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Indianapolis Colts

Colts defensive chemistry paramount to early season success

Indianapolis Colts fans hold up a defense sign during an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

The Indianapolis Colts have been aggressive in remaking their defense after two straight 8-8 seasons. Replacing their general manager and absorbing Andrew Luck’s surgery underscored the need to secure the future of the organization. The expectations are higher than most of us expected to see, but when you recall what was on the field last season it’s certainly understandable.

This is a massive turnover reminiscent of the 2012 gutting of the roster, but instead of aging veterans hauling in hefty contracts, there’s more of a youth movement based on prove-it deals. None of this is new to any of us who have been talking about this since the transition began. However, some of the excitement should probably be holstered for the time being.

Don’t get me wrong, the added talent is evident – it’s not debatable. Yet, there is a lot that needs to take place before we know what exactly there is with this new group of defenders. Recently former Colts GM Bill Polian touched on this as well, though he’s been outspoken at times, scatterbrained at other times, and even downright uncivil.

In this case, Polian touched on how the Colts could have a tough road making it back to the playoffs in 2017. He spoke on how the new influx of talent would make sub-package situations difficult, saying, “When you count the nickel and dime packages, you’re going to have eight new players.” After offering that the team will likely have a better pass rush than the 2016 version, Polian added, “getting all those guys to coalesce and get cohesive is really tough.”

Additionally, Polian acknowledged that the division is better than most assume, and that “It’s a tall order” when referring to the Colts’ chances at getting back to the playoffs. Bill is absolutely correct.

It’s not about Chris Ballard doing a bad job, or Andrew Luck not being a top-tier quarterback, it’s simply that the AFC South has improved notably over the past two seasons and the playing field has significantly leveled out. There’s very little about the division that resembles even a few short years ago.

Every defense, including the Colts, is remarkably better in talent level on its own. Jon Robinson has put his foot to the floor in acquiring talent in free agency and draft picks and has also brought a new energy to the Tennessee Titans. Doug Marrone is a no-nonsense coach who is the polar opposite of what the Jaguars have had in recent years with Gus Bradley. The Texans will have arguably the best defender in the game back in the lineup for the 2017 season.

While the Colts have absolutely taken the steps necessary to greatly improve the organization top to bottom, are they there yet? I don’t think anyone can honestly say that. A large part of the rest of the division stands in a similar light as well, but chemistry will have to be built — typically that takes time to form.

One of the most common declarations Chuck Pagano makes is that continuity is paramount to the success of any team. There is certainly some of that in the Colts’ current theme.

The offensive line has reportedly become a more cohesive unit through the offseason and appears to have the requisite talent to make a jump if it can continue to improve under offensive line coach Joe Philbin. The receiver corps has taken to a new position coach in Sanjay Lal and has been working hard this offseason.

Additionally, Jemal Singleton will be in his second season with the team — he was impressive with his coaching style last season. Brian Schottenheimer will facilitate even larger growth in Luck’s fundamentals and his approach to each and every game.

As for the defense, despite having some coaching continuity, the players are largely all new to everything about the Colts. How will the rookies and free agency additions respond to their new coaches? Will they work in concert as a unit simply because they are more talented? The questions will, and should, continue until we see them work together as a group.

In the defense’s case, the continuity is not there yet – it can’t be — but chemistry will have to grow quickly and effectively within this new-look crew to actually put the desired product on the field. It’s not unheard of by any means, but it also isn’t a given.

Just on the surface the Colts appear to be a better run defending unit. There’s really only one way to go from near the bottom of the league. Against the pass, the young skill is there as well. Again, learning the coverages and executing them are far more pertinent to the success of a secondary in the NFL than raw talent.

The Colts’ linebacker corps was pretty bad last year as well, but the injuries and inexperience combination that lives in that position will be one of the more interesting watches in camp this summer. By no means should Colts fans, or analysts, count all of the new pieces out at this point, or be completely dismissive of their potential. However, until the chemistry builds naturally and they can feed off each other to become efficient and successful within this scheme, it’s all up in the air.

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