INDIANAPOLIS – Josh Chapman is big.
The Colts drafted the 6-foot, 316-pound nose guard from Alabama 136th overall of the 2012 NFL Draft for one purpose: to stop the run.
Chapman was the anchor in Head Coach Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense, which was the best defensive unit in the country and led all Division I schools in total yards, rushing, scoring, third down and red zone defense in 2011.
Now that the Colts are making the transformation toward a 3-4 look under new Head Coach Chuck Pagano and Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky, Chapman looks to pick up where he left off in Tuscaloosa.
“Right now, it’s just back to stage one again, learning the defense and trying to be the anchor again,” said the Hoover, Ala., native. “That’s my job as a nose guard and that’s what I love to do – being an anchor. That’s what I’m trying to do for this organization and it’s fun doing it.”
After using their first four picks of the draft on offensive weapons, the Colts picked up Chapman and defensive end Tim Fugger (seventh round) to join a defensive makeover that is merging returning veterans with newcomers such as defensive end
“He is exceptionally strong, he’s instinctive, he makes plays in a great conference, the SEC, and he’s wired the way that, I believe, Chuck (Pagano) wants a nose tackle to be wired and play in terms of his strength, his natural leverage and the way he plays the game,” Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson said following the draft. “We have high expectations for him.”
Those expectations have been brought on following his standout collegiate career. While with the Crimson Tide, Chapman recorded 88 career tackles and 2.5 sacks in 54 games played, including 23 tackles and one sack in 2011.
Chapman is also resilient.
On October 1 of last year, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee while playing Florida in the fifth game of the season. With surgery a likely necessity, Chapman opted to finish the 2011 National Championship season wearing a knee brace and keeping his injury quiet.
“It was in between (not needing surgery and surgery as an absolute necessity),” Chapman said. “I thought about it because I thought about my long-term career, but at the same time I’m a winner, I love to play the game of football and it itches and aches me just watching guys playing the game I love. But I know I have to take it step-by-step. I don’t want to rush anything because I want to make a career out of this, so I’m just going by the (medical) protocol.”
Chapman played in seven of the eight games after his injury, including the National Championship game against LSU. He finally had the surgery on January 17. The only game in which he did not play, Georgia Southern rushed for 302 yards against the Crimson Tide in a 45-21 Alabama win.
Although the injury certainly affected his draft value, Grigson said Chapman’s rehabilitation hopefully has him back to strength soon.
“Without the injury he would have been a player that would have been (drafted) way higher,” said Grigson. “His rehab and everything is coming along really well, and it is ahead of schedule. But we will let the doctors determine that. You don’t want to rush him, a guy that you are kind of hoping can be a guy for you in the future.”
But Chapman is patient.
With the last seven months he has had, Chapman has no other choice. A player with an obvious impact on the nation’s top defense, his draft value dropped significantly simply due to his injury and the inherent risk involved in selecting him.
“I expected to be up higher, but at the same time I knew with the risk of me playing with this knee injury, it brought me down,” he said. “But I’m one of those guys that I just want to be a part of somebody’s organization. I’m glad I’m here. Like they’d always tell me, it’s not where I started it, it’s how I finish it, and I feel like I can finish strong.”
Chapman was one of the approximately 40 rookies at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center last weekend for rookie camp. He observed the on-field work while getting acclimated to the coaches and the organization.
When healthy, he expects to make an instant impact on a defense that has traditionally struggled to stop the run, much like he helped Alabama’s defense hold opponents to 72.2 yards per game on the ground last year.
For now, though, Chapman is happy to be a Colt.
“I feel that we had a great draft class. All the guys that were selected, we all are winners,” he said. “We all come from winning programs and we know what it takes to win. Coach Pagano is a great guy and what he brings to the table, I feel that we will go the right way with this. I can see that he is a great coach and I can feel that we will do something special.”