First there was the Tampa Two. Now, when it comes to the future of the Indianapolis Colts defense, there’s the Baltimore Three.
Safety Tom Zbikowski, defensive end Cory Redding and nose tackle Brandon McKinney all spent last season as members of the Baltimore Ravens defensive unit.
Redding started 11 of 15 games for the Ravens last year, registering 4.5 sacks and 43 total tackles (29 solo). Zbikowski, meanwhile, had four starts and played in 14 games overall. McKinney played in 12 games in 2011 as a valuable backup.
All three are proficient in the 3-4 hybrid defensive package that coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who are both in their first year with the Colts, began installing last spring. Their arrival in Indianapolis during the offseason, all within a few weeks of each others, was expected to help the Colts make a speedier transition to the new scheme.
It was hoped that Redding, Zbikowski and McKinney would be able to teach the nuances of the system to their new teammates while also providing much needed depth at three key positions. So far, so good.
The fact that all three are familiar with Pagano from their days together in Baltimore is also a major plus. If not for their close association with the Ravens’ former defensive coordinator, it’s doubtful whether any of them would have found their way to Indianapolis.
There’s a loyalty factor that can’t be easily dismissed. And because of their feelings for the Colts head coach, they feel a shared responsibility to be leaders in the Indianapolis locker room.
“It’s very important because it can be misinterpreted sometimes. The guys can react in a certain way, but to have all three voices in the locker room to let the guys know why Chuck said what he said, why Chuck is doing some of the things that he’s doing and kind of ease the guys’ minds,” Redding explained after Thursday’s morning practice.
“Then they’re like ‘OK, we’ll trust the system, we’ll trust you guys, because you have been there, you understand and you all know him, so we’re going to go ahead and trust him.’ And that’s a credit to the guys in the locker room who have been there before us. They’re willing to accept change. Change is great and this one will be great. So as long as everybody gets on board, it will be fine.”
All three former Ravens are finding Pagano 2.0 now in charge of the Colts’ fortunes. He’s similar in many ways to the coach that they played under in Baltimore but also one with a world of new responsibilities.
“Same guy, same mentality. The approach he’s having with us as a head coach is the exact same approach he took the year he was a defensive coordinator with the Ravens. Straight up, tell it like it is. If guys are doing well, praise them. If things are kind of off key, so to speak, you throw the bullet and the guys take it right in the middle of the head, because that’s what we’ve got to do. He’s that kind of guy,” Redding stressed.
“It’s a different role. You’ve got a lot more you have to deal with. He’s still just as personable as he was as a defensive back coach, as a defensive coordinator. Really, he gets to know all of his players, from the guys that came from other teams. That was one thing that was brought up on that [other players] might not have had conversations with their other head coach,” the former Notre Dame defensive back said.
“He’s a player’s coach. It’s still going to be intense. It’s all about fundamentals, sound football, and playing hard. It’s personal to him and that’s the way it should be.”
Redding makes no bones about it. He came to Indianapolis because of his affinity to the head coach. And Pagano wanted him on board to be a leader in the locker room.
“No question. It’s not necessarily the fact that he brought me in for that, it’s just who I am. That’s carried me this far, so why quit. That’s who I am as a person and Chuck understands that. That’s why I was the first person he went for as far as understanding this system, understanding him and getting this program built here,” the University of Texas grad said.
“He’s like, ‘Cory I need you.’ And when I heard that voice come from him, and the sincerity in his voice, like ‘Bro, I need you here,’ that’s what made me forget all others. I’m going with you Chuck, let’s do this. I know how important it is to you and it’s important to me. I wanted to be a part of that change. So here I am.”
So, in his estimation, how is the defensive change going?
“The canvas is not complete. There’s still a lot more room to grow, and we’re still painting our brush every day. Keep on building and building every single day on stopping the run, challenging every ball that’s in the air, not giving them a blade of grass, and having fun while we’re doing it. As long as we keep that mind set we’ll be fine,” the affable Redding said.
“You know pudding is pudding. You can’t mix it up and throw everything else in there. Vanilla wafers, you’ve got banana pudding. It is what it is, it’s still pudding. That’s the basis of this defense. You can’t do anything unless you stop the run. You’ve got to have big, stout, kick-behind guys up front with that attitude to stop the run. Guys in the back end that aren’t afraid of cover-one, put bone on bone, man on man, I’m going to cover you all day, let’s go, let’s play football. That’s what this is based on. The whole team concept has to buy in to that, and the moment we buy into that, which we are, we’re going to be great.”
• Luck watch — Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts’ No. 1 draft pick, completed 19 of 24 passes with one touchdown and an interception during Thursday’s afternoon practice. Veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers came up with the interception, returning it for a touchdown. Powers had predicted during spring workouts that he would get an interception against Luck in training camp.
Backup quarterback Drew Stanton threw a TD pass to rookie tight end Dwayne Allen.
• Let the scuffles begin — For the first time since Tony Dungy’s first season with the Colts, in the summer of 2001, there were a couple of minor skirmishes between offensive and defensive players during a Colts training camp practice.
The first major scuffle occurred midway through Thursday afternoon’s workout with outside linebacker Jerry Hughes and offensive tackle Winston Justice going at it. Defensive tackle Drake Nevis was also in on the action. Justice came out of the scrum with Hughes’ helmet and gave it a quick toss out of bounds.
A second rumble between wide receiver Donnie Avery and cornerback Cassius Vaughn happened a few plays later. Both altercations were quickly broken up.
• Game tickets available — The Colts have announced that a limited number of single-game tickets for the team’s eight regular season home games are available for purchase on Tuesday.
Tickets for the Colts-Green Bay Packers regular-season game are only available as part of a two-game package that includes the Cincinnati Bengals preseason game. Ticket prices per game are $48, $58, $79, $109 and $136.
Fans can purchase tickets while they last at the Lucas Oil Stadium ticket office or by visiting Ticketmaster ticket centers. Purchases can also be made by calling 1-800-745-3000 or logging on to www.ticketmaster.com.