5 Things Learned About Colts' Defense In Offseason Program: Gus Bradley Sorts Out Scheme; Stephon Gilmore Sees Upside For New Team In 2022

The Colts wrapped up their 2022 offseason program – consisting of meetings, conditioning work, OTA practices and a mandatory minicamp – last week. Here are five things we learned about the Colts' defense from mid-April through early June. 

Gus Bradley

1. Gus Bradley and his coaching staff have a lot to sort through.

The offseason program – from Phase 1 in April through minicamp in June – was incredibly beneficial for Bradley to lay the foundation for his defense and sift through the varying skillsets his new players possess.

"We're doing a lot of things just to see what they do well in," Bradley said. "Then, we'll pare it down from there. We'll need training camp too to continue to look at that. We throw a lot at them just to see what their skillset is, what they can handle and what they can perform at a high level with."

The ability to figure out certain things over the last few weeks means Bradley and his coaches can hone in on certain details and assignments while evaluating their players early in training camp. That's what made those meetings and practices so valuable for the Colts' defense.

"I think it's very huge, to be able to learn the playbook with the whole team, whole defense here now and just try to get going," defensive end Kwity Paye said.

2. Darius Leonard underwent a procedure on his back.

The procedure, which was done on June 7, should not only alleviate a nagging issue that developed during the offseason program, but also could have a positive impact on the ankle issues Leonard's battled through over the last year.

"I think it's the whole thing, right?" head coach Frank Reich said. "Darius will continue to rehab that and strengthen it and my guess is now with the back issue cleared up, that the work that he does will actually take effect. My general understanding is with what was going on was maybe that could've slowed down some of that other rehab."

Reich said Leonard will not need a second procedure on his ankle, and the Colts expect Leonard to potentially miss some of training camp but be ready for the regular season.

"I don't know the exact timetable on the return," Reich said. "My mind is saying, as long as he's ready for the regular season – you know what I mean? Does he need to play in the preseason? Sure, it would be nice to play a little bit but if that doesn't happen, not worried about it."

3. The Colts are everything Stephon Gilmore hoped they'd be.

Gilmore was deliberate in choosing where to sign in free agency earlier this year. He wanted to make sure it was the right fit, and was willing to wait for that fit to emerge.

So Gilmore didn't land with the Colts until a month after the NFL's free agency window opened – unusual for a guy who's only a few years removed from being the league's Defensive Player of the Year, but very much intentional for the 31-year-old veteran.

And as Gilmore got around his new teammates and coaches, it further cemented his conviction in signing with the Colts.

"Everyone's taking it serious. That's what I like," Gilmore said. "The ultimate goal is to be great on the field, everybody wants that. It's fun to be in a group like that, that puts the work in. The sky's the limit there."

Gilmore went to two Super Bowls – winning one – in his four seasons with the New England Patriots, so this is a guy who knows what a winning culture looks like. He also has settled in well to working with Bradley and defensive backs coach Ron Milus, and how those two longtime defensive coaches want to use his skillset.

"I know the scheme. I've been in the league for a while and a I've seen how those guys have played," Gilmore said. "I think it fits my style of play a lot. It's only going to help me make plays, I just gotta keep putting the work in day in and day out, working on my technique, trusting my teammates and go from there."

View highlights from the field as the Colts conclude 2022 OTAs with their final minicamp practice.

4. Among the standouts of the offseason program: Isaiah Rodgers.

Rodgers was active in getting his hands on passes during full-speed seven-on-seven work and continues to look like one of the biggest steals of the 2020 NFL Draft (he was the No. 211 overall pick). He had two interceptions in 2021 and his passer rating allowed when targeted of 72.6 ranked 20th among cornerbacks with at least 300 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Rodgers is in line to play a key role in the Colts' cornerback rotation alongside Gilmore, Kenny Moore II, Brandon Facyson and a host of others who will compete during training camp.

"We feel like Isaiah's a great cover corner," Reich said. "Smart, instinctive, great ball skills. You know if he gets near it and he has a chance to catch it, he's going to catch it because of his ball skills. He's continued to progress really well. We have a lot of confidence in Isaiah."

5. Julian Blackmon is on track for training camp.

Less than eight months out from suffering a torn Achilles' in practice, Julian Blackmon wasn't just participating in OTA and minicamp practices – he was participating at full speed.

Blackmon approached his rehab process with positivity and patience, as well as an understanding of how to successfully navigate it. This is a guy, after all, who tore his ACL in the Pac-12 Championship in December of 2019, then made his NFL debut about nine months later.

"I think I proved that as a rookie in terms of being really good at rehabbing, making sure that I'm listening to the trainers, coaches, staying mentally in it," Blackmon said. "... It's not something, of course, that you want to have happen, but because it did happen to me, who better than me to come back from it?"

Blackmon said if all continues to go well, there's no reason he can't be full go when training camp begins next month. But the on-field work he was already able to do during OTAs and minicamp means he'll arrive at Grand Park with a knowledge and experience base working in Bradley's defense, which should be invaluable in preparing for the regular season.

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