INDIANAPOLIS – One of the first things Chuck Pagano did to help install his 3-4 defense in Indianapolis was to phone a friend in Baltimore, Cory Redding.
Pagano wanted to import Redding to play and tutor the new scheme. It was a bargain for both.
"We got what we wanted from Cory, and then some," said Pagano. "Cory is a leader on and off the field. He did a great job in the locker room, along with other guys we brought from Baltimore. When you make the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 from a terminology and technique standpoint, he did a great job of helping the guys, especially the younger ones who hadn't been exposed to what they were seeing or hearing.
"Cory's a very, very unselfish guy. On the field, he was solid, but he was a leader in the locker room and in meeting rooms. I can't say enough good things about Cory. He was voted captain by his peers, and that pretty much sums up everything about him."
Redding espoused in training camp the team would be defending every blade of grass. There were spurts in 2012 when it happened but like many times with a new system, inconsistency bubbled up, too.
For the five times opponents were held under 100 rushing yards, there were as many times they topped 150. Creating turnovers was a challenge, yet there were times the defense held in the clutch and allowed the offense to produce seven comeback wins.
"We accomplished a lot with it being the first year in the defense. Expecting everyone to get it right away and compete at the highest level (was a challenge)," said Redding. "To go as far as we did – the playoffs – I think we did some tremendous things.
"There is room for corrections and to get better. We need more pressure on the quarterback. Stopping the run is first and foremost. On the second level, our blitzes from the linebacker area (could improve). From the corners and secondary, we want to defend every ball in the air and eliminate (some things). There is plenty of room to improve."
Redding saw the defense prosper in Baltimore. He sees components in place here, too.
"I think (the young guys) did fairly well. It was frustrating at times," said Redding. "Once they got the system, we'd throw two or three more plays down their throats and ask them to get it right away. They had to learn all over again.
"Drake (Nevis) got hurt and couldn't contribute as much as he wanted to. He showed flashes of playing the style the 3-4 requires. Fili (Moala) did as well. He was making tackles, flying all over the place, being stout against the run and then he got hurt. All the young guys stepped up, even guys like Robert Mathis coming off the edge. We did well for our first year."
Redding started 14 games, producing 46 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. The line was in a state of flux with injuries. The line had seven different starters, with late arrivers like Martin Tevaseu, Clifton Geathers and Lawrence Guy being added and thrust into action.
Part of what bonds a team occurs away from the field. Redding was a bonding agent in Indianapolis with a tactic he used in Baltimore.
"We had all the big names and big stars (in Baltimore), but Cory came in and made a difference," said Pagano. "We didn't have the cornhole game in Baltimore, but one day the guys came in and there it was. There were two burnt orange Texas Longhorn cornhole boards, and Cory brought it there. He brought a lot of things with him, but he brought that.
"We had a tight locker room and a close-knit family, and he galvanized it even more just with something as simple as that game. Before you knew it, everyone on the team was playing. They had tournaments. It's sounds silly, but it tightened us up even more than before, and we already had been close."
Cornhole happened here, too, and Redding emerged as an unquestioned leader in every regard.
"We competed. We made the best of our situation," said Redding. "I felt like I contributed in ways my team needed me – vocally and by example. That's why they elected me as a captain."
Pagano got exactly what he wanted in Redding, style and substance.
"His motor never stops running," said Pagano. "He's an emotional guy on the field. I've seen guys who can make a lot of noise, but don't make any noise where they need to (on the field). Cory's play matches his motivation style. He's all hat, all cattle."
Pagano is fond of saying, "The sky is the limit," when referring to a player. Redding says the defense will aim higher.
"Beyond the sky is space, the galaxy. We're trying to go through the Milky Way (laughs)," said Redding. "We can do so many things. We've just hit the tip of the iceberg of what truly this defense can be. We didn't live up to our expectations last year. We didn't meet certain goals that we set. That gives us something to work harder for this year. We can do better. We're always looking to improve. That's what we're going to do."
Moala played in eight games before an ACL injury ended his season. He had 21 stops prior to the injury. Nevis started three of nine appearances before landing on injured reserve. He can play at end and tackle. Brandon McKinney, like Redding, joined the Colts from Baltimore. A knee injury prior to the season landed McKinney on injured reserve, and he should be ready for training camp. Josh Chapman, a fifth-round pick in 2012, should be ready later this year after missing his rookie season with a knee rehabilitation that was known prior to him being selected.
Ricardo Mathews added 22 in 16 appearances.
Tevaseu joined the club off waivers for the start of the year and appeared in 13 games. Geathers and Guy joined later in the year and found playing time with the rash of injuries. They added sacks in the season-ending win over Houston. Kellen Heard played in the final three games. Geathers was traded to Philadelphia in March.
Ricky Jean Francois, 6-3, 295, joined the Colts as an unrestricted free agent from San Francisco.
In 2012, Jean Francois played in 16 games for the third consecutive season and tallied career highs in tackles (51) and sacks (2.0). He capped the regular season registering 21 tackles (13 solo) and 2.0 sacks in the final three games, while adding five stops in team's run to Super Bowl XLVII. Jean Francois was a seventh-round pick by the 49ers in 2009 and has started five-of-51 games, totaling 106 tackles, 54 solo, 3.0 sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Aubrayo Franklin, 6-1, 315, joined the Colts as an unrestricted free agent from San Diego. Franklin has started 79-of-126 career games and has 431 tackles, eight passes defensed, 4.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception. He started nine-of-12 games last year and had 23 stops.
Franklin was a fifth-round of Baltimore in 2003, appearing in 36 games in four seasons. He opened 60-of-62 games with San Francisco from 2007-10, amassing 312 stops and three sacks. He had 88 tackles and two sacks in 2009. He opened 16 games for New Orleans in 2011 before joining San Diego last year.