WESTFIELD, Ind. — The way Ben Banogu sees it, there's a pretty easy explanation how he's brought a relentless level of energy to Colts training camp over the last few weeks.
"I just try to trick myself into thinking I'm a cheetah," Banogu said. "And I just try to run as fast as I can until I get tired."
Banogu always has possessed a rare combination of speed, size and athleticism. Those traits made him a second round pick in 2019. But what defensive line coach Brian Baker has noticed this year is Banogu playing with good tempo to his rushes, which is allowing him to use those traits to be a disruptive presence.
"The speed without changing speed — he's a speed rusher by nature and he's finally starting to realize that and taking the thinking out of it," Baker said. "I think he's trusting his ability to react to what the offensive lineman does and where the quarterback is, so the tempo I was referring to was the fact that he's not stopping his feet and trying to figure it out.
"Everything is rush and react, rush and react, rush and react. And that's how he has to rush if he's going to be effective. And I thought he's done a good job of that every day."
This disruptive, fast version of Banogu has not been what the Colts have always seen. Banogu has 2 1/2 sacks in 25 career games, and was inactive seven times in the 2020 season. All of his sacks, tackles for a loss and quarterback hits came during his rookie season.
Those struggles weighed the 6-foot-3, 252 pound Banogu down, Baker said. The longtime defensive line coach saw Banogu playing with "clutter," as he put it.
But 2021's offseason is where Banogu started to leave that clutter behind. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said Banogu "got his body right," and noted the time he spent with All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
Banogu said Buckner held him accountable for the things he wanted to work on, and brought a positive, detailed attitude to the pair's time together.
More went into Banogu's fast start to training camp, certainly, but so far he's playing without the "clutter" Baker observed.
"This year he's able to move on from snap to snap to snap, being able to push the last snap off, retaining what he needs to retain to help him play fast to the next snap and he's finally at that stage," Baker said. "And it takes different guys to get to that point and different times in their career."
(To Baker's point about pass rushers developing at different rates — Jerry Hughes had five sacks in three years with the Colts, then has averaged 6 1/2 sacks per season with the Buffalo Bills since.)
Eberflus noticed Banogu's confidence has built throughout camp, too. And it's been clear on the practice field — on one play last week, Banogu chased quarterback Sam Ehlinger out of the pocket and pursued him to the sideline. As he raced down the sideline and back to toward the huddle, he did the spoon-to-mouth hand signal — as in, keep feeding me, keep feeding me.
"Seeing him fly around and be upbeat, it brings a lot of energy to the D-line," defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis said.
There's a ways to go before the regular season and the Colts want to see Banogu keep stacking these energetic, effective practices. But if the motor and pass rushing pressure Banogu's brought to Grand Park so far continues into the fall, he could be a factor on what looks to be a fast, physical, overwhelming defensive line.
"He wasn't playing that way consistently. Now he is. He really is," Baker said. "… He's going out to compete with himself every day and for Ben that's important, and you see that and it's showing up on tape. Right now he's having a good camp."