Colts' Morris likely to start at strongside linebacker

Updated: December 18, 2006, 11:36 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Despite a defense that ranks last in the league versus the run and which surrendered the most rushing yards in franchise history last week, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy reiterated last week that he won't make changes in his scheme or his philosophy.

Rob Morris
Morris

What the Colts staff is likely to change for Monday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, though, is some of the personnel on defense.

Although there has been no official announcement, seven-year veteran Rob Morris appears poised to replace Gilbert Gardner at the strongside linebacker spot for an Indianapolis defense that has surrendered an average of 176.5 rushing yards per game.

Morris, 31, practiced extensively with the starting defense last week. While Dungy remained noncommittal about any change, Morris said that, if he gets the starting nod Monday night, he is "ready to go" despite limited experience at strongside linebacker.

"You play your techniques, just try to do your own job, and hope things take care of themselves," Morris said. "If it happens, I think I'm prepared."

A third-year veteran who is in his first season as a starter, Gardner, 24, has 51 tackles and four passes defensed in 12 starts. But the former third-round pick has struggled at times in attempting to replace David Thornton, who departed as an unrestricted free agent in the spring and was benched in the second half of last week's game.

Rocky Boiman, who replaced Gardner at times, could also factor into the mix on Monday night but said that he will not start.

The Colts' first-round selection in the 2000 draft, Morris averaged 15 starts per season over a four-season stretch from 2001-04. He missed only three games and four starts in that period, averaging 114.3 tackles per year, and adding seven sacks. But he lost his starting job at middle linebacker to Gary Brackett during the 2005 training camp and has mostly played as a backup since then.

The former Brigham Young star, who has been a standout special teams contributor during his two years as a backup, did start two games at middle linebacker earlier this year when Brackett was slowed down by a hamstring injury. Morris had a combined 23 tackles in those two starts. In those two games, Indianapolis surrendered an average of 114 rushing yards, well below its season average.

For the season, Morris has posted 36 tackles in 12 appearances.

"It's something a little new and that makes it a challenge," said Morris of the strongside position, where the Colts' staff seems to be looking for an upgrade in tackling and gap control. "But it's football, and you just stick to the basics."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.