Having looked at what the Colts need on offense last week, it's now time to take a look on the defensive side of the ball.
General Manager Ryan Grigson drafted just two defensive players last year – nose tackle Josh Chapman and outside linebacker Tim Fugger – and neither saw playing time in 2012. Chapman ended the year on injured reserve whilst Fugger didn't even make the 53 man roster.
And whilst defensive coordinator Greg Manusky did a good job with a lack of talent, the emphasis will be on building a strong defense for Chuck Pagano to work with.
The transition to a 3-4 defense featured some players that weren't natural scheme fits, so the recruitment policy on defense will revolve around bringing in players familiar with the 3-4 alignment, and here are plenty of positions on defense where the Colts need help.
The key to a 3-4 defense is a solid nose tackle – something the Colts don't currently have. Regular starter Antonio Johnson was mostly ineffective in the role and is set to hit free agency, whilst last year's free agency signing Brandon McKinney was placed on Injured Reserve during pre-season, and we don't know whether he will return to the team in 2013. There is plenty of hope for aforementioned draft pick Chapman, who Grigson regularly praised despite his absence. Chapman earned a reputation at Alabama for being the best run stopper in college football, and only slipped to the 5th round because of an injury. Regardless, the Colts would be well served to add an experienced nose tackle in case Chapman can't overcome his injury, or bring McKinney back for another year.
The defensive line needs some work doing, as seen at nose tackle. At defensive end, there are plenty of questions but very few answers. Cory Redding performed well at the start of the season, but he's 32 in 2013 and it showed, as Redding consistently struggled with injuries in 2012. Fili Moala looked more at home in a 3-4 scheme, but he's set to become a free agent, and with a disappointing body of work since he was drafted out of USC in 2009, there's no guarantee that he will return. 2011 draft pick Drake Nevis ended the year on Injured Reserve for the second consecutive year, raising major questions over his long term reliability, whilst Ricardo Mathews, Lawrence Guy and Clifton Geathers were only rotational options. Adding an interior pass rusher to the defensive line will be high on the list of priorities, and there are plenty of good options in the draft.
One of the big problems for the Colts in 2012 was that they failed to generate a consistent pass rush. As a result of the 3-4 switch, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had to adapt to standing up, rather than having their hands in the dirt, which they had been doing since entering the league. Mathis performed fairly well, but Freeney struggled both with performances and injury. Outside of those two, the Colts saw limited production from Jerry Hughes and Jamaal Westermann. With Freeney almost certainly about to leave the team, adding another pass rushing option at outside linebacker.
We all knew the problems in the Colts' secondary before the season started. Grigson made an aggressive move to improve the cornerback position by trading for Vontae Davis from the Miami Dolphins, giving up a 2nd round pick in the process. Davis was performing at a high level in the final weeks of the season, but the play from everyone else at the position was well below par. Jerraud Powers was placed on Injured Reserve for the third season in a row, but was struggling to impress in a press-man coverage scheme. This left Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler to start, and whilst both had their moments, they weren't good enough to be confident with in the future.
Tom Zbikowski was simply a disappointment having arrived from Baltimore with Pagano. There were too many missed tackles and he was just ineffectual in all facets of the game, raising the possibiltiy of a new safety being brought in. According to Jason LaCanfora, many people around the league believe that another Ravens Safety will follow Pagano to Indianapolis – 34 year old Ed Reed. This move would most likely see Antoine Bethea move to Strong Safety, with Reed playing Free Safety, as he has done throughout his glittering career. Whether such a move comes to fruition is yet to be seen, but even an ageing Ed Reed looks like an upgrade over Zbikowski.