INDIANAPOLIS — There are lots of new faces at the outside linebacker position for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.
But one familiar face has remained the same as the defense has taken the field going into Phase II of offseason workouts — albeit in a completely different role.
Robert Mathis, who retired at the end of the 2016 season having sacked more quarterbacks than any other player in Colts history, has been spending his time assisting defensive coordinator Ted Monachino with a newer, younger bunch of pass rushers.
"Robert is volunteering his time right now," Monachino said this week. "It's great to have him in the building any time we can get him in."
Mathis said recently that he's been spending about five hours a day at the Colts' facility helping mentor his replacements — and there are many. Of the team's nine outside linebackers currently on the roster, just four — Akeem Ayers, Lavar Edwards, Curt Maggitt and Deiontrez Mount — are returning from last season.
New Colts general manager Chris Ballard gave the position a great deal of attention this offseason, signing the likes of John Simon, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo in free agency, and selecting Tarell Basham — the 2016 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year — in the third round of this year's NFL Draft.
The way Monachino sees it, who better than Mathis — with his 123 career regular-season sacks and his 47 strip sacks, the most in NFL history — to mentor the next era of Colts pass rushers?
"He does a nice job," Monachino said. "He's a good communicator. He's sharp. He thinks ahead. He sees the game through a barn door instead of through a straw. Yeah, he can see how he fits. I think he's got a trait to do that."
Mathis also has the advantage of taking a couple different approaches with his players. He can relate with the guys who come into the league with a chip on their shoulder, as he came to the Colts as a fifth-round pick from a small school, Alabama A&M. But he's also been there, done that in the NFL, having won a Super Bowl title, was selected to six Pro Bowls and was the NFL's sack leader in 2013, with 19.5.
It's the classic case of an old dog teaching some new dogs his tricks.
"What's so different is Rob is such a different body type than some of those other guys. So some of those guys, that skill doesn't fit with what they'll do best. But any time they can learn from a master it's a good thing.
"It's great to see him out there in a pair of tennis shoes and a pullover instead of in pads too," Monachino added. "It's fun to watch him grow as a coach and I think that might be something he wants to do in his future."
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