Although Hagler had the inside track on the starting job heading into the 2008 season, it was still undecided as to whether he would start on the strong side or the weak side — since he switched back and forth in 2007 — and he certainly did not have as much job security as fellow linebackers Freddy Keiaho and Gary Brackett.
This is not to say that the Colts had any doubts about Hagler, but the optimism surrounding his ascendancy could be tempered by the fact that the only seven starts of his career all came last season, he appeared in a total of nine games before the 2007 season, and he missed the entire 2005 campaign with a sports hernia injury.
Hagler with Darrell Reid
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While on the subject of injuries, Hagler was limited to 12 games last season because of various ailments, though he did start at strong side linebacker against San Diego in the playoffs.
It's also worth noting that it is believed Hagler will start the 2008 season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which would give Indianapolis three weeks to activate him — between the sixth and ninth weeks of the season — or place him on injured reserve.
He started on that same list in 2005 before being shut down for the season, but that was most likely a move to free up a roster spot and wait until 2006 to tap Hagler's potential than a good gauge of the severity of the injury or Hagler's unwillingness to play hurt.
In terms of replacing his production, he tallied up what would seem like a modest number of tackles (54) last season, but those 54 stops were good enough for seventh on the team and third among linebackers.
That is not too shabby at all when you also consider that Hagler started only seven games and appeared in only 12 games overall in 2007. Rocky Boiman, by contrast, appeared in 16 games and started seven as well. He accumulated only 34 tackles, but was more active in coverage with four passes defended and two interceptions. Hagler added a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a sack to his season totals.
Hagler brings down the Cowboy's Marion Barber
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Ultimately, though it's not as though anyone can just step in and fill Hagler's shoes, but replacing his production in the lineup should not be impossible and his replacement was most likely drafted in the last two years — more on this to come later. The question, then, becomes, how severe is the injury and how long will it be until he returns to action?
If he is placed on the PUP list — this is still very much up in the air, as the Colts have until the final cutdown to 53 to declare his status — Hagler will be out for at least the first six games of the 2008 season. If he responds well to treatment, he may be ready for the second or third week of the season, but it looks to be highly unlikely that he will be ready for the first game.
No one knows for sure, though, how long it will take for Hagler to make a full recovery and return to the lineup at 100 percent capacity.
Pectoral injuries are different for different players. Sometimes, they only sideline a player for six weeks, sometimes they land a player on injured reserve.
If Hagler is not whole by the time training camp breaks and the regular season approaches, he will probably find himself on the PUP list. Depth is an issue at linebacker, but there are certainly options available.
So who can step up and fill the void left by Hagler's absence? Stayed tuned for Part Two, where we'll take a look at some likely candidates.