Robert Mathis sounds confident, regardless of concerns from outside the locker room about the Indianapolis Colts’ pass rush.
After the Colts didn’t draft a pass rusher, the team’s all-time sack leader was asked if he took that as a vote of confidence?
“No, I just take it as they trust me to do my job, and I trust them to do their job,” Mathis said during recent offseason workouts. “We’re all one team.”
But it’s a fair question to ask, is it not? The Colts didn’t retain most of the defensive coaches, including coordinator Greg Manusky, after the defense ranked 26th in total yards allowed and tied for 22nd in sacks.
“Media, they feel a certain way and we feel a certain way, too,” Mathis said.
The Colts have shifted reserve defensive end Earl Okine to outside linebacker, but other than that, it’s the same group of pass rushers minus Jonathan Newsome, who led the team in sacks as a rookie in 2014 but was recently released after a marijuana possession arrest.
Of course, the Colts have to say they are confident they can get the job done, although the numbers suggest it’s a valid concern entering 2016.
Outside linebacker Trent Cole, who had just three sacks last season, basically dismissed the question about if the team has what it takes to get after the quarterback.
“Oh yeah, there’s guys in this locker room who can get after the quarterback,” Cole said. “There’s no doubt about that. All you’ve got to do is look at the roster.”
This confident perspective comes from a veteran who accepted a pay cut in the offseason to return for his second season with the Colts. Cole had his base salary reduced $2.25 million, money he can earn back by reaching performance incentives. Those include $500,000 if he gets nine sacks, $750,000 for 11 sacks or $1 million for 13 sacks.
The 12th-year pro hasn’t had more than eight sacks since 2011. Again, the lingering questions about his ability to rush the passer as well as the Colts’ apparent lack of depth in this area would seem to be more than justified.
New defensive coordinator Ted Monachino was asked this week about the pass rush. Because the only thing that has really changed is the defensive coaching staff, the implied message is that better coaching will produce more favorable results.
“There’s no question that Robert still has a dominant trait as a pass rusher,” Monachino said of Mathis, who has 118 career sacks in 13 seasons. “We’ve got him and Trent and Erik (Walden) and even some of our young pass rushers that we have brought in have that potential to win on their own.
“From the defensive line standpoint, I think what you see are guys that can win in short space. We give them an opportunity to do that with some movement. We can expect some production out of that group. But I think across the league, you’ll see that most of the productive rushes come outside on those tackles. That’s where it happens, but the more push we can gain inside, the better Robert and Trent and Erik and Earl and those guys will look outside.”
Mathis, 35, said he didn’t feel like his old self in returning from an Achilles tendon tear until about Week 12 last season. He finished with seven sacks, all but one of those after he regained his starting job and started the last 10 games.
It’s fair to suggest that if Mathis is the six-time Pro Bowl pass rusher of old, he will inevitably command double teams. That puts the onus on everyone else.
And, shudder the thought, but what if something happens to Mathis? His Achilles tendon tear aside, he’s been a physical marvel to last this long in a stellar career. He made it back after 10 surgeries, so there’s no questioning his determination.
But sometimes the unexpected occurs, the bodies of older players remind these stars that they are human. The Colts don’t have a lot of proven talent in their younger pass rushers.
Asked if he was surprised the Colts didn’t draft a pass rusher for him to groom, Mathis said, “No, it’s their job and my job is to get to the quarterback.”
At the very least, much is riding on the Colts’ defensive leader.
“I don’t doubt our abilities,” Mathis said.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.