WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — DeForest Buckner has always enjoyed watching Gus Bradley’s defense.
It was Buckner’s successful plan in San Francisco that created Seattle’s plan for the Legion of Prosperity, and ultimately the plan that led the Raiders back to the playoffs last season.
So when Indianapolis hired Bradley as its new defensive coordinator, the Colts’ top defensive tackle was excited to start working with defensive planners. Buckner believes Bradley can turn the fledgling Colts defense into a championship-caliber team.
“We’re attacking head-on. We screwed things up and everyone else was pretty much cleaning things up behind us,” Buckner said in explaining the new philosophy. “I like it. It’s controlled chaos.”
It’s a slight but welcome adjustment for Buckner and other defensive linebackers.
Former defensive coordinator Matt Eberfroth wants his team to play fast, rally around the ball and hold each player accountable. The result: He was one of the league’s worst defensive players in 2017 and steadily leads the league into the top 10 in 2020.
After finishing second in the league with 33 takeaways last season in Indy, the Chicago Bears hired Eberflux as head coach.
When general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich started looking for a replacement, they wanted someone with a similar approach that could make the defense more efficient.
Bradley, 56, looks like a perfect fit. He likes to let defensive linemen relax instead of asking them to read and react.
But Reich made another move — hiring the affable John Fox as a senior defensive advisor. Fox has lost two Super Bowls as head coach, including a Seahawks defense in a February 2014 loss to Bradley.
“That’s what I appreciate about the way he approaches it, he’s just there to serve,” Reich said, referring to Fox. “I think it’s working well. Gus has done a fantastic job of leading the defense and advancing the defense and I think he and Fox are developing a great relationship”
They certainly own most of the works.
Buckner is a two-time Pro bowler and one of the league’s top inside forwards.Bradley and Fox also inherit perennial All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerback Kenny Moore II, who made his first Pro Bowl last season
Indy then acquired a key Bradley student, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, in a March trade, and added free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore. ), he was the NFL’s 2019 Defensive Player of the Year.
Suddenly, the Colts have five defensive players with Pro Bowl resumes and two coaches with Super Bowl pedigree and confidence.
“We can be very special,” Leonard said at the opening of training camp at Indy last week. “Nothing is going to be handed to us, we have to go out and prove it every week, that’s the end goal.”
Leonard, Indy’s defensive powerhouse, remains on the physically unavailable list due to back surgery in June. While he may not play in the preseason, his absence hasn’t hindered Indy’s defense.
While quarterback Matt Ryan has kept pace with a new offense, new teammates, and a new and largely unproven receiver, the defense has won many practice-range battles at Big Park.
Ngakoue often showed his speed on the edge, while Gilmore covered receivers and disrupted passes. Bradley liked the early impressions, especially in middle school.
“It’s a team that builds cohesion,” Bradley said. “As you know, Gilmore isn’t just a screen, but you have to be able to take him and play physically. To get to the level he’s done, that’s how he plays. I think it’s a big one for everybody. Great information.“
The most obvious difference is on the defensive line, where the Colts have struggled recently to produce a consistent pass rush.
Ngakoue is one of three active players to have at least eight sacks in six straight seasons. Only Buffalo linebacker Von Miller (seven) and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (eight) have longer winning streaks.
Plus, Ngakoue already knew Bradley’s system, which he worked on in Jacksonville and Las Vegas.
“The switch has to be flipped. Everyone there is for themselves,” Ngakoue said.
Indy wants Ngakoue on the perimeter and Buckner on the inside, both players will be more efficient, and the way they play will affect younger players like defensive end Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo.
Paye and Odeyingbo played some key games as rookies last season. A full and healthy offseason, more intense workouts and some new talent could help make them a more consistent playmaker in 2022 while giving the Colts another big step forward.
Buckner believes Bradley’s system can do just that.
“It’s going to be more like we’re in orbit, so we’re getting more vertical and more penetrating,” he said. “People really like the program. You’ll see us more in the backcourt. I’m excited.”
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