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August 28, 2013

Indy defense would like to be as well-known as its offense

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts with a powerhouse defense? According to defensive end Cory Redding, free safety Antoine Bethea and several other members of the team’s retooled defensive unit, that’s the goal heading into the 2013 season.

A lofty goal, to be sure. Indianapolis — first with Peyton Manning at quarterback and now Andrew Luck — have always been thought of as an offense-first franchise. Manning and Luck have certainly had plenty of options to use, the idea being that you have to surround a top-flight quarterback with playmakers.

When it came to defense, the idea was to be just good enough. Make the necessary stops in order to get the ball back for the offense.

Rather than blowing teams out on the scoreboard on a regular basis, the decision was made to outscore the opposition. And, more often than not, that gameplan worked pretty well for former coaches Jim Mora, Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.

Dungy, a defensive-minded coach at Tampa Bay, was happy if the Colts could just be somewhere in the middle of pack among NFL defensive units. Not great, mind you, but just good enough. If Indianapolis did better than that, so much the better.

Enter second-year head coach Chuck Pagano. Like Mora and Dungy before him, his background lies with defense.

Pagano — who came to Indianapolis from a strong defense with the Baltimore Ravens — and second-year general manager Ryan Grigson, however, have decided instead to re-think that philosophy.

Why not have the best of both worlds? A strong offensive attack, this time led by Luck, and a defense that is expected to do more than just force punts.

Pagano wants an aggressive defense, a ball-hawking defense that can score points on its own. Are the Colts there yet? Probably not. But with the massive changes made in personnel and scheme over the past two off seasons, Indianapolis is a lot closer to its coach’s goal.

“We want to put it out there that we have defense in Indy too. It’s something that we’ve been working hard for and just want to make the most of it,” outside linebacker Robert Mathis said earlier this week.

“I feel like we’re doing a lot of things the right way and heading in the right direction. But there’s still a lot we need to work on. And it’s still about timing and meshing as a unit.”

The Colts could have five new starters on defense from a year ago — outside linebacker Erik Walden, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, either Aubrayo Franklin or Josh Chapman at nose tackle, Greg Toler at cornerback and LaRon Landry at strong safety.

If the last two preseason games are any indication, Indianapolis is starting to make some important strides. The Colts have not allowed a touchdown in wins over the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns.

“We want to be a dominant defense. We talk about how in previous years around here, it’s been offense, offense, offense. But we want to build a dynasty here and have a great offense, great defense and good special teams,” Bethea voiced.

Redding — who was a part of the Ravens’ defense two years ago — likes what he sees from his Indianapolis teammates so far.

“It comes from just being more comfortable in the system, having an understanding of what’s going on and knowing how great we can be. We set that tone in April. The first day we got here, we said [we wanted to be a] top-five defense,” he said Tuesday.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in the top five in any category because we feel that confident in the guys that we brought in, the system that’s in place and the guys that we have here from last year. There’s no reason to. It’s out there for the taking. Right now, make our minds up right now to be that team, not let our brother down beside us and go out there and make plays. That’s our mindset.”

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