INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus spoke to local reporters today via video conference. What's the latest on DeForest Buckner's impact, Anthony Walker's leadership and flexibility, slowing down an explosive Cleveland Browns offense and more?
You can catch that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:
» DeForest Buckner has been even better than advertised: Eberflus had studied Buckner's college film when he came out of Oregon and turned into an eventual first-round pick in 2016, but when general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich came to him earlier this year and said the team had a shot at acquiring Buckner via trade, Eberflus started to do even more homework.
He checked with his various sources around the league to get a feel for what Buckner was like not only on gamedays, but how he attacked practice. And then Eberflus dove into the game tape to see exactly the type of player the Colts were aiming to get.
What Eberflus found out was that Indy was about to bring in an absolute gem; an elite defensive playmaker who fits their three-technique position perfectly, but also has the exact practice habits Eberflus demands out of his players. In March, the Colts pulled off a trade to acquire Buckner, sending their first-round (13th-overall) pick in this year's NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers and then immediately signing the big defensive tackle to a lengthy contract extension.
So a quarter of the way into the season, what kind of impression has Buckner made on his new defensive coordinator?
"I would say that just visiting with other people around the league, the guys that have worked with him that I know and just his reputation, I think for me exceeded what they were saying," Eberflus said. "You really can never put an example or a way of saying what kind of guy he is. You don't really know that until you start to visit with him and talk to him – what kind of family guy he is, what kind of character he has and the effect he's going to have in the locker room. Sure they say things like he works hard, he hustles. You can see that on tape and what kind of practice player he is. He's all that and more, but just the kind of character he has is really amazing."
In four games, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Buckner has 18 total tackles (two for a loss) with 1.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits and one pass defensed, and has caused one safety.
"It's rare you get a guy with that size, that explosive and that athletic inside at the three-technique," Eberflus said. "There's been guys — Aaron Donald, just to throw out some names everybody is used to, Warren Sapp — those guys are more the 6'1", 6'2" type guys, 290. In that range, you don't get the size. I think the size really helps in there because of the quarterback. When you get a guy at that size in the face of the quarterback with the length that he has, that creates another situation for him in terms of vantage points, throwing lanes and all those things. It's rare that you get a guy with that size and that athletic."
» Anthony Walker has continued to be a key defensive leader, no matter what role he's asked to play: The Colts last season featured Walker (MIKE) and Darius Leonard (WILL) at linebacker, and were hoping to find someone to step in and run away with the SAM spot; they got that in then-rookie Bobby Okereke, who showed flashes of legit playmaking ability throughout his first NFL season.
So entering last Sunday's matchup against the Bears, the Colts and Eberflus had been trying to figure out ways to get Okereke, who would normally only be on the field with the base defense at the SAM spot, onto the field even more. Sometimes that meant Walker would have to watch from the sidelines while Okereke took over at MIKE.
But when Leonard when down with a groin injury just before halftime against the Bears, Walker stepped right in to his spot at the WILL, with Okereke staying at the MIKE. Walker finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, proving his worth once again as a versatile leader at the linebacker position.
"Anthony Walker is just A-plus character, A-plus leadership off the field, on the field and commands presence both on the field and off the field," Eberflus said. "Just a great teammate in terms of working with others, working with younger guys, helping other guys out. He's the consummate teammate and you can't say enough about him in terms of that. Also, being smart and being able to play multiple positions, being able to work on special teams, being able to work all levels of linebacker play – sub units, base units and in the leg. So he is a valuable, valuable piece to our football team."
The Colts will once again rely on Walker's leadership and position flexibility this week heading into this Sunday's Week 5 matchup against the Cleveland Browns. Leonard this week will continue to be evaluated with his groin injury, while Okereke on Monday underwent surgery on his thumb, so his availability against the Browns still is yet to be determined.
» Speaking of the Browns, Eberflus is expecting quite the challenge this week: Sunday's game in Cleveland will be one of the better matchups across the league, as it's a true strength-on-strength battle pitting the Colts, who have the league's top-ranked defense, against the Browns, who rank fourth in the league in scoring and first in the league in rushing.
While the Browns will be without top running back Nick Chubb, who is expected to miss several weeks with a knee injury, the team still has several extremely dangerous weapons on the offensive side of the ball, from quarterback Baker Mayfield, to running back Kareem Hunt, to wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to tight end Austin Hooper.
That group has helped the Browns average 39.3 points over the last three weeks, all Cleveland wins — including last Sunday's 49-38 marathon victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
"They're a sound football team," Eberflus said of the Browns. "They have a lot of good coaches over there. I know several of them and they are good at what they do. They're good at running the football and they're good at their play-action pass. They do a lot of things well and you can see that on tape, evidence of the last three games. It's a big challenge for us again this week defensively. We have to have great practice and great preparation and have great focus during the course of the next few days."