Indianapolis adds swagger, confidence to defense
Colts defensive end Cory Redding stood his ground as Andrew Luck scrambled for a touchdown at training camp this week.
Then he let the second-year quarterback have it.
''You ain't supposed to run,'' Redding said loud enough to make a small group of onlookers laugh.
It's a telling tale about how much the expectations have changed in Indy.
Three years ago, with Peyton Manning running the high-priced, high-scoring offense, defensive players may have thought like Redding, they just weren't going to take on a four-time MVP at a public practice.
Back then, the team philosophy was to win games by scoring points early, rushing the quarterback and protecting leads. When early playoff exits followed, the Colts were routinely criticized for not being big enough or tough enough.
Coach Chuck Pagano refuses to let it happen again.
The longtime defensive backs coach and former Baltimore defensive coordinator wants Indianapolis to resemble his old team by playing fast, aggressive defense with an attitude straight out of the Ray Lewis and Ed Reed school of thought.
''You can see that swagger coming, right?'' Pagano said. ''Defensively, every time you step on the field, you expect greatness. You expect to make plays, create turnovers, stop the run. All those type of things.''
The contrast from last season - and the last decade - is stark.
Cornerback Darius Butler picked off Luck on two straight days and when he dropped another that would have extended the streak, he immediately dropped to the ground to do push-ups. Defensive backs are playing closer to receivers and jumping routes with better results. On Friday, when five-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis beat left tackle Anthony Castonzo in a one-on-one blocking drill, Mathis walked over to Castonzo and gave him a lesson on what he did. Linebackers and defensive backs are taking turns on the JUGS machines after Reggie Wayne wraps up his daily post-practice routine.
And the chatter on the defensive line is constant as they try to outwit Luck.
''They are playing with a fun confidence and they are really pushing our guys on offense, myself included, to really make plays and they're flying around,'' Luck said. ''I am sure Year 2 in the defense, there are a lot of guys that are more familiar. They can play faster and don't have to think about it as much. So it's been a challenge and been fun going up against those guys.''
How have the Colts made this transformation?
Pagano, Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson all wanted to bring in bigger bodies to stop the run and defend the new breed of NFL receiver, tall and strong.
In free agency, the Colts divvied up their money more evenly between offensive and defensive players, something that never really happened during the Manning Era.
The offense, revamped by new coordinator Pep Hamilton, may be a little behind the defense, too, since Hamilton is still installing plays. Luck and his offensive teammates looked better Friday than they had all week when the defense was holding its own - or winning - in many of the team drills.
By bringing in a group of free agents such as defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean Francois, safety LaRon Landry and linebacker Erik Walden, the Colts can rely on more physical play thanks to their comfort in Pagano's system.
''I look for the defense to take a jump, to become formidable and become something that really starts being a cornerstone of what we're about,'' Irsay said Friday after his first visit to camp at Anderson University. ''We want to be a really physical unit and a consistent unit.''
The Colts were saying the same things at Anderson last summer, but wound up 20th in interceptions (12), 23rd in sacks (32), 26th in total yards allowed (374.3) and 31st in yards allowed per carry (5.1).
The tests begin Aug. 11 when Indy opens the preseason against Buffalo. Redding and his teammates insist they're ready.
''We did some unbelievable things in 2012 but wasn't satisfied,'' Redding said. ''We didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish. That being said, I walked off that field with the mindset of whatever we did wrong last year we've got to correct and do better this year so we can move further in the playoffs.''
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