|Indy turns to its 'fix-it man' to rebuild defense|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 07 August 2007 15:15|
Each summer, Indianapolis' defensive coordinator comes to training camp with holes to fill, and somehow he always manages to scrap together a playoff-caliber unit.
Now comes the most daunting reconstruction project in his six-year tenure - replacing as many as four Super Bowl starters and a handful of other key contributors before Indy opens the season Sept. 6 against New Orleans.
The transition could be the downfall in the Colts' bid to repeat as champions. The mild-mannered Meeks, as usual, is working to prove conventional wisdom wrong again.
``I think these guys are hungry, aggressive and ready to go,'' he said Wednesday. ``I've liked what I've seen so far.''
But this offseason's mass exodus will undoubtedly test Meeks' skills.
Linebacker Cato June, a Pro Bowler in 2005, is now in Tampa Bay. Starting cornerbacks Nick Harper and Jason David are playing in Tennessee and New Orleans, respectively. Defensive tackle Montae Reagor, a mainstay on the line for 3 1/2 seasons until being injured in a traffic accident last October, moved to Philadelphia. Safety Mike Doss, who started for two seasons before losing his job last year to Antoine Bethea, left for Minnesota.
Former Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, the key to the last season's playoff surge, still hasn't practiced after having offseason shoulder surgery, and then came Monday's news: defensive tackle Anthony McFarland injured his patella tendon.
Coach Tony Dungy said McFarland had surgery Wednesday afternoon and acknowledged the Colts' biggest run-stuffer is likely to miss months, possibly the entire season. Dungy was still uncertain which leg McFarland hurt.
The good news is surgery went well.
``We'll see where it goes from here,'' Dungy said. ``Rod Woodson had an ACL and came back and played in the Super Bowl, so you never know. I don't think we'll do something with him until we have to.''
The bad news is Meeks now needs even more replacements.
But the truth is, the challenge may not be as great as everyone believes.
Marlin Jackson, one of the new cornerbacks, intercepted the pass that sealed Indy's AFC Championship victory over New England. The other replacement, Kelvin Hayden, returned an interception for a touchdown to seal the Super Bowl win over Chicago.
Second-year linebacker Freddy Keiaho, who spent most of last season on special teams, had a career-high seven tackles when forced into action last November at New England - a victory that allowed the Colts to host the AFC title game. And when Rob Morris replaced then starter Gilbert Gardner at outside linebacker in December, the Colts' defense started improving.
But losing Reagor, Corey Simon, whose contract was terminated, and possibly McFarland - all defensive tackles - has forced Meeks to adjust.
Third-round pick Quinn Pitcock, a defensive tackle at Ohio State, will likely get more playing time in the rotation, and rookie defensive end Keyunta Dawson, listed at 6-3, 254 pounds, was moved inside Tuesday during the hottest day yet at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The field temperature hit 118 degrees in the afternoon.
It's a switch that intrigues the seventh-round pick, though he has never played the position.
``I feel good about it,'' Dawson said. ``I like working inside although the guards are faster than the tackles. But whatever it takes, I'll do.''
Meeks likes to give young players a chance to succeed, and that's exactly what he plans to do Thursday night in Dallas.
``I think any time you're in a system like this with the salary cap, you have to deal with things like this,'' Meeks said. ``What (team president) Bill (Polian) has done a good job of is providing us with guys that can be good football players.''
And while some see question marks at so many positions, Meeks sees the potential for an even faster defense that could be the solution to a unit that ranked last in the league against the run during the 2006 regular season.
``People on the outside looking in have that opinion,'' Meeks said. ``But I've seen a lot of aggressiveness, a lot of eagerness and they're getting better at learning and understanding the pace we play at. I think these guys have responded because they know it's their time.''