Amidst all of the questions surrounding the Indianapolis Colts' pass rush this offseason, there's one constant: Robert Mathis.
Mathis is the longest-tenured Colt, entering his 14th season with the team. He's the franchise's all-time leader in sacks with 118 and their all-time leader in forced fumbles with 49. And in 2016, the Colts will be relying on Mathis as much as ever.
With questions about who else is going to step up, Mathis is still the premier player at the position and the main pass rush option. Last year, he managed to record seven sacks while working his way back from a torn Achilles that cost him his 2014 season, and he's hoping to improve upon that production despite his age (he's 35).
“If you just watch him running around obviously, he’s in tremendous shape right now," head coach Chuck Pagano said on Tuesday. "He doesn’t look his age, I’ll tell you that. So he feels really good and physically he’s in a great place. Mentally he’s in a great place and he’s doing a great job out there not only executing the defense and picking up the calls and the terminology but help mentoring the young players.”
He's now two years removed from his injury and says that he feels great. Last year, he was still working his way back from that injury and wasn't at 100% for the bulk of the season, yet still managed seven sacks. So now, the hope is that he can be even better in 2016 despite his age. For the Colts' sake, they need him to be.
“He’s taken tremendous care of his body and continues to do that daily," defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said last week. "He has a work ethic like – anybody that’s in this league that long, you have to have that work ethic. And he’s got a great supporting cast around him in his family and the people he trusts. What you’ll see with Rob is Rob has the dominant trait as a pass rusher, and we’ve got to make sure that he does that as often as possible, and when he knows that’s what we’re going to do with him, then he’ll continue to be excited about every third down. The more we can do it with him the better. Now, there are going to be times that we ask Rob to do some tough things that Rob isn’t really cut out for, but for us to be multiple enough and to have enough variety in the system, we’ve got to ask him to do some of those things. But we would prefer to have Robert going forward as often as possible.”
The Colts plan to have Robert Mathis rushing the passer as much as possible, and that fits both his skillset and the team's needs. They don't have many options, so sending Mathis after the quarterback is the best option for both sides - and it's something that Mathis is excited about in Monachino's defense.
"I do [like the changes I'm seeing]," Mathis said Tuesday. "A lot of rushing the passer.”
It's possible that Mathis' ability to do just that will be one of the key differences in a successful defense or a struggling one in 2016 for the Colts, as they're going to be relying heavily on him in that area.