- Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer
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You’ll take any kind of positive reinforcement you can get when you've finished in the bottom third of the league in the three major defensive categories -- pass, rush and total defense -- last season.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in practice against the first-team offense or in a preseason game.
A defensive stop on fourth down. Six sacks. An interception. No touchdowns. Nine points off four red zone trips.
“That’s exactly how we want to play,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said on a conference call on the team’s off day Monday. “We want to be a dominant defense. From day one, we talked about that and we’re going to do whatever we have to do to keep building, putting the pieces in place to be a dominant defense.”
Being one of the top defensive teams in the league is a foreign concept for the Colts. They’ve been ranked 20th or lower in overall defense seven times since 2000. Pagano wants them to be a top-five defensive team.
It’s not surprising the Colts struggled defensively last season. They switched from the 4-3 scheme used by the previous regime to Pagano’s 3-4 scheme.
Having players who buy into the system and those familiar with playing in it helps speed up the process.
That’s what general manager Ryan Grigson was looking for when they hit the free-agent market last offseason. They’ll likely have five new starters on defense this season.
“They’ve bought in, hook, line and sinker and believe and trust the scheme and the calls and their coaches,” Pagano said. “So when you get everybody on the same page like that and you start having success from a confidence standpoint, you can see the level of play will just continue to go up week in and week out.”
There will be moments where the Colts struggle defensively.
“We’re going to keep working to eliminate the big play, the chunk plays in the run and pass game,” Pagano said. “Again, doing what they did down in the red zone, anytime you can keep somebody out of the end zone, force field goals and play the way they played down there, we’re going to be a damn good defense.”
The Colts have yet to have their projected starting lineup practice together.
Free safey LaRon Landry has been out the past two weeks with a knee injury and linebacker Pat Angerer just started practicing last week. The goal is for both players to play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Colts will be lethal on offense. It’s up to the defense to try to keep pace.
“We feel proud that we’re becoming the defense we want to become,” defensive end Cory Redding said. “That’s aggressive, strong, confident and playing together in this framework of a defense.”