Impact of bigger DTs can help Colts' backers

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
How things sort themselves out at defensive tackle for the Colts will be a big training camp storyline once practices start Monday.

The team went into the offseason determined to get bigger in the middle and added three players who give them size but can also move the way they need their tackles to: veteran returnee Ed Johnson (6-foot-2, 296 pounds) and draft picks Fili Moala (6-4, 303) and Terrance Taylor (6-0, 319).

"It's designed specifically to get us back to where we were when we had Booger McFarland and Corey Simon," Colts president Bill Polian said. "Corey, I don't know what the hell he was, he might have been 320, Booger was between 307 and 310. And that's what you need to play; you can't play at 265.

"We're not looking for the space-eater, we're not looking for the guy who's just going to sit there and absorb blocks. The idea is not to keep blockers off the linebackers, that's not the design of our defense. But we needed to get people who could stand a gap over 16 games, and that's what we have when we were at our best."

While the thicker guys inside aren't there to keep people off the linebackers, if they play as needed, they'll force the offense to pay them extra attention. And if they do, the Colts' speedy backers can only benefit.

"It's still a gap-oriented defense, they've still got their gap," middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. "However, at that size they can hold true to their gap and they should attract a double team. We're not saying, 'You guys hold up blockers and let us run free.' That's just the nature of it; if they're doing their job well, blockers are going to have to take notice of them before they get to us or the play won't get past the line of scrimmage."

It will be interesting to see how the pecking order stacks up.

Keyunta Dawson started 14 games last year, 12 on the right. Rookie Eric Foster started 11, all on the left. Antonio Johnson started four. Dawson and Foster qualify as undersized.

Johnson was let go after the opener last season after being arrested and charged with speeding and possession of marijuana. That move compounded a problem that began when Quinn Pitcock quit football just before camp started.

Now Johnson's back, hoping to take advantage of another opportunity.

"I'm more of a physical presence. I think they missed the physicality on the inside," he said. "But we're athletes, it's not everybody's big and stiff can't do other things. I'm big and I can run, I can do other things. More than anything I think they missed the physical part of it."

Holding up blockers isn't part of his mindset, however.

"Penetration is the key," Johnson said. "If you can make the running backs stop their feet in the backfield, that helps everybody else on the defense out. Now they are playing slow while we are still attacking. Everybody gets to the ball faster, everything is easier for everybody. On pass plays, we have some great pass-rushers and I am sure teams will try to throw the ball at us on first down from time to time. That's something we'll just have to work on.

"Me and Fili and some other guys, we're not just big guys who can't move; we can rush the passer, we can run very well."

The Colts may not have the luxury of bringing Moala and Taylor along slowly, and Johnson said he expects them to have some sort of roles early.

"I think a couple of them are in the position where they are going to have to play some due to the fact that we are just changing over to bigger D tackles, so there are not as many seasoned or veteran defensive tackles here," he said. "A couple guys are going to have to play at least some spot duty. They're going to have to at least know some basic things where they can come in and contribute."

All of which sounds good to Brackett.

"I think defenses start on the interior," he said. "When you have some guys up front that have to be recognized and reckoned with, it helps everyone up front."