Much of the focus for the Indianapolis Colts has been to be faster, more instinctive, to raise the level of protection on the offensive line and to get the right players in to generate a significant pass rush. Being able to get that pass rush up to par, especially with the change in scheme, is one of the more intriguing areas for the Colts moving forward.
The group of pass rushers that Chris Ballard has already pulled in through the draft, with hopes of securing that aspect of the defense’s improvement, looks to be a fun aspect to watch in the coming years. A nice mix of youth and experience for now, but soon a couple of these pieces will be expected to be the new bookends to an explosive pressure machine the team hopes to have for years to come.
Colts great, and pass rush consultant Robert Mathis has become a centerpiece to the team in getting this young group along the defensive line into the backfield in order to re-direct the running game and drive quarterbacks nuts. Mathis spoke to Caroline Cann (of Colts.com) recently to get his take on a couple of those youthful pieces that the team, and fans alike, have such high hopes for.
Tarell Basham was thrust into an unfamiliar role as a 3-4 outside linebacker in his rookie season, but now enters a season in which he should be more at home in his role on the defense.
“I saw him at the Combine two years ago, and he is a natural 4-3 defensive end type guy. He’s more comfortable with his hand down, so it’s a smooth transition. Last year he was immature, and kind of wide-eyed so now he’s serious, more of business type of approach. He’s stepping up, and he’s turned the corner.”
With only 2 sacks in his rookie campaign, Basham won’t be expected to be much of a force against the run in the new scheme. Naturally, that was a similar look to what the Colts had with Mathis and Dwight Freeney. There wasn’t a focus on them to stop the ball carrier, rather to attack the quarterback first, then help out if possible.
Cann mentions that it was Mathis’ second season in the league in which he really began to stand out for the team, earning double-digit sacks and kicking off an amazing career in the league hunting quarterbacks. Most would be happy with Basham getting close to 10 sacks this season. If he can do that, this group of edge rushers will have a big jump in production in 2018, but will also affect the quarterback’s ability to get rid of the ball effectively.
“A lot of what I have to say, he takes to heart. He’s very humble, and he asks a lot of questions and he applies it.”
Forcing incompletions, interceptions and batted balls are as important to the role that Basham will be taking on as the season kicks off and be a big boost to the team’s improvement.
Mathis also had some important things to say about this year’s rookie pass rushers in Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay. Many are seeing the impact that Lewis can make as an interior pass rusher which is becoming increasingly important, and focused on in today’s game.
Between the two of them, Mathis is very encouraged by what he is seeing from them in camp thus far.
“Tyquan, he’s a polished guy, he’s still young and he’s learning a lot, but he’s very polished and a real professional.”
Lewis has the versatility to become an impact edge presence, but at the moment — and from what we’ve gained from his college tape — he looks to become the focus of creating mismatches among interior offensive linemen for the Colts. Lewis is strong, but his burst is going to be evident immediately for this retooling Colts’ defense.
“Turay, he’s exceptional. Has exceptional talent — rare, rare talent, he’s going to be very special. He has all of the tools. Size, strength, talent, speed, I mean everything. He check every box. I just want to help him put it all together.”
Turay completely fits the mold of what the Colts would like to see opposite Basham for the future of this defense. A guy who has great upfield burst, explosive hands and the speed to cross up offensive linemen as he gets more powerful throughout the season.
Turay also has the ability to drop in coverage which makes his current skills even more important. While he may be expected to be the future at defensive end, he has the length and spatial awareness to help out as a coverage backer in sub packages. Whether or not the Colts use him in that capacity will be determined during the season, but the ability is there and that’s a nice thing to show off as a rookie with a divers skillset.
We may not see Pro Bowl numbers this year from this trio of pass rushers, but acknowledging that the future has a bit of brightness to it is something Colts fans have been waiting to see since Freeney and Mathis were changing the league.