First things first: Gus Bradley did not walk into a bare-cupboard situation when he arrived at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Monday.
"The (previous) defensive staff did a tremendous job," Bradley said. "I mean, sometimes you go into a place, you go boy, we got to start and really show this team what great effort looks like. Well, when you put on the tape, they played with great effort. You saw that. We talk about making plays — well, they made some plays. They did a tremendous job, the foundation of this team and the spirit of this team, the camaraderie of the group and the locker room."
It's not just that Bradley is inheriting a group with three Pro Bowlers, one on each level of the defense – defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerback Kenny Moore II. It's that he's inheriting a defense that collectively knows how to play and possesses tremendous leadership in every position group.
So for Bradley, that strong foundation should help make the transition from Matt Eberflus' scheme to his a smooth one.
"When you look at each position group, there's a Pro Bowl-type player. And you don't have that very often," Bradley said. "You want the leadership by position group and leadership by unit, and this team has that on the defensive side of the ball. I was very fortunate to reach out to those guys and talk to a couple of then, and just the energy that they have, the belief of the players and just the strong sense of that locker room and what that's all about, and a willingness to take the next step as a defense."
Bradley's defenses are known for playing plenty of Cover-3 dating back to his days as the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator in the nascent stages of building the "Legion of Boom." With Bradley as defensive coordinator, the Los Angeles Chargers played more coverage snaps in Cover-3 than any team from 2017-2020, then the Las Vegas Raiders led the NFL in Cover-3 snaps in 2021. The Colts are not unfamiliar with Cover-3 – they played 694 snaps in that coverage under Eberflus (16th in the NFL), per Pro Football Focus.
But there are plenty of tweaks and variations of Cover-3 Bradley has developed over the last decade-plus in the NFL, ones he can draw upon to fit his scheme to the skills and talents of his players in Indianapolis.
"We say we play a lot of Cover-3 but that's even evolved, right? That's from the days back in Seattle, but I think there's been some changes," Bradley said. "All of a sudden it turns into match coverage, and now we're playing a little bit more man and a little bit more split safety and it really is based on the types of players that you have and how do you utilize their skillset. But I think that you're looking for a team that plays fast, plays physical and get the ball.
"Every call that we have is designed to get the ball, that type of mentality. And when you see them on tape, they have the ability to play fast. I think they can really concentrate now on picking up the new scheme, what is asked of them and get back and then add to that ability to play fast."
While Bradley hadn't even officially been on the job for 24 hours when he sat down with us on the Colts Audio Network, he did say he's already had a few conversations with players (and he absolutely noticed Darius Leonard's pick-six in the Pro Bowl). And in those conversations, he's sensed a burning drive from the players he'll coach to use the pain from how the Colts' season ended to be better in 2022.
"We lost when I was with the Raiders, and it still stings from that game in the playoffs," Bradley said. "And every team, if you don't win the Super Bowl at the end, it stings. And you hope that sting hurts enough that it'll propel you to greater places when the season starts. And I think just talking to the few players I have, I sense that. I sense that with the coaching staff, with the players, that ending stung enough to where it has a chance to propel to something really good happening next year."