A new Indianapolis Colts defense has completed three phases of installation with new coordinator Ted Monachino, who reiterated Tuesday the goal to field an attacking defense this season.
It’s not a new goal. His predecessor, Greg Manusky, wasn’t retained after four seasons because he failed to meet that objective in an 8-8 season that fell far short of lofty expectations. The Colts ranked 26th in total yards allowed, 25th in points allowed and tied for 22nd in sacks.
Continual questions have centered on the Colts’ pass rush, a necessity for the 3-4 scheme. As last year reminded, the plan unravels if opposing quarterbacks have too much time to throw. The Colts didn’t do much to bolster their roster in this area. Franchise sack leader Robert Mathis is 35 and entering the final year of his contract. Fellow outside linebacker Trent Cole accepted a $2 million pay cut to return after a three-sack season.
“We’ll attack in ways that everybody else does, but what we’re hopeful of is that our veteran players and our young, exciting, explosive players can have some impact on some games,” Monachino said. “We have, from an attacking standpoint, there are a lot of ways that we can do that. We can attack people in coverage. We can attack people in three, four, five and six-man rush. But I would expect when the season begins that you’ll see a team that plays really hard and plays well together, is fast and physical. If that’s what attacking means, that’s what I think you’ll see. That’s what I believe in.”
This is the most responsibility Monachino, 49, has had in 11 NFL seasons. A linebackers coach in Baltimore the previous six seasons, he’s been reunited with Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, a Ravens secondary coach in 2010 and defensive coordinator in 2011.
After the Colts conclude mini-camp Thursday, the players have 37 days before reporting to Anderson University for training camp on July 26. Monachino has given his players a lot to think about between now and then.
“The next 37 days, once they leave here, are going to be critical for a lot of our guys and how they take care of themselves and how they come back and we’re better when we report back to training camp than we are right now today,” he said. “They’ve got a list of things that they all got to work on and they’ll be held accountable to those things by their teammates and that’s the most important thing that we can do over the next 37 days.”
Aside from a few veteran players — including Mathis, inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis and Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams — most of the players must prove themselves to their new coordinator to earn snaps.
“There is plenty of opportunity out there,” Monachino said. “It’s a long game and there are plenty of packages and plenty of ways that we can use guys. Those that have dominant traits will find ways on to the field.”
An argument could be made that Manusky didn’t have enough playmakers to make his system work. If that’s true, Monachino could encounter the same headaches in his new job.
“What I came in with the idea of is I wanted to make sure that we were clean and that we were black and white and that we eliminated as much gray from the system as we could,” he said. “That doesn’t surprise me at all that we were able to accomplish that to a great extent. I think that there are an awful lot of things that I need to improve at from a daily standpoint. What does it take to be better in these phases each day? Those are all things that are works in progress but it’s not on the job training. I’m checking off boxes every day as I go through it.”
He spoke of needing to defend against today’s spread offenses and alluded to the Colts needing to be stronger in early downs to put themselves in advantageous down-and-distance situations. When an offense has manageable third downs, for example, that limits what a defense can do to prevent the chains from moving.
“We’ve got to be the masters of situational football as much as we can,” he said.
Offseason training activities have focused on players learning the terminology of a new playbook, a learning process that is ongoing and will continue in August.
“This offseason was a little bit different because of the transition, because of the time it took to get playbooks done, because of the time it took to get terminology honed in,” Monachino said. “I think that as we continue to move forward, we’ll spend more and more time doing that in the offseason.
“Right now what we’ve done to try to combat some of those things is we’ve got a system that carries a lot of variety, so we think that we can match up a lot of things that we like to do with things that people are going to dictate to us that they like to do.”
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