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Remembering former Colts defensive line and pass rush coach John Teerlinck

While the Indianapolis Colts of the 2000s were primarily known as Peyton Manning’s team, there was another identity worthy of considerable recognition. What could be more devastating to an opponent than to face a strong likelihood of trailing at some point in every game because Manning and his offense were so dominant only to feed right into the strength of the Colts defensive line — speed and relentless pass rush ability?

The primary architect of the defensive line’s effectiveness, particularly rushing the passer, was defensive line coach and pass rush specialist John Teerlinck. He coached in Indianapolis from 2002-2012, a period where the Colts defensive line was considerably smaller than most lines around the league and also much faster.

Robert Mathis had 123 career sacks, 91.5 of those came during Teerlinck’s tenure with the Colts. Dwight Freeney had 125.5 career sacks and 102.5 of those came in Indianapolis, every season under Teerlinck. Raheem Brock added 28.5 sacks from 2002-2009, and Montae Reagor had 13 sacks from 2002-2006. Here are some relevant team defense numbers during his tenure:

2002: 2nd ranked pass defense 182.3 YPG

2003: 5th ranked pass defense 175.6 YPG

2004: 28th ranked pass defense 243.2 YPG

2005: 15th ranked pass defense 196.9 YPG

2006: 2nd ranked pass defense 159.2 YPG

2007: 2nd ranked pass defense 172.8 YPG

2008: 6th ranked pass defense 188.1 YPG

2009: 14th ranked pass defense 212.7 YPG

2010: 13th ranked pass defense 214.6 YPG

2011: 15th ranked pass defense 227 YPG

2012: 21st ranked pass defense 236.8 YPG

In 9 of 11 seasons, the Colts pass defense was ranked in the top half of the league. This was due in part to generating consistent pressure from the front four and speeding up opposing quarterbacks. It is fair to note that the Colts run defense was typically in the bottom half of the league over that stretch, though it wasn’t as bad statistically as some might remember. In fact, the worst season for the defense against the run was in 2006 — the year they won the Super Bowl.

By comparison, here are the Colts pass defense rankings since Teerlinck left.

2013: 13th

2014: 12th

2015: 24th

2016: 27th

2017: 28th

2018: 16th

2019: 23rd

Granted, much of Teerlinck’s tenure included the Hall of Fame worthy pass rush duo of Freeney and Mathis, which will go down as a historic pairing. After they moved on or retired, or simply started to trail off due to age, things got much more challenging. Still, these players were impacted considerably by his teaching and it certainly had a positive impact on their careers and the effectiveness of the Colts defensive front as a whole.

All told, Teerlinck has played a role in the development and careers for seven players who had at least 100 career sacks. Two of those players, Chris Doleman and John Randle, have been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. John Randle respected Teerlinck so much he had him present for his Hall of Fame induction.

Many reading this story may not know that Randle wasn’t drafted and didn’t play for a power five school. Many of those same readers likely don’t remember that Robert Mathis was a fifth round draft pick out of Alabama A&M. It is legitimate to acknowledge that these players wouldn’t have become Hall of Fame talents without their own drive and all-world athleticism. It is just as legitimate to note that Teerlinck didn’t require a defensive line full of first round draft picks to be effective and pressuring the quarterback.

Our condolences go out to the Teerlinck family and to his extended football family. He was a great man and more than just a football coach. If any positional coach belongs in the Hall of Fame and in the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor, Teerlinck certainly does.

RIP coach April 9, 1951 - May 10, 2020.