INDIANAPOLIS – Attrition last year in the Colts' secondary came at left corner and free safety where 13 combined starts were lost by Greg Toler and LaRon Landry.
Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler combined for nine starts for Toler, while Butler opened once in a three-corner set and Delano Howell opened three times in Landry's absence.
Sixteen-game stalwarts Vontae Davis and Antoine Bethea took different off-season paths. Davis re-upped with the club, while Bethea departed in free agency.
The club's last line of defense will look different this year with Howell, Sergio Brown, Corey Lynch and possibly Colt Anderson vying to fill in at strong safety.
Davis is the senior member in the secondary, arriving in a 2012 trade one month before Butler signed, and the Colts re-signed Butler, an UFA, prior to last year.
Butler has led the team with four interceptions each year and was pleased with his 2013 performance.
"It was a good season. I took strides in the right direction. I stepped up at the end of the season and started some games. I feel like I played well. I took steps in my individual progression, and we took steps as a team. It was good all around."
Butler opened the last five games at left corner, plus opened at New England in the playoffs when Toler re-aggravated a groin in the Wild Card playoffs.
"After being drafted and having two years in New England and a so-so year in Carolina, I stepped into my first year here in Indy, learned things on the run and still played well. I stayed relatively healthy and this past year played 18 games and made some plays.
"I feel things are slowing down. I'm comfortable with my scheme and coaches. I'm looking for to taking more positive steps this year as an individual and for the team."
Butler is one of nine Colts with three-plus scoring interception returns. They have come in a dramatically fewer number of games than the others, and his eight swipes in the last two years tie the fifth-most in the league.
"He's one of those 'Johnny-on-the-spot' guys, and it's not by luck," said Chuck Pagano. "Darius puts a lot of time in. He studies the game. He's a very bright player. He knows the opponent inside and out on Sunday.
"Darius has good ball skills, good instincts and gets a jump on things. Because of his preparation, he has a good feel for how people are going to attack us."
Butler had three takeaways at Jacksonville in 2012, one shy of the franchise individual single-game mark in the Indianapolis era. His 11-yard TD interception broke open that game, while a 32-yarder at Kansas City that year provided an early margin in a 20-13 win.
Butler's 41-yarder at Jacksonville in week four last year was the game's first touchdown and helped spur a 37-3 triumph.
"He's got it whittled down, especially playing the nickel position on third downs and playing outside but especially inside based on down-and-distance, the personnel and formation, he has it down to two or three things they're going to do," said Pagano. "He's usually in the right spot because of his preparation."
Butler's theory on why big plays happen matches Pagano's claim.
"It's a combination of things. I take more pride than ever before in my career in preparing and being ready," said Butler. "I am not only doing that for myself but making sure all the guys in the secondary are on the same page, we're all seeing the same things, playing the same coverages and that we're comfortable with the calls.
"The nickelback for the most part in our passing defense you want to be on the same page with the linebackers and DBs. That puts more of a stress on me to prepare and know more. It forces me to know more, and that's a great thing."
The secondary was tight last year with Bethea being part of the glue. Landry provided impact with Bethea in the secondary and will have a new running mate.
Davis is a budding talent who should take his place among the league's top corners, while the unit was particularly effective in 2013 when Toler was healthy.
The club's culture will make this unit tight again as spring conditioning is underway. The locker room code is one of reaching the high bar set by players and coaches.
It will be year three in Pagano's defense. Money has been spent accordingly with Butler, Landry and Toler being UFAs. Resources have been added on the line and at linebacker as Indianapolis aims for a much more firm defensive presence this year under Pagano and coordinator Greg Manusky.
"I think it does," said Butler if the scheme fits his talents. "Greg has a great style of defense. We play a lot of man coverage. We press when we need to. I'm comfortable. With a coordinator like him, you can go out and fly around. You can make mistakes, but you have to bounce back. Playing for a coach like him is great for me.
"At times, I do take chances and risks, and I think all the good ones do. It's anticipating, it's selective gambles. You when to do it, what plays to expect, and I love playing in this defense."
QUOTE-UNQUOTE (Darius Butler on his 2014 focus):
"My biggest focus is to get stronger. I want to put on a few pounds. I was pretty healthy last year. I had some nicks and bruises and I got banged up in the last game. I want to be stronger, take what I did the last two years and build on it. I will study even harder going through the game plans and be more of a leader in the locker room."