By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts defense is getting some headlines, finally. And they are positive ones too.
The Indianapolis defensive unit doesn’t get quite the attention that the team’s high-powered offensive group has engendered over the years. But this season, under first-year coordinator Larry Coyer, the Colts have begun to impress more than a few people.
That includes first-year head coach Jim Caldwell.
“You look at the last eight quarters that they have not allowed a touchdown, and I think that is something that is important. Bottom line is, can you keep them out of the end zone? That’s what they’ve been able to do more consistently. The energy level is there. The concepts we are using were a little foreign to [the Indianapolis players] at the beginning of the season, and they are getting a bit more familiar with them,” Caldwell explained Monday.
“It’s still early yet. They still have a lot of room to improve upon. We are going to get better as time goes on. The effort and execution is improving every single week. The thing I’m really pleased about, overall, is we just keep getting better every week. We keep improving just little by little. That’s encouraging.”
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden returned to the Colts defensive lineup against St. Louis on Sunday. He had missed the previous three games with a sore hamstring, so he’d had a chance to watch the unit develop from the sidelines and on the field.
“We’re clicking right now. Guys are having fun,” Hayden said after the Rams game. He had an interception against the Rams, his first of the season.
But, really, how good has Indianapolis been playing defensively? The Colts have allowed just 77 points on the year while coming up with 16 sacks, six interceptions and recovering four of seven forced fumbles.
And then throw in these numbers: the Colts have not allowed a touchdown over the past eight quarters, the Colts have not allowed a touchdown in the first half since a Ronnie Brown 14-yard run in the first quarter of a Week Two win over Miami and Indianapolis has allowed just five field goals over its last two games.
n Injury report — Caldwell didn’t offer any updates on the availability of wide receiver Reggie Wayne (strained groin) or rookie running back Donald Brown (sprained left shoulder) for Sunday’s home game with San Francisco.
Both were scheduled to undergo magnetic resonance imaging tests on Monday, but the results most likely won’t be known until today or Wednesday. Wayne and Brown were both injured in the second quarter of the St. Louis game.
“We’ll have a better feel for them as the week goes on. Not quite certain what MRIs look like or things of that nature. We may be able to make a determination a little bit later on. [Wayne] did feel a bit of a strain early [in the game],” the Colts coach said.
“He felt he could come back and go. He came back and after the game was no longer in the balance, he didn’t play any longer. He’s getting it treated. He felt pretty good about it. We’ll see how it goes.”
Should Wayne be forced to miss the 49ers game, wide receiver Hank Baskett might see increased playing time. Baskett was signed in early September to help fill the void left by the knee injury to starter Anthony Gonzalez. He caught his first pass of the season against the Rams.
“We had an opportunity to see [Baskett] in the game a little bit. I think he has gotten a good grasp of the system. He can get in and function without any extra attention. He’ll continue to get better. He’s coming along,” Caldwell said, adding that Mike Hart would be a possibility for additional playing time if Brown is ruled out of the San Francisco game.
As for Gonzalez, the former Ohio State wide receiver might be able to begin a light practice routine this week.
“Possibly. I just had the chance to visit with him [Monday morning], and he feels really good about where he is. He ran some [pass] routes on Saturday. He thought he felt really good,” Caldwell said.
“He feels like he’s close to going. Whether that’s this week or next week remains to be seen. I think we may see a little something out of him this week.”
n Lacey celebration — Just chalk it up to youthful excitement.
Rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey was served an unsportsmanslike-conduct penalty for excessive celebration following his 37-yard return of a Marc Bulger pass. It was Lacey’s first career interception and his first NFL touchdown. In fact, it was the first interception return that he had for a touchdown since his sophomore year at Oklahoma State, when he did it against Texas.
The play ended with the Garland, Texas, native sliding into the end zone, bouncing up and declaring himself safe. He said that he did it to send a message to his family. Caldwell wasn’t sure why the penalty was called. So he asked the officials.
“The rule is once you are in the end zone, if you leave your feet and go to your knees, the only thing you can do is pray. That’s the only thing that is acceptable. Anything other than that you will get penalized. He slid and popped to his feet so there is a penalty,” Caldwell explained.
“You can dive in from the 1-yard line. You can turn a somersault from the 1-yard line as long as you land on your feet. That’s the rule. That’s the way it is.
“They were right to make the call. I had to find out exactly what he had done wrong. We did talk about it, and we’ll stress that as well. That could be costly in a tight game.”