INDIANAPOLIS - This heartland city is ready for its closeup.The most important one-day sporting event on the planet is here, America's unofficial national holiday, the Super Bowl. And in what state is the local NFL entrant? Utter and complete disarray. It's transcendent superstar, Peyton Manning, the man who made Indianapolis matter and put the city on the country's lips, is on his way out. The Colts paid Manning 26 million in 2011 and he was unable to play a snap because of neck surgery just before the season. The Colts are on the hook to pay him another 28 million on March 8. He's 36. His body may not allow him to play again. The Colts hold the first pick in the draft and Stanford's Andrew Luck is getting "can't miss" hype that hasn't been seen since 1998 when Peyton Manning was coming out. It's not a matter of "if" Manning and the Colts divorce occurs. It's "when." Bob Kravitz, an excellent columnist for the Indianapolis Star, spoke at length to both Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay. He was the media's Mills Lane in an eye-opening dustup between quarterback and owner. I asked him Monday about the strange dynamic in which the world is being invited over for dinner in Indy while family problems are raging. "It's a really strange time because this is the big celebration and there's this sort of cloud that hangs over it," said Kravitz. "When's the other shoe gonna fall? When are we gonna find out that Peyton's either gonna retire or be cut? I don't think it's gonna happen during Super Bowl week . . . I know for a fact Peyton's gonna go underground during Super Bowl and Jim Irsay's smart enough to not open his big yap again."It won't be this week but the question is whether or not it happens before the Combine (also held in Indianapolis in late February)," said Kravitz.When Indy was awarded this Super Bowl, it wasn't far-fetched to think the Colts would be the first team to play for a title in its own stadium.But without Manning, the Colts went 2-14 and a housecleaning in which longtime team president. Bill Polianand his son, Chris, the team's GM, were fired soon followed. Then head coach Jim Caldwell was given the gate. Now Indianapolis has to smile and hold the door for the hated Patriots and their fanbase. And New Yorkers too? That's a brutal pill to swallow if you're from here. Kravitz says the event has seemed to trump the partisan football inclinations, though. "Even though (the disarray of the Colts) is a cloud in the minds of fans, I don't think it diminishes what's happening here," he pointed out. "What's been great here has been the community involvement. They needed 8,000 volunteers and they got 13,000 people sign up. They've really not used public money on this, it's all been private money. Really all corporate cash. This is their moment in the sun and they're gonna revel in it. I think (Peyton Manning) is on everybody's mind but I don't think it diminishes from what we've got going on."The demise of the Colts came faster than anyone expected, said Kravitz. "Everybody came into this year thinking they had two or three more years (of elite play) under Peyton," Kravitz theorized. "With Peyton, Reggie Wayne, Joe Addai, Dallas Clark. Everyone wondered how close the window was to 'closing' but we all thought two or three years. And then Peyton gets hurt. And it just keeps getting worse. And there hasn't been any good news that's come out of this thing in months. I think people realize that the glory days are gone."I asked Kravitz if the city is going to have a tough time entering football irrelevancy for a spell after being so prominent for more than a decade. "Once they get through the mourning of Peyton Manning, once the grieving process is done, they're really gonna embrace Andrew Luck because he's the next Peyton Manning," said Kravitz. "I think people are starting to understand how incredibly bleeping lucky they are," he stressed. "When you look at Miami and how long they've waited for another quarterback after Dan Marino, when you look at Denver and how long they've waited after John Elway. And we're gonna have in this city one bad year. And we're gonna go from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck and that's extraordinarily fortuitous."It is an amazing brightside to have. The curtain will fall on one superstar. And a new one will be born. Maybe Indy won't wind up irrelevant after all.
David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl.
What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.
But in a roundabout way he might.
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There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.
If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders.
Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.
Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).
For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich.
We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.
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