INDIANAPOLIS – The top two spots on the Colts' offseason checklist can be written in sharpie.
Listening to Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson speak at Thursday's NFL Combine, the two were steadfast in the areas that need to push their record back over .500 in 2016.
Protecting Andrew Luck and getting after opposing quarterbacks are atop the list for the Colts.
Here is what Pagano had to say on Thursday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium:
Pagano on improving the offensive line:
"We want to shore up the middle there.
"The interior of that offensive line, the center and two guard spots is the focal point."
Bowen's Analysis: This was the popular belief in assessing the Colts' offensive line heading into the offseason. The Colts like what they have at tackle in stalwart Anthony Castonzo on the left side and then Joe Reitz on the right (with rookie Denzelle Good showing promise in three games last season, too).
Outside of Jack Mewhort at left guard, the rest of the interior looks to be up for grabs. What the Colts must evaluate here at the Combine is if they view any collegiate tackles that could possibly slide inside at the next level, to go along with your normal interior trench guys. If the Colts can find a free agent pickup and/or a draftee to slide into the starting 11 up front, that should solidify a unit that has to protect better in 2015.
Pagano on the defense under new coordinator Ted Monachino:
"We want to be multiple. We want to be simple-me, complex-you. We always want to be aggressive, we want to be attacking, we want to be sound. When you turn the film on, the hallmark of a great defense is a great tackling defense and we want to be a great tackling defense and accentuate, put a premium on fundamentals and technique and communication.
"Obviously, stopping the run is always first and foremost."
Bowen's Analysis:* *What Pagano had to say on Thursday sounded very similar to how new coordinator Ted Monachino described his desires last month. The two coached together in Baltimore, so a 3-4 base should be expected, with a clear focus of having multiple looks.
Outside of Monachino having his top priority being a more consistent pass rush, Pagano mentioned a few key areas for why he made the switch at defensive coordinator. Pagano wants improvements in third-down defense (17th in 2015), red-zone efficiency (26th) and not giving up big plays (93 combined runs of more than 10 yards and passes of more than 25 yards, 31st in the league) as keys in 2016.
Pagano on what he learned watching the Super Bowl:
"We got to find a way to develop young guys and try to find a way to get some guys like (Denver's Von Miller) on that side of the ball."
Bowen's Analysis: What happened at Super Bowl 50, and the wrecking done by Von Miller, has been a major topic at this year's Combine. The Colts have taken notice. Without a Miller on the roster, Pagano talked on Thursday about how the Colts need start to groom young pass rushers off the edge, behind the likes of Robert Mathis and Erik Walden.
The result of this year's Super Bowl fell right in line largely to why the Colts finished this past season at .500. When Andrew Luck was healthy and the pass rush was disruptive (i.e. the Colts win over Denver back in November), the Colts played with the NFL's elite. Now, it's stringing those types of performances together more frequently next season.**
Other Pagano Tidbits**
- Quarterback Josh Freeman: Pagano mentioned that Freeman would be on the roster and competing for a spot in 2016. Is that as the team's backup…?
- Pagano confirmed to ESPN's Mike Wells that cornerback Vontae Davis recently had surgery to "clean up" some thigns in his foot. It was not a surgery expected to keep Davis out for a long period of time.
- Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: Pagano was asked about Hasselbeck, an unrestricted free agent. Pagano, nor Grigson, would comment on the discussions the Colts are having between any of their 12 UFAs. A return of Freeman in 2016 and re-signing Hasselbeck would give the Colts depth at quarterback the franchise has really never seen.
- New offensive line coach Joe Philbin: On Thursday, Pagano spoke very highly of the resume Philbin brings to a unit everyone will have their eyes on this offseason. Pagano is also pleased with the impact assistant Darren Krein has already brought to the team's strength and conditioning program.
- Waiving outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome: Pagano wouldn't get into the specifics of waiving Newsome after the second-year outside linebacker was arrested last week. Without Newsome, the Colts know how vital it is to find younger talent in the pass rush department.