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Brian Baker On His Strategy On Passing Downs, Playing The 'Hot' Hand Up Front, Justin Houston's Consistency

Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach Brian Baker spoke to the media today via video conference. What did he have to say about his ideal approach on passing downs, why he’s more apt to play the hot hand in key situations, what makes Justin Houston so special and more?

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach Brian Baker spoke to the media today via video conference. What did he have to say about his ideal approach on passing downs, why he's more apt to play the hot hand in key situations, what makes Justin Houston so special and more?

You can catch that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:

» Ideally, the Colts will focus more on putting their four best pass rushers on the field on obvious passing downs vs. trying to fit certain positions: In the Colts' base defense, they feature two defensive ends off the edge and a three-tech and a one-tech at defensive tackle. While the team does have versatile options like Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis that can play all four spots up front, Baker has a solid mix of guys, starting with Justin Houston and Kemoko Turay at defensive end, and DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart at the three- and one-tech spots, respectively, who can play their specific roles very well.

But specificity can certainly be tossed out the window when you know the opposition is in an obvious passing situation, such as on third and long. While the lineup is still to be determined, Baker is a huge fan of getting the four best pass rushers on the field in those scenarios, regardless of what position they typically play.

"It starts with who are the guys that we feel like we have the best opportunity to get to the quarterback?" Baker said.

Baker did add, however, that "not every great pass rusher can be a great pass rusher from every position." So the Colts' staff will really be utilizing the next few weeks of training camp practices to figure out those more specialty-type packages heading into the start of the regular season.

"Having the ability to get four guys to feel comfortable attacking the quarterback from different spots gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility as a coach," Baker said. "And certainly Coach (Matt) Eberflus and I are going to find out the best places for these guys to be productive and hopefully put a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterback."

» The Colts have emphasized a rotation with their defensive front, but Baker isn't scared to play the hot hand — and play it often: One of the hallmarks of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' coaching philosophy is to demand maximum effort out of his players every second they're out on the field. For the big fellas up front, particularly, throwing their bodies around play after play can be quite tiring, so the team has emphasized a deep rotation of defensive linemen to keep everybody fresh throughout the contest.

The Colts head into the 2020 season with a ton of talent along the defensive line, and Baker, who is in his first year guiding the unit in Indy, is eager to find out which players will particularly step it up when it counts.

And if a player gets hot? He's going to be in the ballgame — period.

"If we're dominating the line of scrimmage and that rotation is helping us do that, then it really becomes an easy thing for me," Baker said. "And I've played the hot guy, you know what I mean? I've done this a while; this isn't my first rodeo. So we get into those money downs, money situations, third down, red zone, certainly fourth quarter, close game, then we're playing the hot guy."

And Baker further emphasized: "Hot is how you play, not how much you getting paid."

"In those situations, we'll find out by rotating who is actually producing," Baker said. "And that's your day man: you're that guy. You've got the other guy's number. My job is to put the best front out there, and sometimes those situations can dictate that."

» Baker has always been impressed with Justin Houston's consistency; now he's seeing his process up close: Baker served as an assistant coach at the NFL and college levels throughout Houston's first nine professional seasons, and said he had always been left "intrigued" by Houston's level of production.

In 118 career games played, Houston, a four-time Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro selection in 2014, has 89.5 career sacks, the eighth most among active NFL players.

Baker has had the privilege of coaching some of the best pass rushers in recent memory — guys like Kevin Williams, Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware and Ryan Kerrigan — and considers Houston to be right up there on that list.

"I certainly, as a coach in the league, looked at him in college coming out of the University of Georgia, and looking at where he's been and how he's done it at the different positions he's done it from, the key has been just his consistency," Baker said of Houston. "I mean, he understands who he is as a football player. He understands who he is as a pass rusher. You see him even in these walkthroughs at the tempo we do them going through those same mechanics of what makes him really good."

Houston, 31, is coming off an 11-sack performance in 2019, his first season with the Colts, and, he, along with Buckner at defensive tackle, are the team's sure-fire starters up front heading into camp.

"He understands he doesn't have to do a thousand different things, but if you do a couple things really, really well, then you can be productive," Baker said of Houston. "I just see that from him every day. … The thing that I think has made him special over the years is just the consistency of his technique."

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