They understood the primary objective when they joined the Indianapolis Colts.
Coaches preached the importance of stopping the run first, which rookies Henry Anderson and David Parry have done modestly well through five games. Anderson, a third-round choice, had to shift from his natural 3-4 defensive end position to defensive tackle due to Arthur Jones being lost to a season-ending injury, but he has 25 tackles, tied for fourth on the team. Parry, a fifth-round selection, has made 10 tackles at nose tackle.
The next test will be their biggest challenge yet.
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots visit Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday night. Anderson and Parry were at Stanford in January when the Patriots ran through the Colts for 177 rushing yards in a 45-7 AFC Championship Game rout at Foxborough, Mass. Running back LeGarrette Blount had 148 yards and three TDs. The postseason before that, the Patriots ran for 234 yards in a 43-22 AFC Divisional playoff rout over the visiting Colts. Blount had 166 rushing yards and four TDs in that game.
New England (4-0) is sure to test the Colts (3-2) on the ground. Anderson, Parry and defensive end Kendall Langford represent a complete makeover up front for the Colts, who have allowed 112 rushing yards per game, which ranks 19th. The Patriots lead the NFL in total offense at 423.8 yards per game, much of that the result of the league's No. 1 passing offense at 331.2 yards per game. But make no mistake, the Patriots can grind it out.
Blount and Dion Lewis have combined for five rushing TDs. Lewis averages 5 yards per carry while Blount averages 4.7.
While the Colts overall run defense ranking is one spot worse than last season, this unit has a league-high 25 tackles for loss. So there has been some improvement.
"Every week, that's our mind-set going into the game, to stop the run," Anderson said. "Force them to be one-dimensional, then drop back in pass and let our pass rushers get after the quarterback."
Both Anderson and Parry each have one sack, too, but the Colts' pass rush has been suspect with just six sacks in five games. That's a problem when going against any NFL quarterback, let alone four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady.
In the past, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has added an extra offensive linemen to play smashmouth football in piling up the rushing yards. If the Colts have figured out a way to stop that, there's still the matter of dealing with a quarterback who gets rid of the football as quickly as any in the game.
But first things first. Can the Colts stop the Patriots' run?
Parry and Anderson sound like humble rookies when they say they watch the film each week and are just trying to get better. There's no disputing they've had fun playing together again. Eyebrows raised when Parry won the nose-tackle job at the end of preseason and former starter Josh Chapman was released. But Parry has proven to be agile with a relentless motor.
"It feels good every time we go out there and hold a running back to under 100 yards," Parry said. "But it's not just us three up front. It's the guys rotating in on the D-line, it's D'Qwell Jackson and all the linebackers, the safeties and the DBs. It's an 11-man effort."
Jackson leads the NFL with 58 tackles. He's the Colts' leader, and has said the memory of that January loss drives him. How he and his teammates respond Sunday night is one of the game's biggest questions.
"In college, there's always a guy or two on the O-line that was a little bit smaller that you could kind of go after," Anderson said. "You try to line up on him every play because you know you can beat 'em.
"The NFL is obviously a lot different than that. Everyone's big and strong. You wake up a little more sore that morning after the game. It's tough to find weaknesses and it's tough to wiggle through holes that you might have been able to wiggle through in college. It's a little bit harder out there."
The Stanford teammates are enjoying the challenge so far.
"I don't think a lot of guys play football if they're not having fun," Anderson said. "It is a job and it's tough work, but we try to have fun doing it."
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.