ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — Defensive end Kendall Langford wants to change the conversation in Indianapolis.
Instead of answering all those questions about complimenting the Colts’ usually potent offense, Langford and his teammates are out to prove the defense can be every bit as good.
“Around Indy, it’s always been about the offense scoring a lot of points,” starter Langford, said at training camp. “We want to be the defense that, when we come out, they’re cheering also — not just when the offense comes out. We don’t want to be labeled an offensive team.”
The transition has already begun.
New defensive coordinator Ted Monachino earned the trust of his new players with a more aggressive approach that requires players to react quicker and think less.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis, the 2013 sacks champion, says he’s healthy and ready to prove a 35-year-old pass rusher can still be one of the most fearsome forces in the league.
The Colts believe the addition of cornerback Patrick Robinson in free agency and safety T.J. Green, a second-round draft pick, will help reinforce the secondary. And when the Colts get defensive tackles Henry Anderson and Art Jones, cornerback D’Joun Smith and safety Clayton Geathers back at full strength, they may finally have all the pieces they need to complete their long-standing puzzle.
“I’ve been in a lot of systems, and this system here, just being around Ted, you see why Baltimore had been so stout against the run and so consistent with whoever they plugged in,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Our philosophy here, is now we want to dictate to the offense, not vice versa. Giving them multiple looks up front and in the back end, it’s really fascinating to see what we’ve come up with.””
Monachino is still fine-tuning the system. Fans will get their first real glimpse of the new-look defense in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame game against Green Bay, though the real unveiling probably won’t come until the Sept. 11 season opener against Detroit.
At least things can’t get much worse.
A year ago, the Colts finished 24th in the league against the pass, 25th against the run and 25th in points allowed.
After the season, coach Chuck Pagano changed directions by firing coordinator Greg Manusky and hiring the tough-minded Monachino.
“I need them to understand that aggressive calls will be made and when calls are made, they have to play aggressive,” Monachino said before Thursday’s practice. “I think defensive players want to be aggressive, those are the calls they like and they will be made.”
It’s a far cry from the stodgy old days when the Colts rarely blitzed, were content to keep plays in front of them and relied on their pass rush to protect big leads.
Of course, when Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are the starting quarterbacks for 288 of 313 games, counting the playoffs, playing it safe is a hard habit to break.
Monachino is willing to take that chance.
Though he understands the new system comes with risk, he expects the Colts to see some big payoffs and believes veteran playmakers like Mathis, Jackson and Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams will help the defense reduce the number of big plays allowed.
The players can’t wait to get started.
“New coordinator, new faces on defense, we’re just ready to get after it,” Adams said. “I think that’s the most interesting and intriguing part about our defense.”
Not everything has gone according to script at Anderson University, a Division III school about 30 miles northeast of team headquarters.
Anderson (ACL surgery) remains on the physically unable to perform list after ACL surgery. Geathers showed up to camp in a walking boot because of a foot injury and still hasn’t practiced.
Jones has been suspended for the first four games for violating the substance-abuse policy.
And the secondary has had to deal with a spate of injuries.
Green has returned to practice after hurting his calf in Indy’s first real workout. Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis appeared to hurt his left foot during Tuesday night’s workout but later returned. And the Colts were so thin at safety that they moved nickel-package cornerback Darius Butler to play alongside Adams in that spot last week.
But none of those obstacles have derailed a Colts’ defense intent on changing the perceptions, numbers and chatter.
“I think there are a lot of tools we have in place and guys are making big strides,” Mathis said. “We are improving by leaps and bounds. I feel really good about what we have.”
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