The Road to Lombardi: The Colts' unheralded linebackers

If you're undersized and unheralded, but smart and very tough, the Indianapolis Colts will find a place for you on their defense. Pitt's Clint Session(notes) came out of college in 2007 as a 5-11, 236-pound tweener with 4.6 speed, and one team very interested in his services. "Clint has what my old coach in Pittsburgh, coach (Chuck) Noll, used to call 'a six-inch punch.' The Muhammad Ali punch that Sonny Liston never saw, that's what Clint has," Tony Dungy said of Session in 2008. He was drafted by Indy in the fourth round in 2007 despite the fact that Session wasn't even invited to the Scouting Combine. Replacing the injured Freddy Keiaho(notes) early on, Session never looked back, and he's now a pointman in the Colts' underrated front seven.

Gary Brackett(notes), Session's battery mate in that linebacker corps, was even further off the radar at one time -- an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, he was picked up by Colts GM Bill Polian in 2003. His NFL career would mirror his collegiate rise -- he was a walk-on for the Scarlet Knights, and became the team's captain and Defensive MVP by his senior year. For the Colts, Brackett fought his way up from a face in the crowd to defensive captain in a few short years. He's a humanitarian and a true leader.

Session and Brackett are great stories, but what makes them most effective on the field is their ability to use disciplined speed in conjunction with the rest of that defensive front. The Colts have beefed up a bit at the tackle position over the last couple of years, but this defense is still about demon speed above all. Session and Brackett close in on offensive playmakers with a velocity that must be seen to be believed, and there's a sense of order and gap control to it all that separates them from other, lesser defenses that try to combine team speed and the Cover-2 philosophy and wind up looking like cats sliding across a kitchen tile floor.

They've been lost behind the well-deserved praise given to ends Dwight Freeney(notes) and Robert Mathis(notes), and the understandable media focus on the Manning-led offense. But if the Colts are to win the third Super Bowl in the franchise's history, they'll have to contend with the dizzying amout of formations and routes presented by New Orleans Saints coach and master play-caller Sean Payton. So many of those routes start underneath and break for big gains, and that's where Brackett and Session will be so valuable. They'll have to watch the short stuff, and keep an eye on that multi-faceted New Orleans running game as well. That they have the talent to pull it off is one of the main reasons the Colts are where they are in the first place.

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