One thing can be said about Johnathan Hankins: he talks a big game.
Those are borderline insane claims for a defense that has been one of the very worst in the NFL over the last several years, but it’s simply the Colts’ new defensive tackle expressing confidence in his new team and teammates.
Head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t seem to be thrilled with Hankins’ comments, however, and he made it clear today: Hankins needs to back that talk up with his play on the field.
“If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to back it up,” Pagano said. “You put it out there, you better show up.”
Hankins last year played on one of the league’s best defenses with the Giants, but that doesn’t mean he’s joining one of the top defenses. Either way, Pagano realizes that it often doesn’t do much good. “Guys can use whatever they want to use, bulletin board material,” he said. “I don’t sit there and promote that. I don’t think any coach at any level promotes that. I just know that if you’re going to talk, you better walk it.”
The good news for the Colts is that Hankins is perfectly capable of backing up his talk with his play on the field too, as he has been very good in his NFL career so far. He has the potential to be a dominant nose tackle up front, and that’s precisely what the Colts need. It’s too early to tell anything about Hankins in OTAs, but Pagano does like his ability.
“Again, we’re in shorts. But he’s a good player,” Pagano said. “Smart and he’s strong. There are still double teams going on and stuff and I know we’re in soft gear and things like that. He’s a good player.”
It’s a good thing he has that talent, because he’s not backing down from that talk about the Colts’ defense possibly being one of the best.
“I think we got the right guys, some good weapons on defense, myself included,” he reiterated today. “Just got to put the work in and continue to grow and learn the defense.”
Again, that might sound ridiculous for a defense that last year was among the very worst in the league and among the worst in Colts franchise history. I doubt there are many people outside the building actually thinking that the Colts can have one of the top defenses, but Hankins - who knows a thing or two about playing for a top defense - sees plenty of reason for optimism with this Colts group.
“Just knowing what good defense is being a part of that with the Giants and just seeing the guys that we brought in and knowing them and having the right – we all have the right goal in mind as being one of the good defenses and getting to the ultimate goal which is winning the Super Bowl,” Hankins explained. “You have to set some high standards for yourself, and when you’re setting [them] for yourself, you actually keep it for other guys. Everybody has got a nice high standard and you have to work to it to get to it.”
It can be up for debate about what exactly makes a good defense, but Hankins thinks that it starts with being able to defend against the run.
“It starts from the beginning: stopping the run,” he said. “If you can do that, it helps a lot. I feel like we brought the right guys to come in and do it. I feel like, I’m confident that I can do that here, and with Jabaal [Sheard] and John Simon, I feel like we got the right guys to set the edge and get the job done in that area. And then pass rush is just something we’re just going to have to learn to develop together and just get a feel of each other.”
Hankins has proven to be a stout run defender during his time in the NFL, and that’s part of what helped him earn a big contract from the Colts this offseason. If he can help the team’s defense improve significantly, that money will be worth it. He’s talking a big game, and there is indeed reason to believe that this year’s defense will be much improved (if for no other reason than that it will hard for it to be worse). One thing is for sure, though: he’ll need to back up his talk with his play on the field.