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.”
• Playing time against Bengals — With the final roster cutdown set for this weekend, Pagano and his coaching staff will take a long look at his entire roster over the course of Thursday night’s preseason finale at Cincinnati.
“We’d like to get everybody a significant amount of reps. Some guys will get less than other guys and there might be a few cases where a guy won’t play at all. So as far as that goes, that’s kind of how we stand on the deal,” the Colts’ coach said Tuesday.
“We’ve had a good couple days of preparation. It was a short week, but we’re planning on going down there and building off the last couple ballgames and try to head into the regular season on a positive note.”
The only thing for sure is that tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen — along with offensive tackle Anthony Castanzo, offensive guard Mike McGlynn, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver LaVon Brazill — are among those who will not see any playing time.
Veterans such as wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Mathis and Redding probably won’t get in the game either.
“Some of it is based on age and some of it is based on maybe their status, health-wise. A guy like [defensive end] Fili [Moala] who probably could go in and play and he’s been practicing and he’s been out there for a couple days now would like to go,” Pagano said.
“But we’ll see how he is [today], warm him up and then see, make a decision on a guy like that. So it’s case by case.”
How about Luck?
“Again, it’s hard to tell right now. Try to see what the mindset is of what they’re doing, of how they’re going to approach this thing, and I kind of have an idea. So if he gets a series, that’d be great. If he gets nothing, that’d be great,” the Colts’ coach added.
• Roster moves — Indianapolis reached the league-mandated 75-player roster limit Tuesday after waiving injured wide receiver Nate Palmer, placing safety John Boyett on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list and moving rookie inside linebacker Josh McNary to an exempt status on the roster.
If Palmer clears waivers, he will revert to the Colts’ Injured Reserve list. McNary’s exemption is under the Reserve/Military rules where the player reported after June 1, 2013, and has not played in any preseason games.
Next up for the Colts
• Game: 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cincinnati Bengals.
• TV: WTWO Channel 2.
• Radio: WWVR-FM 105.5