Colts’ defense faces roadblocks going into next preseason game

T.J. Green is one of several Colts' defensive players facing a pivotal preseason.
AP/Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Al Woods hears about the murmurs coming from anxious Indianapolis Colts‘ fans.

They’re worried that another new and improved defense may not live up to the billing after Russell Wilson led Seattle to a touchdown on his only drive in last week’s game.

More angst emerged Tuesday when the defense delivered a less-than-stellar performance in the final night practice of training camp.

Add the historical perception of Indianapolis relying on its high-scoring offense to win, and it’s enough to set off alarm bells even before camp ends this weekend.

But Woods refuses to panic and instead urges fans to be patient as this unit finds its identity.

“I think we’re in a good place right now and I think we’re going to find out a lot more tomorrow against the Ravens,” the veteran defensive tackle said Thursday, referring to two joint practices scheduled this weekend. “I’m comfortable in any defense, but I really like this defense.”

He expects Colts’ fans will, too.

Nobody expected the transition from a 3-4 front to the more traditional 4-3 to go off without a hitch, especially given all the new faces, new assignments and lingering injuries.

And it has been a challenge getting everybody on the same page.

The conversion began with new coordinator Matt Eberflus installing his version of the “Tampa 2,” moving linebackers John Simon, Jabaal Sheard and Tarell Basham to defensive end. It continued with some carefully choreographed moves in free agency and the draft.

And while veterans such as Simon, Sheard, Woods and newly acquired Denico Autry, have pitched in, the rest of the defense remains a work in progress.

“I think we’ve got a long way to go,” Simon said. “I think we took more positives than negatives out of the (Seattle) game, and that’s what we wanted to do — come out there and see good play when the pressure is on in that type of atmosphere against a pretty good offense. We took some positives, but I think we’ve still got a long way to go.”

One problem has been injuries.

Starting safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker are just starting to round into shape after missing all of the Colts’ offseason workouts and the start of camp while rehabbing from knee surgery.

Geathers could play Monday night against Baltimore, though it appears Hooker may miss at least another week after tearing two ligaments in his right knee in October.

The return of both forced Eberflus to recalibrate.

“When they came back, we reset the whole defense and started from line one, first day install and redid all those walkthroughs again just for those guys,” he said. “It was good for the younger guys to go through it again, so we kind of reset everything just for those guys.”

Safety hasn’t been the only position hit hard.

Young cornerbacks Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston and Kenny Moore III are all playing expanded roles this season. Desir, now in his fifth pro season, is the dean of the secondary with 13 career starts.

Defensive end Kemoko Turay (knee) and defensive tackle Tyquan Lewis (foot), both rookies, have spent most of the past two weeks trying to return from injuries.

At linebacker, the depth chart appears even thinner.

Rookie Darius Leonard, a second-round pick from South Carolina State, free agent signee Najee Goode and Anthony Walker currently hold the top spots on the depth chart. Leonard picked off Andrew Luck on the first day of camp and has shown flashes of play-making ability while Walker, in his second season, is the longest-tenured of the three.

Naturally, there have been growing pains.

“We’ve had a lot of different matchups as you guys have seen,” Eberflus said. “We need to get that solidified so guys can start communicating, knowing each other and trusting each other as they go forward.”

The Colts believe they can fix it — in time.

“Pass rush, run stop, communication, coverage, I think that’s the same thing for every defense,” Simon said. “If you’re not out here trying to get better every day, then I think you’re in the wrong profession.”

Notes: The Colts have signed running back Tion Green and put William Ossai on the waived-non-football illness list.