Right now, Gus Bradley's primary goal is to fill out a defensive coaching staff. So he wasn't quite ready on Wednesday to offer up expectations for how specific players will fit his scheme with the Colts.
But we did learn a few things about the larger framework of Bradley's defense, from general expectations to scheme tweaks, during the new Colts defensive coordinator's session with the media. A couple of highlights:
The Sweet Six
As Bradley and his to-be-assembled coaching staff dive into film study to evaluate their team, they'll do so with a focus on what he called the "sweet six."
"It's stop the run, eliminate explosives, affect the quarterback, win on third down, own the red zone, it's all about the ball," Bradley said. "So, we'll kind of look at each one of those categories and just see where we rank on that and then decide on the areas of improvement and how we can attack each area. We'll have a better evaluation of that, a clearer picture once we kind of go through the tape."
While Bradley is certainly aware of the talent that'll be at his disposal – he mentioned the Colts having a Pro Bowl player on every level of the defense (DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore II) – he also emphasized that he won't come into 2022 with a load of pre-conceived notions of who those players are and what they may be able to do in his defense.
"I think sometimes players are hoping for a blank slate," Bradley said. "I'm not sure they want me to talk to every coach that was here and formulate an opinion. I think they would say, 'I'm hoping that we have a blank slate and Gus, you evaluate, the coaches evaluate and then let's go.' That's what we're going to give them. I think we can give them that part of it. But we do need to evaluate. It's important to see their skillset so that we can incorporate things within our system that best utilizes their skillset."
Scheme to skills, or skills to scheme?
Bradley's defense will bring different wrinkles and responsibilities than the one coordinated by Matt Eberflus over the last four years. There will be a transition period for players during OTAs and training camp to go from the old scheme to the new scheme.
But as the Colts transition from Eberflus to Bradley, their new coordinator will blend fitting his scheme to the talents of his players – and fitting the talents of his players to his scheme.
"In this league you have to be able to adjust," Bradley said. "I think to quickly recover, to adjust is important. But you have to have a foundation of what you stand for and the players need to be able to feel that. I think that there's a foundation that we'll bring in, what's important to us, what has allowed the groups that we've been a part of to have some success."
One big, over-arching carry-over
Bradley's scheme is, broadly, steeped in playing Cover-3; Eberflus' played plenty of Cover-2. It's much more complex than that, of course, and Bradley's defense has evolved into playing more match coverages and split safety looks since it helped get the "Legion of Boom" off the ground in Seattle in the early 2010s.
"You're always trying to stay a year ahead and the only way you can do that is incorporate some different things and different ideas," Bradley said.
While there will be differences in how Bradley's defenses look in comparison to those built by Eberflus, there won't be a difference at the core of how both defenses play.
"There's probably some similarities now – effort-based defense," Bradley, who praised the work Eberflus and the previous defensive coaching staff did, said. "A team that plays with great effort. Great effort, great enthusiasm. I think enthusiasm is important on the field to create energy.
"You talk about, Gus (Bradley) do you blitz? If our energy is not where it needs to be, bringing pressure will increase that enthusiasm. It can stimulate a defense. Great effort, great enthusiasm, great toughness, mentally and physically tough. A team that communicates and then the final thing, is a defensive unit that plays smart, makes good decisions. I think that style of play."
What about the blitz?
No team blitzed less in 2021 than Bradley's Las Vegas Raiders, which did on just 75 coverage snaps. But Bradley had a tremendous feel of when to send pressure – the Raiders had the highest Pro Football Focus coverage grade and third-highest pass rushing grade in the NFL when blitzing last season.
Bradley, though, is not anti-blitz – if a gameplan calls for it, he won't hesitate to lean on sending extra pressure. Or, as he said, calling a blitz sometimes can inject some juice into a defense.
"Each year it's different," Bradley said. "I'm not opposed to it now, if we need to. There are some games where you look in the past that we blitzed 20, 25 times in a game and that's because we felt like we needed to. It's not a philosophy, it's more what do we need to do to affect the quarterback and how can we make big plays?
"Really, you're defined as a defense on your ability to get the ball and score. I know some players will say in the past, 'How do you know when we've arrived in this defense?' I think overall when the defense dictates the outcome of the game. If you look at past defenses, the ones that are really talented, really good, they have some say in what the outcome of the game is. That's what we are trying to do, is build a defense with that mentality."