Changes are coming quickly for the Indianapolis Colts defense.
With the recent hiring of former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as the Colts’ new head coach, it’s pretty much a given that there will be a shift away from the team’s Cover 2, 4-3 alignment to a hybrid 3-4 system.
While the Ravens had a lot of success with Pagano’s ultra-aggressive hybrid 3-4 this past season, Indianapolis doesn’t have all the pieces in place just yet to facilitate a quick move to a new system. So the change will be a gradual one in many respects.
“I’ve got to dive into this and evaluate every player in that locker room. I’ve got to look at every player on defense. I’m not going to be hard-headed enough — and certainly the defensive coordinator and coaching staff that we bring in here; we’re not going to jam a square peg into a round hole,” Pagano said about the transition to a 3-4 scheme.
“We’re going to find our strengths of this unit and the weaknesses. We’re going to put them in the best possible position to be successful and win games. If we can move toward the type of defense, the brand of defense that we’ve been playing where I came from, we can evolve to that.”
That’s the key. The Colts are expected to try and re-sign unrestricted free agent defensive end Robert Mathis, who teams with defensive end Dwight Freeney to give Indianapolis two of the best pure pass rushers in the league. Mathis may wind up being franchised, although team officials would like to get something worked out as soon as possible.
Starting with Mathis and Freeney, Pagano and newly hired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky already have a starting point with the move to a new defensive set.
“If Wade Phillips can go to the Houston Texans [as defensive coordinator] and install the 3-4 with no offseason and make [defensive end] Mario Williams an outside linebacker and stand up on early downs, [with] the two explosive, great athletes we have on the edge here, I don’t see an issue,” Pagano said.
Flexibility will be the key to the Colts defense under Pagano and Manusky.
“Our motto is simple me, complex you. To say I’m a 3-4 guy, we want to build a defense that’s flexible. It’s going to be simple for our guys to execute, but when offenses prepare for it on Sunday’s it’s going to look very complex to them,” Pagano previewed.
“Having said that, just because we line up and they say we’re a 3-4 team, we may be a 4-3 team on first down, we can be an odd 3-4 look on second down and the Lord only knows on third and 7-plus. That’s our goal.”
There was some thought that in recent years, the Colts’ defense — which has been known as small in stature but blessed with athleticism and speed — would sometimes hamstring itself by sitting back and reacting to what the opposing team’s offense would try to do. Not anymore.
“We just cut our guys loose. We’ve got some special guys here with some special talents and dominant traits. There are some explosive athletes and we’ll evolve as the drafts go by and free agency goes by. That was their nature and we kind of got away from that a little bit.,” Pagano voiced.
“I think players like to play that way. We called it ankle-weighting our players, meaning we never gave them too much where we thought they were out there thinking and not reacting. This is a reaction game. You don’t have time to think. You see, you react, you anticipate, you have responsibility and then you run and then you hit. We’re going to have those types of guys.”
In addition to Mathis, other key defensive free agents include linebackers Philip Wheeler and Ernie Sims; defensive linemen Eric Foster, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton; and cornerback Jacob Lacey. Additionally, the team may decide to part ways a pair of key veterans who have battled injuries the last two seasons, middle linebacker Gary Brackett and strong safety Melvin Bullitt.
“We want to be aggressive [defensively] and dictate the tempo,” Pagano said. “We want them reacting to us and not vice versa. We will have schemes in place that allow our players to play and be very aggressive, but at the same time, be fundamentally sound.”
• Athletic quarterbacks — Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, expected to be the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2012 National Football League draft, put on a show Sunday morning during on-field drill work at the National Football Scouting Combine.
While neither player participated in the passing drills — preferring to wait until their respective on-campus pro days at Stanford and Baylor — Luck and Griffin displayed just how talented they are athletically.
Griffin was timed unofficially at 4.41 and 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. Luck, meanwhile, had unofficial times of 4.66 and 4.59. When the official numbers for their best runs were released later in the day, Griffin had a 4.41 while Luck was at 4.69. Not too shabby.
In other drills, Griffin had a vertical jump of 39 inches while Luck was at 36 inches. Griffin’s broad jump was 10 feet and Luck’s topped out at 10-feet-4.
Their numbers overall were either equal or better than those produced a year ago by 2011 No. 1 pick Cam Newton, who was drafted by Carolina and earned NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors this past season.
Questions were raised whether Griffin’s 40-yard time was the second-best ever for a quarterback at the combine. There were reports that Michael Vick had a 4.33 in 2001, but confusion as to whether Vick actually took part in the running event.
Newton’s official best time last year was 4.59. Denver’s Tim Tebow had a 4.72 in 2010. Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal officially had a 4.35 in 2006.
When comparing Luck’s best time with the quarterback he is expected to replace in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning had a 4.81 in 1998.
• Harnish getting looks — Former Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish is steadily moving up the charts in terms of where he might be drafted.
Harnish, who played for former Indiana State quarterback Jeff Miller at Norwell High School, volunteered for extra passing work during the combine, which had to please many of the scouts in attendance. Ex-North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates did the same thing a year ago and that boosted his stock in the 2011 draft.
Overall, Harnish — who earned Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors last fall — finished second in cone drill, fourth in the shuttle and seventh in three drills: 40, vertical jump & broad jump.
• Defensive lineman, linebackers work today — As the combine winds down to its final two days at Lucas Oil Stadium, the defensive linemen and linebackers will go through tests and drills today. Cornerbacks and safeties will close out the combine on Tuesday.
Defensive line is expected to a big area of interest for the Colts since the team will be looking for a 3-4 nose tackle. Dontari Poe of Memphis — who is 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds — figures to be the best of the bunch.
Poe can play a regular defensive tackle role in a 4-3 alignment, as he did at times as a senior in college, but his primary position is as a 3-4 nose tackle. He has been compared favorably to Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata.
Other candidates are Washington’s Alameda Ta’Amu (6-3, 336), Alabama’s Josh Chapman (6-1, 316), BYU’s Hebron Fangupo (6-1, 330) and Baylor’s Nicholas Jean-Baptiste (6-2, 335).
Changes are coming quickly for the Indianapolis Colts defense.
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Seeking elite status
Many stages are set in the long-running drama that is the Indianapolis 500.
The 97th running on the famed oval today has the potential to provide a new four-time champion in Helio Castroneves or Dario Franchitti.
A win for either driver would tie them for the all-time lead in the Indy 500 as A.J. Foyt (1961, ’64, ’67, ’77), Al Unser 1970-71, ’78, ’87) and Rick Mears (1979, ’84, 88, ’91) are atop that mountain with four wins a piece.
While Castroveneves starts in the middle of row three, he and his team won the pit stop competition on Carb Day. The last time Castroneves won the pit stop competition, he won his third Indy 500.
“The field is so close and we have at least 20 cars that are capable to win this race,” Castroneves said. “My previous win, it was actually won on that as well. We were able to execute in the right time and they were able to put me in a very good opportunity to execute.”
Luck having fun with his first OTAs
A year ago, quarterback Andrew Luck was unable to attend the Indianapolis Colts’ organized team activity practices due to school commitments at Stanford.
Luck, though, went on to have a stellar year for the Colts despite the lack of summer work with the team. Still, in a sense, he is a rookie during this year’s OTA workouts.
“These are my first OTAs. I missed these last year, so I think it’s great. It’s great to get on the field with the defense and trouble-shoot some stuff. Obviously, some of us ran some of this stuff [offense] at Stanford [under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton]. But to get out there with the defense and trouble-shoot some stuff is good,” Luck said Wednesday as the team wrapped up its first week of on-field voluntary practice sessions.
Colts hoping for more high marks on draft picks
A year ago, the Indianapolis Colts received high marks for the impact players the team added through the NFL draft.
Of the 10 players selected, five ended up either starting or seeing extensive playing time (quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and running back Vick Ballard) during the Colts’ 11-5 season.
While this year’s class may not rival that group in terms of name recognition and flash, it may produce just as many major contributors once the 2013 season gets underway.
Colts in wait-and-see mode for tonight’s NFL draft
As the 2013 NFL draft gets underway tonight at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the Indianapolis Colts are continuing their wait-and-see stance in regard to the first-round pick.
The draft begins at 8 p.m. — televised by the NFL Network and ESPN — with the Kansas City Chiefs making the night’s first selection. Teams will have 10 minutes to make their decisions during the first round. Indianapolis will have the 24th overall pick in the first round.
There will be only one round tonight. The second and third rounds are scheduled for Friday, beginning at 6:30 p.m. with seven minutes allotted per pick in the second round and five minutes allowed in the third. The final four rounds are slated to begin at noon Saturday with four minutes between selections.
As it stands now, Indianapolis does not have a second-round pick. It was traded to Miami last fall in exchange for veteran cornerback Vontae Davis. But second-year general manager Ryan Grigson has nut ruled out the possibility of trading down from the first round if the Colts aren’t satisfied with the players available.
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Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had agreed Monday night to be the Colts’ primary back-up to second-year starter Andrew Luck. He officially signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the team Tuesday morning.
“We are very pleased to announce the signing of Matt Hasselbeck,” general manager Ryan Grigson said in a prepared statement. “His body of work, intangibles, and extensive league experience speak for themselves. Those factors, plus his familiarity with our offensive scheme, will make him a great asset to our team and its vision as we move forward.”
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What the Indianapolis Colts accomplished last season — posting an 11-5 record and earning an AFC wild-card berth with a young team plus having that kind of success without its head coach on the sidelines for 12 games — didn’t go unnoticed by players around the NFL.
That was especially true for the five veteran free agents who were added to the Colts’ roster Tuesday. Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (Detroit), cornerback Greg Toler (Arizona), outside linebacker Erik Walden (Green Bay), offensive guard Donald Thomas (New England) and linebacker Lawrence Sidbury (Atlanta) admitted as much Wednesday.
“I felt like this would be the best fit for me at this point in my career. I really liked what I saw was happening with the program here and the way things have taken shape. I feel like we have a really great team here and it’s on the rise. I really wanted to be a part of that,” Thomas said during a teleconference interview with the Colts’ media.
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McAfee, an unrestricted free agent who’s contract is due to expire March 12, was designated as the Colts’ franchise player Friday. The move allows Indianapolis extra time to work out a long-term deal for the team’s special-teams ace.
“He’s huge. He’s a major priority in free agency. Obviously, we’ve reached out and are working to get Pat re-signed,” Pagano said during the National Football Scouting Combine. “We saw what he did for us last year. He’s a great weapon, not only kickoffs and touchbacks.
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After undergoing cancer treatments that featured heavy doses of chemotherapy, the second-year head coach was able to return to the sidelines for Indianapolis’ final regular-season home game against Houston and for the team’s AFC wild-card matchup with eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore.
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Times have changed
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Many Colts point to that loss in the third week of the season. Indianapolis led 14-3 at the half and were ahead 14-13 after three quarters of play.
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