After considerable offseason reshaping, the Colts hope to have an improved defense this season, and they’ve looked the part in training camp so far. When asked about whether this group is more talented than the 2012 team, defensive end Cory Redding answered carefully, saying, “I think we have the body size and the right type of people for the system.” With the system the Colts are running, that body size thing might strike a chord with some Colts fans. (more after the jump)
Let’s use our imagination for a moment and drift into the not-so-distant past. It’s late in the fourth quarter. The heavily favored Indianapolis Colts trail by less than a touchdown. Their high-octane, record-breaking offense watches helplessly from the sideline, where they’ve been forced to spend the majority of the game.
The defense needs one third down stop, and the team undoubtedly will add to its list of heroic comebacks. But the stop never comes, as the opposing offense imposes their will, crushing the middle of the smaller Colts defense – and their spirit – for first down after clock-killing first down. Far away, a young Josh Chapman eats a slice of pizza and heads to the weight room. Okay (snaps fingers), back to the present.
Is this version of the Colts defense better than those past undersized units or last year’s group for that matter? It’s tough to say, but one thing is for certain: They are bigger. Excessively large. Indianapolis’s base 3-4 has some serious bulk in the middle, including the all-important nose tackle position, where Aubrayo Franklin and Josh “The Boss” Chapman will take turns trying to draw double teams and make their teammates look good.
Indianapolis wants to be the one dictating the pace of the game, forcing teams to pass against a heavy rush, even when the Colts are down (Let’s hope it works that way).
How important is that size along the defensive line? “It’s huge. It’s huge,” said Redding. “We, up front, the main emphasis is to absorb people. You don’t really want to have a 260 or 270 guy down on the front line that’s going to get ate up. You want big 300-pound guys demanding two so you keep the linebackers free.
“You want them to make the plays. If you come off, and beat your guy and you make tackle, yes that’s a plus. Great for you, but that really wasn’t your play to make. That’s the linebacker’s play. We have to eat up two guys if we can every single play to keep our linebackers free. If you so happen to get off and make a play, that’s excellent. That’s pretty much what it’s all about.”
My observations from practice:
These will be brief, as Kyle Rodriguez soon will have some notes from the same practice where he definitely noticed several of the same things.
Chapman Watch: I was sitting next to Tyler Brooke of Bleacher Report, who observed that NT Josh Chapman looks like a guy who enjoys a good burger from time to time. In all seriousness, Chapman isn’t just big. He’s excessively strong, and it’s great to see him on the field.
Fleeeeeenerrrrrrr: This just in – Coby Fleener is a monster. He sure doesn’t look like a rookie any more.
Scapegoat No More? Cornerback Cassius Vaughn picked off a pass in a late drill and took it to the house. Vaughn has solid 4.4 speed and a 38.5-inch vertical leap, but he struggled last year despite his athletic giftedness. There’s a reason why the coaches like this guy. He might not have the potential of Vontae Davis, but if he has improved on the fundamental side and can get himself into the right position, fans could find themselves saying much kinder things about Vaughn in 2013.
Tower of Terror (No, not the Disney ride): All around, people were noticing Caesar Rayford. The 6’ 7” OLB and former Utah Blaze star was very disruptive when he was on the field. This guy can get into some backfields. He averaged around 7 sacks per year in the AFL, a league completely dominated by quarterbacks. Most likely, he would have to beat out Lawrence Sidbury, who’s been no slouch himself, to make the roster, but Rayford is not going to make it an easy decision for the coaching staff.
Good Hands: T.Y. Hilton made some amazing catches. He played on the outside more than usual, since Darrius Heyward-Bey sat out of the 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills, and he looked like a legitimate outside receiver. I know it’s only training camp, but it was certainly possible for the diminutive receiver to struggle spending so much time out of the slot. It didn’t happen. T.Y. continued his run of very impressive play.
Even Better Hands: The most exciting catch of the night, and there were some great ones, actually belonged to the camera guy behind the north endzone, who made a sweet grab on a particularly high Adam Vinatieri field goal (the one right before bounced hard off his scissor lift), bringing the ball down with one hand to the crowd’s delight. Okay, it’s not really a football observation, but it was certainly a highlight.
Dwayne Allen Finishing School
Many NFL players don’t have actual college degrees. Sometimes a player on track for a degree will leave school early for a shot at the NFL. This certainly is understandable, since an injury the following year could crush their dreams for ever, and even a single season making six digits should more than pay for another year or two of college.
One such former underclassmen draftee is tight end Dwayne Allen, who apart from looking solid in training camp, is working on his health science degree from Clemson. “I am working on finishing it,” Allen said yesterday. “I am three hours away, one class away which I’ll take this fall. It’s a Research Methods Class so it shouldn’t be too hard but that was important to me. I knew that leaving school with a semester left that I wanted to complete that as soon as possible and the opportunity presented itself this offseason so I went back, did seven hours during the spring semester, took a summer class and going to take one class in the fall to finish up.”
Allen will graduate in December and said he will be the first in his family to earn a college degree. As far as comparing it to playing in the NFL, Allen said, “Definitely up there with my first NFL touchdown. I feel like being a college graduate, it will be over that, being honest, because that’s a huge accomplishment and not a lot of people do that especially where I come from.”
Congratulations in advance, Mr. Allen.
All quotes are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts PR Department.
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Smash mouth this, and stop the run that. I will just be happy to have a defense that I don't have to hold my hands over my eyes like a little kid when the other team is on the 5 yard line. It's almost a "Here comes another score." moment every time they are any number and goal.
Cassius Vaughn was not good last year, at all. But if Tim Jennings can go from whipping-boy nickleback to All-Pro, absolutely anything can happen. So I guess I'll hold out hope.
Your opening paragraph led me to remember...
September 23, 2009, a humid Monday night in Miami.
Time of Possession: Colts 14:53 Dolphins 45:07
Plays Run: Colts 35 Dolphins 84
Final Score: Colts 27 Dolphins 23
(The most amazzing and frustrating game I've ever witnessed.)
Very promising news to read the "good hands" note on T.Y.
And although I was under the impression that #chapnado was the 'unofficial official' nickname for Chapman, I prefer "the Boss". A bit more timeless - I could see an 80's NBA-style poster with that.
@ColtsHead_Ben I think it's possible. He had some good moments even good games interspersed between the horribleness. Like all the CB the question is on of consistently playing well more than anything else.
I remember that thing. It reminded me of a 2000 playoff loss to the Dolphins....except for the part where the Colts actually, improbably, won the game.
I still remember Garçon's long TD on a screen pass, just as I started to say, "I hate WR screens.
Yeah, I like chapnado too. Makes him sound like a SyFy network movie about a top secret experiment gone wrong. But "The Boss" is Chapman's twitter handle. I suspect he picked that name up a long time ago.
TY was an absolute machine yesterday. I hope he's going to be that sure handed in games. He has a self imposed running penalty for drops. Hasn't had to do much running.
Seems like its a lot of mental stuff with him. One of the guys on the podcast pointed out that a lot of the times when he was in the right position last year, he wouldn't get his hands up in time. He sure has the athletic ability to get it right if he works at it, IMO.
And the first play of the game was an 80 yard TD pass to Dallas Clark. Book ended by the play you mentioned, and it seemed like those were the only two plays the Colts ran... and yet they won.
@MarcusDugan Hilton never struck me as a bad hands catcher at all. It was to do with rawness and concentration more than anything. With a year under his belt, there's no reason he can't get 65 percent of his targets at least.
@BrianKlassCatfish against Megatron just wasn't fair. They didn't lend any help for Vontae on the guy either. So the last staff ignored the run, which was fine except when we trailed in close games; and the new staff forgets they can double team super star receivers and give some safety help over the top.
I do hope Catfish and the gang have a better year. A stronger pass rush would make a big difference, not leaving anyone out in coverage for too long.
@MarcusDugan Used to be out on catfish island everyone got a catch. Hopefully that has changed this year. I think Vaughn is fo' sho' a nickel package cornerback. Not someone you want starting against Megatron at all.
Last year was a roller coaster ride of "I like Vaughn." Then, "Oh I like Butler." Then "Wow Vontae Davis got good!' Followed by "Wait, what's leukemia?" Hopefully there is a little bit of consistency with Davis, Toler, Butler, and Vaughn.
@MarcusDugan Rolling overages would help too. I remember the Lions game where they left him one on one with Johnson for a good chunk of the game. To no one's surprise he got destroyed. Why they did that I have no idea.
Unless they make the poor neck-bearded kid hand off on first and second down all year, I'm not worried.
The thing is on defense, even though stopping the run is less important than stopping the far more effective passing game, it should not be ignored, as it was for many years and playoff losses here in the Circle City.
As far as time of possession, it does typically correlate with wins, but often because the team with the lead is trying to hold the ball. So, I agree it isn't necessary for wins, but it can help preserving leads -- as long as we don't revert to some horrid, unwatchable, three yards and a cloud of dust offense.
@ColtsHead_Ben @DougEngland I think that game right there highlights to the problem with trying to "control the tempo of the game" with a running game a good defense. The most important thing is to score efficiently. The Dolphins utterly dominated ToP, but the Colts won.
Everyone here and over on Stamped Blue is talking about the 49ers and Ravens as though they proved that smashmouth running and running defense wins championships. Both those teams are known for that, but if you actually look and their stats in the playoffs over on CHFF both their passing games came alive, particularly the Ravens.
@DougEngland They had I think only six or seven drives, and had four TDs and a field goal. That kind of production makes TOP almost totally irrelevant.
@ColtsHead_Ben I'm a bit late here, but I'll buy that. I keep hearing all these accounts of him looking truly legit in camp, and to finally see him practice...The guy was reeling in every ball that flew anywhere near him.