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Observation deck: Gonzalez making an instant impact
By John Clayton
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Five observations from Indianapolis Colts training camp, gleaned from the team's practices:
1. Gonzalez making an instant impact
First-round choice Anthony Gonzalez is the best addition to the passing offense in the past couple of years. Defensive coordinators used to lament to Peyton Manning how tough it was to defend him when Brandon Stokley was healthy. Stokley, in their eyes, was the best slot receiver and created mismatch problems when the Colts were in three-receiver sets. Coordinators put their third-best pass defender on Stokley, but Stokley was so shifty and so good at getting Manning's attention in the middle of the field, he opened the offense up for Manning's best season. Gonzalez could be equally dangerous. Even though he's still learning the offense, he looks like a natural. He worked the slot for Ohio State and has the knack of getting open in the first 12 yards from the line of scrimmage. After the catch, he looks like Speedy Gonzalez. He should be exceptional with his ability to run after the catch. Don't put Gonzalez immediately into the fantasy football mix. He needs time to learn this system. For example, he has to learn not to stop his route if Manning gets past his third progression. But fantasy or no fantasy, Gonzalez looks like a dream acquisition for this offense.
2. Discovery channel
Tony Dungy and Bill Polian keep finding linebackers. It's a good thing that they do because they figure to lose a lot of them to free agency because so much of the Colts' money is tied into keeping the offense together. Freddy Keiaho should be fine as the weakside linebacker. He has good speed and might be a little better at stopping the run than Cato June, who was an exceptional athlete. Over the past couple of years, the Colts have lost several good weakside linebackers: June, Mike Peterson and David Thornton. Dungy's Cover 2 defense is set up to feature the weakside linebackers because they become the playmakers. They have to have the speed to drop into coverage along with the range to run all the way across the field to tackle ball carriers. In practice, Keiaho made several romps across the field to get to anyone carrying the ball.
3. The replacements
The Colts have plenty of options to replace departed cornerbacks Nick Harper and Jason David. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are the starters, but there is plenty of depth behind them. Despite some lingering ankle concerns, Tim Jennings, last year's second-round pick, should fill the void for a short inside corner created by David's loss. The defensive coaches love 5-foot-9 T.J. Rushing, but so do the special-teams coaches. Rushing is going to compete on special teams for some of the return duties. Fourth-round choice Daymeion Hughes (who officially changed his name from Dante on Monday) has great ball skills. In many ways, Hughes is similar to Nathan Vasher of the Bears. Like Hughes, Vasher didn't run a good 40 time, but that's not needed in a Cover 2 scheme. Hughes could move up quickly to compete for the third cornerback job. Fifth-round pick Michael Coe is a tall, good-looking cornerback with some potential.
4. The battle to be the backup RB
The best competition in camp is for the backup running back job. Dominic Rhodes is gone, so Dungy is using training camp to determine who will back up Joseph Addai. DeDe Dorsey shows surprising inside quickness and the ability to break some long runs. He's 5-11, 196 pounds, and has the speed to get to the outside on stretch plays. One thing he will have to work on is his pass blocking. The Colts use mostly one-back schemes so the back must have blocking skills. The most interesting prospect is Kenton Keith from the CFL. He has nice hands and outside running skills. At the age of 27, he looks more experienced than his competition. Clifton Dawson of Harvard is another interesting prospect. He's the best blocker of the group and might be the toughest runner. Folks forget Rhodes was an undrafted success story. The Colts have had success in finding those gems, but they will need the entire exhibition season to see if they need to hit the waiver wire for more options to the backup job. At the moment, the situation doesn't look too bad.
5. Keep an eye on Sanders
The key to helping the run defense is the health of safety Bob Sanders. Sanders opened camp on the physically unable to perform list. He will be monitored through camp to make sure his knee is ready to handle the pounding he will take during a 16-game schedule. Once Sanders returned to the lineup last year, the run defense was so much better. This is an important year for Sanders. He's in a contract year and if he can stay healthy, he could get a Troy Polamalu-type contract. That is a big if. Sanders played only six regular-season games last year. To stop Manning, opponents came up with the strategy of keeping him and the Colts' offense off the field by running the ball and the Colts lost four road games because of it. Dungy has made it a point of emphasis this year to improve the run-stopping ability on road games. A healthy Sanders is a key to that defense. John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Thanks Mal! One thing though, David Thornton was always on the strongside, no? I think Keiaho will be a lot better tackler than Cato, but Cato's strength was always his ability in coverage. I like our LB depth because Tyjuan Hagler can be a backup at all 3 spots, especially if Clint Sessions pans out.