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Bringing the D To Indy

This was the hope on January 25, 2012, when the Indianapolis Colts made former Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, their new head coach. So far, so good, as Pagano’s fingerprints can already be seen defensively on the Colts’ roster. The Indianapolis Colts quietly scooped up former, yet effective Raven castoffs like defensive end Cory Redding, safety Tom Zbikowski, and nose tackle Brandon McKinney. While none of these players will or should be confused with Raven stars the likes of defensive end Terrell Suggs, safety Ed Reed, or defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, they were all solid contributors for a Ravens defense in 2011 that remained one of the league’s elite.

Pagano’s new motto is to “Build the Monster”, as he supposedly made new blue t-shirts for all of the current Colts containing this fresh tag line. Right now, the foundation appears to be solid. No, the Colts didn’t make a giant splash in free agency and sign a defensive monster like former Texan and sackmaster Mario Williams, who was just awarded a mega deal with the Buffalo Bills. However, they covertly filled glaring needs defensively. This is a unit that should be much tougher than some of the fast, yet finesse defenses we’ve seen throughout the Colts’ recent past. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some familiar faces. The devastating duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will still be called on to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Only this year, they will do some stand up rushing in a Terrell Suggs like role, in addition to occupying their normal hand on the ground, outside the offensive tackle pass rushing stances that we’ve previously been accustomed to. This should not only give offensive coordinators a number of different looks from a Colts defense that has historically been fairly vanilla, but it also should increase the number of headaches for opposing offenses. Bringing up the rear, often overlooked Colts’ safety Antoine Bethea will also continue to be a rock solid presence in the Colts’ secondary making plays.

Nevertheless, there still are some holes and issues to address. For one, the Colts lack a reliable cornerback outside Jerraud Powers, who’s coming off major knee surgery. While former third round pick Kevin Thomas showed some flashes last season, it may be wishful thinking to assume he has made enough strides to be considered an everyday starting cornerback in the NFL. Two, it’s common knowledge that one can’t run a 3-4 defense without a solid nose tackle, as teams like the Patriots and Steelers have made a defensive living out of having great nose tackles like Vince Wilfork and Casey Hampton respectively. A great nose tackle occupies two blockers and makes running up the middle a major no-no for opposing offenses. While recently signed Brandon McKinney knows Pagano’s system and has played throughout his career as a nose tackle, he’s been nothing more than a serviceable backup throughout his NFL tenure. Additionally, the only other candidate currently on the roster who can feasibly play the position is Antonio “Mookie” Johnson, who while heavy enough (at 310 pounds), has never played the position. Therefore, it seems fairly reasonable to predict that both of these positions will be focuses in April’s upcoming NFL Draft.

Another issue that may warrant further attention is at inside linebacker. While young linebackers Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner had fairly productive seasons last year, they are a tad undersized for the position in a 3-4 defense according to normal NFL standards. Even though Angerer saw great success last year, registering the fourth most tackles out of all NFL defensive players, this year such take downs may be harder to come by. If the Colts’ front three is unable to occupy offensive lineman, Angerer and Conner may encounter more “trash” of centers, guards, etc. in the second level of the defense than ever before, forcing them to be absorbed by blockers rather than making tackles. Physically and play wise, they also may simply not be a fit. Just recently, former All-Pro Texans’ linebacker and tackling machine, DeMeco Ryans, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles simply because he was not as good of a fit playing wise for Texans’ Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ recently implemented 3-4 defense compared to the Texans’ previously run 4-3 scheme. Unfortunately, there is no great way to tell one way or another at this point until it is seen how these two play end up playing on the field under the new defensive scheme.

Regardless, Pagano’s newly implemented system should bring more intrigue than previous Colts’ defensive schemes that have often left very little to the imagination. This, along with added bulk and toughness, should make the Colts’ defensive unit a fairly respectable one assuming they can address some of the aforementioned defensive issues in the draft. It appears to be a defensive roster that has a fairly respectable amount of talent, veterans, and advanced defensive philosophy. The hope remains that there will finally be some “D” in Indy.

If you’re seeking a rough sketch of the Colts’ defensive starting unit as the roster currently stands, it may look something like this:

Free safety: Antoine Bethea

Strong Safety: Tom Zbikowski

Cornerback: Jerraud Powers, Kevin Thomas

Outside linebacker: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis

Inside linebacker: Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner

Defensive End: Cory Redding, Drake Nevis (*Fili Moala)

Nose tackle: Brandon McKinney (*Mookie Johnson)

*Denotes primary backup


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