1. Draft players and put them in positions to succeed
This part isn’t difficult. The Seattle Seahawks showed how to do it by taking a bunch of guys that nobody wanted, putting them in positions to use their skillsets and hiding their shortcomings. Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman were fifth round picks, but clear plans for their usage were drawn up, and that’s great drafting and coaching.
Conversely, the Colts drafted a 4-3 defensive end who had never really played linebacker before and wanted him to become the new 3-4 pass rusher. Bjoern Werner was highly regarded at Florida State, but he had no experience of playing in space. He won with his hand in the dirt, his snap anticipation and getting after the quarterback. Now though, Werner is expected to cover and move in space from a stand-up position, which simply isn’t where he wins.
You could also make a case that Coby Fleener was misused in his rookie season as more of an in-line tight end, but it’s key that the Colts have a plan for their rookies and now how to correctly utilise them – because it felt like they didn’t really know last year.
2. Take risks in the late rounds
LaVon Brazill, Justin Anderson, Tim Fugger, Chandler Harnish, John Boyett, Kerwynn Williams, Justice Cunningham. Those are the Colts’ sixth and seventh round picks from the last two drafts. Only two remain with the team – Brazill on the active roster and Harnish on the practice squad.
Most people may look at those late round picks as fliers anyway – I mean, how many sixth or seventh round prospects stick around in the league? Well, it’s often where the talented but damaged players fall to in the draft. In 2012 I was screaming at the TV for Grigson to take Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who slipped having punched a police offer, and Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Both were immensely talented players with some off-field issues, but have put those behind them to become very good players in the NFL.
Hopefully the potential we saw in Da’Rick Rogers – who was also a player with off-field concerns – will tempt Grigson into using those picks on some players who fall, as a respected coach like Chuck Pagano could be able to get them back on the right path.
3. Disruption is production
Can’t say this enough. Outside of Robert Mathis, who do the Colts have that can consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks? Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden combined for just 37 quarterback hurries combined last season, whereas Robert Mathis had 47 on his own. But additionally, the defensive line failed to create consistent pressure, with Ricky Jean Francois contributing just nine quarterback hurries – now, I know that in a 3-4 defense, the down linemen have more of a responsibility to stop the run – but when you see that Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints had 57 hurries and 12.5 sacks as a 3-4 defensive end, it shows that those linemen can be counted upon for regular pass rushing ability, and that’s without even mentioning what JJ Watt has done in Houston.
To win the AFC, the Colts will seemingly have to knock off the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots. Both teams have exceptional quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady respectively, but the key to beating them is to get pressure up the middle. At 37 and 36 years of age, they don’t want to thrown off their base and have to scramble, because they simply don’t have the athleticism to do that. As a result, the Colts need to consider this and in such, look to bring in a defensive lineman who can push the pocket, or pass rushing specialist lineman to use on third down. Even if the pressure doesn’t lead to stats, it can force mistakes and poor decisions – disruption is production.