, Tom Condon, attempted to secure a fully guaranteed four-year deal for his client, but the Polians would not budge. After Castonzo missed the first day of practice, Condon caved and settled on a contract that guaranteed the rookie tackle’s first three years but not the fourth. That’s good news for Indy’s offense, as Castonzo figures to eventually start at left tackle and protect quarterback Peyton Manning’s blind side.

Stay tuned for more developments during Colts camp.

By Drew Allen

 

 

 

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