Colts counting on new linebackers to add playoff punch

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2016, file photo, New England Patriots linebacker Barkevious Mingo plays against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL game in Foxborough, Mass. The Indianapolis Colts have signed free agent linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Mingo agreed to a one-year worth $2.5 million on Thursday. The signing became official Monday. March 13, 2017. (Winslow Townson/File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) John Simon hopes to make the Indianapolis Colts’ defense tougher. Barkevious Mingo just wants a shot to jump-start his career.

Both are coming to town for the same reason – to lead the Colts back to the playoffs.

”I know they are a very competitive team year in and year out, and they are always contenders to make it all the way,” Simon said Monday, his first public comments since choosing Indianapolis. ”We had a lot of good talks during free agency and I wanted to become a part of that.”

Indy, once a postseason regular, has missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons.

In 2015, the explanation was Andrew Luck’s injuries. Last season, it was inconsistency.

But one of the common threads during coach Chuck Pagano’s five-year tenure has been a subpar defense that has ranked in or near the bottom third of the NFL every year. After being hired in January, new general manager Chris Ballard made it clear that must change.

Ballard has already had a busy offseason.

Since Pat McAfee’s surprise retirement announcement in January, he has cut inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and cornerback Patrick Robinson; traded tight end Dwayne Allen to New England for a fourth-round draft pick; watched versatile offensive lineman Joe Reitz retire; and re-signed tight end Jack Doyle. On Monday, the Colts re-signed running back Robert Turbin, who scored eight TDs last season.

In free agency, Ballard has taken a distinctly defensive approach.

He signed Mingo, the sixth overall pick in 2013, to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Mingo struggled for three seasons in Cleveland before another poor season with the Patriots in 2016.

Simon and Jabaal Sheard both agreed to contracts Friday. Simon, formerly of Houston, signed a three-year deal worth $13.5 million, while Sheard, another ex-Patriot, agreed to a three-year contract for $25 million.

All three are outside linebackers, where the Colts desperately needed replacements after Robert Mathis retired and Erik Walden and Trent Cole became unrestricted free agents.

”I will bring a toughness and a nastiness to the defense and a work ethic that I had in Houston,” Simon said. ”I brought a little bit of that to the Houston defense also, so hopefully I will be able to instill that here and get rolling.”

Indy also is believed to be pursuing former Kansas City defensive tackle Dontari Poe. And with a college class rife with defensive talent, Ballard is likely to use draft weekend to continue to stockpile players.

Even those without defined roles appreciate the concept of this major offseason overhaul.

”They’re trying to create a culture where competition is at every position,” Mingo said. ”When you’re competing, you’re getting better. You’re pushing everybody else to get better and that is one thing that I like about it.”

Indy also signed punter Jeff Locke last week as the replacement for McAfee, a two-time Pro Bowler.

Turbin announced his decision on Twitter, though terms of the deal could not immediately be confirmed. NFL.com reported it was a two-year deal worth $4.1 million.

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