INDIANAPOLIS — From the general manager, to the head coach, to the defensive coordinator to the defensive line coach, the consensus about the Indianapolis Colts' switch to a 4-3 base defense is that its ultimate success really depends upon how well the big men can disrupt things up front.
While a switch to a more zone defense look in the back end is expected to give the cornerbacks and safeties better opportunities to make plays on the ball, the defensive tackles and ends are heavily relied upon to generate plenty of pressure on the quarterback and hustle to the ball, play after play after play.
So while the Colts are currently working to find the right mix of players to eventually fit into starting roles, both offensively and defensively, it's important to note that, at least along the defensive line, those who might start, or finish, the game are only one part of the puzzle.
When the defensive line is really humming, head coach Frank Reich said, the depth will be critical.
"I mean we all know how things roll these days in the NFL where your role on the defensive line is you keep them fresh," Reich told reporters on Wednesday following the Colts' fourth OTA practice session of the offseason. "What we find is, 'Hey, let's get eight starters and just (keep) rolling them and have them fresh out there.' That seems to be the most productive formula."
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' unit has certainly stayed true to that theme during the team's OTA practices, where several players have been getting all kinds of snaps at every position up front.
On Wednesday, the Colts showed a potential "first-team" look of Jabaal Sheard and Tarell Basham at defensive end and Al Woods and Denico Autry at the one-technique and three-technique interior positions, respectively.
But don't blink, because after just a few plays, in came a fresh group of defensive linemen — guys like John Simon and Chris McCain at end and Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Tyquan Lewis in the interior.
And while the 4-3 is generally much more simple than the 3-4 — the defensive scheme employed by the Colts the last six seasons — the Colts could also very well mix things up, depending on the down and distance, with players who can fit in multiple spots up front.
"I like guys that can play several spots. Really, that's kind of how I teach 'em, so they can play multiple spots," Colts defensive line coach Mike Phair said. "So that's a good problem to have when you have a guy that can play a couple spots for you. But if there's just a guy that always fits one spot – it's not that it's bad, it's just you have more options when you get a guy and play him at end and can kick him inside for third down and be able to just do some different things with him."
The overall takeaway? So far, so good for the revamped Colts defensive line.
"I think we feel really good about what we have up front defensively," Reich added. "(We're) really happy with the depth that we have at that position. Doing a great job."