COMMENTARY | In January 2012, Chuck Pagano was hired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colt. His first task? Overhaul a defense that had ranked towards the bottom of the league for much of the past decade. Changing schemes isn't easy, and the Indianapolis Colts have used the past two offseasons to add personnel to their defensive unit which would better fit Pagano's scheme.
From 2002-2008, Tony Dungy and his defensive coordinators ran his famed Tampa-2 style defense, which only saw mild success that was a little bit too dependent on quarterback Peyton Manning. Pagano was expected to install a hybrid front scheme that was similar to the one he ran as the defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
This scheme would represent a major shift in defensive philosophy. Instead of having a predictable defense that relied on the individual players to read an offensive play and react, Pagano's defensive scheme calls for an aggressive defense that is more focused on disruption while causing confusion for the opposing offense.
Between dealing with cancer treatment and working with players who weren't the best fit for his defense, Chuck can be excused for last season's failure to make a significant leap forward. After a busy offseason in both free agency and with the draft, a new group of defensive players are coming in to Indianapolis. Now is the time to expect the Colts' defense to make some noticeable improvement.
The defensive line will have plenty of new players this coming season. After falling to the fifth round a year ago, Josh Chapman is trying to establish himself as the starting nose tackle for the Colts. Chapman missed the entire 2012 season while trying to recover from a torn ACL.
Chapman suffered this injury as a senior three months prior to his Alabama team winning the BCS National Championship Game. Amazingly, Chapman put off surgery and played much of the season on that injured knee.
According to a tweet by George Bremer of the Herald Bulletin, Chapman has been seen working with the first string defense and he appears to finally be healthy. He'll likely end up being part of a rotation that includes other nose tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Brandon McKinney . Ricky Jean Francois has come over from the San Francisco 49ers and will partnering with Cory Redding on the defensive line.
Possibly the biggest issue for the defense in Indianapolis over the past five or six seasons has been a lackluster secondary. Losing Bob Sanders in 2008 marked the beginning of the end for his time in the NFL, and he received his release from the Colts in 2010. Marlin Jackson was another player who caught the injury bug during those same seasons, which left the Colts with one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.
Chuck Pagano has been known for being a great specialist while coaching the secondary, but the Colts didn't have enough talent for him to really get what he wanted out of that part of the defense. Because of this deficiency, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson traded a 2nd round pick to the Dolphins so that the Colts could acquire starting cornerback Vontae Davis last year, nearly on the eve of the season opener. Davis will now have a full offseason to work with the coaches in Indianapolis prior to the opening game.
One important addition to the secondary from this past offseason is Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry . Landry will likely start across from two time Pro Bowler Antonie Bethea . Landry was a key free agent signing for the Colts this past March, agreeing to a four-year, $24 million contract with $14 million in guaranteed money . Although he had had two of his six seasons end with a trip to the IR, the Colts are hoping that Landry can stay healthy while at the same time playing at the same level he did last year for the New York Jets .
Switching from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4 hybrid scheme brought a lot of changes to a defensive line that had long been featured by the All-Pro duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Mathis had a bit of success as a 3-4 outside linebacker this past season, but Freeney is now a San Diego Charger after receiving little attention during much of free agency.
Mathis will be moving to a more natural position this season. He will be playing the Will, the rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. To replace Mathis as the Sam, the strong side linebacker whose primary responsibility is for setting the edge on running plays, the Colts picked up free agent Erik Walden . Walden started in 24 games for the Green Bay Packers during the past two years, but he only came up with six sacks during that time.
Walden is not guaranteed to receive a starting spot though. The Colts drafted Florida State standout Bjeorn Werner with the 24th overall pick in this April's draft. It had been speculated that Werner would be a top five pick before an underwhelming combine performance left him on the board when the Colts picked late in the round.
After two offseasons, the Colts appear to have the personnel that Chuck Pagano can use in his defensive schme. As the Colts change their offensive scheme to a power running game that will likely be holding onto the ball for longer periods of time, the Colts hope that their improved defense will not only be statistically better, but they hope that it is good enough to lead them to a Super Bowl victory.
Daniel Biehl lives in Indianapolis and has been a fan of the Colts since Jim Harbaugh was the starting quarterback. He has written for several websites, including various tech blogs.
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