Indianapolis is clearly rebuilding, and most of the focus around training camp has been on the offense. That isn’t surprising, as the Colts used eight of their 10 draft picks on offensive players, including number one overall pick Andrew Luck. But the Colts are installing a new defense as well, and will need to see significant improvement on that side of the ball to start winning games.
The Colts didn’t take a defensive player until the fifth round, when they selected DT Josh Chapman out of Alabama, but they did go shopping in free agency. In fact, they signed three former Baltimore Ravens, as new head coach Chuck Pagano brought over some familiar faces. Defensive linemen Cory Redding and Brandon McKinney, and free safety Tom Zbikowski all played under Pagano last year in Baltimore and all joined the Colts.
Redding sees the three former Ravens as a big positive, stabilizing a new coach on a rebuilding team. “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 kind of eases the guys’ minds,” Redding said. “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.”
Pagano is a defensive coach and he spent the last four years with the Ravens, including last season as defensive coordinator (secondary coach before that). Last year’s Ravens were third in the league in total defense and allowed only 16.6 points per game. Indianapolis was 28th and allowed 26.9 points per game.
How do you give up 10 less points per game? As anyone who watched Ravens football knows, the defense has to attack. And Redding sees the pieces to make that kind of defense work in Indy.
“These guys are hungry. These guys want to be great,” Redding said. “We all know, and we’ve said every day, that games are won and lost in the trenches. Upfront on the offensive line and upfront on the defensive line. So we have to be the tone setters, every single day. Some days you might not want to do it, but you have to, period. So you’ve got to go out there and go up and beyond. Fly around, be loud, make plays because this team goes as we go. As long as we continue to do that we’ll be successful.”
Redding thinks this team is off to a great start. “Guys have responded very well,” he said. “Threw the pads on Tuesday and we flew around. We got after [it], we were knocking them down, we were running to the ball. Offense is throwing passes down field, driving guys off the line, establishing the run, defense establishing and stopping the run. These are the things we are preaching and establishing now in training camp. We’re doing an excellent job right now.”
The season is still a long way off, but with a rookie quarterback (probably starting from day one) along with a lot of new receivers, it’s going to be a tough season. And Redding is correct that the win-loss record will largely be determined in the trenches. But they’ve picked up some of the right pieces to set that tone up front.