The Colts re-convened at Grand Park in Westfield Tuesday and will hold their first 2021 training camp practice Wednesday at 10 a.m. (the practice is open to the public, and free tickets to attend can be obtained here). And Wednesday's practice will be one of 19 steps at Grand Park for this team's defense to build toward their goal of greatness in 2021.
"We can definitely get there," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, a 2020 first-team All-Pro, said. "I think we got the unit to do it. I think you saw last year, we played some great ballgames. For me, looking back at 2020 season is consistency. Keeping it from a point in time, we were the No. 1 defense in the league and then we kind of fell off toward the end. That's because there were certain games we let off the gas pedal a little bit or miscommunication or missed tackle here and there.
"For me, it's just consistency. If we're consistent from start to finish, I believe we could finish as the No. 1 defense in the league."
The Colts' defense finished 2020 ranked 10th in points allowed per game (22.6), eight in yards per game (332.1) and tenth in yards per play (5.4); Football Outsiders' DVOA had the Colts with the seventh-best defense last season, too. Any way you slice it, this was a good defense last year.
But again, the goal for 2021 is to be better than good.
"It's our fourth year with coach Flus (Matt Eberflus), most of the core guys, it's our fourth year here in the same system so it's really just about us really coming together and creating that mentality of banding together as brothers," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "We have talent all over the field at all three levels and the system is already set in stone, so at that point it's just about us taking ownership and becoming it."
More recent additions to the defense like Buckner, safety Julian Blackmon and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, all of whom are entering their second season with the Colts, have paid off. And the Colts are excited about the addition of 2021 first round pick Kwity Paye at defensive end, too, and what he can do when dropped into that core Franklin mentioned.
Guys like All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, safety Khari Willis, defensive tackle Grover Stewart, defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis and cornerback Kenny Moore II are all going on four years in the Eberflus defense. So how high can the bar be for this defense, with its established core and standout talent all across the field?
"I think it's as high as we set it," Willis said, "and as much as we work for it."