WESTFIELD, Ind. – Kwity Paye walked off the practice field at Grand Park dripping in sweat – a handshake revealed even his gloves were soaked – as he wrapped up another focused, intense day of working toward a short-term goal and a long-term goal.
Let's start with the short-term one. Paye wants to not only make the "biggest Year 2 jump I can make," he said, but he wants opposing offenses to know who he is.
"I just want to be a problem on every single play," Paye said. "I want the man across from me to really just doubt himself every single play, every single time he lines up – like, 'Damn, I gotta go up against Kwity Paye again. Damn, I gotta go up against him for four quarters.'"
Paye knows the biggest leap defensive linemen generally make is between Year 1 and Year 2 in the NFL – squarely where the 2021 first-round pick is now. While training this offseason in Los Angeles (with Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kenny Clark) and Norman, Okla. (with Colts Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, among others) Paye heard that message from those guys.
"They say that Year 1 to Year 2 jump is ridiculous," Paye said. "Because Year 1, you could be a good player, but you're still a rook, there's still things you have to learn and experience and understand before you really get it going. And Year 2, it's a whole difficult ballgame."
But Paye knows that growth is not guaranteed just because he has a year of experience in the NFL. A tremendous amount of work goes into it – but a big part of that growth can come from knowing what work needs to be done.
So even as the sting of the Colts' season-ending loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was fresh, Paye felt a simmering motivation: "I know what to do, I know how to get it going, I know how to prepare."
And Paye went to work.
In Oklahoma, Buckner saw Paye develop more polish to his pass rush moves while working with trainer Mark Hall and players like Colts defensive end Ben Banogu, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Arden Key, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell. And while sharpening those moves he already has in his toolbox, he's working on some things he hasn't been as good at in his playing career "so when gametime comes, I'll be good," Paye said.
And working on them in practice against Braden Smith – "one of the best right tackles in the league," he said, who "doesn't give up sacks" – is a good way to get better at them.
(Paye declined to reveal the specifics of what he's been working on; a good chef doesn't give up the recipe for his secret sauce.)
But Paye isn't just working on his pass rushing moves on the field – he's doing the things off the field he needs to do to make them successful. One of those is carrying around a gripper wherever he goes to improve the functional strength in his hands and forearms.
"You can be strong in your arms and your core or whatever," Paye said, "but if you can't really grab onto an opponent and be able to turn and manipulate his body, then you can't really have a shot."
The Colts were encouraged by Paye's rookie season, especially in how he finished: 31 of his 39 pressures and all four of his sacks came in Weeks 9-18. But Paye wants to make sure – like the rest of his team – he starts the season as strong as he finishes it.
"They drafted me here to be a pass rusher," Paye said. I definitely want to contribute to that reason for them drafting me and holding my own weight. Last year, I started hitting my stride late in the season, I just gotta bring that early in the season. Because last year, we had that period in the first couple games where we were 0-3, 1-4, just kind of erase that, bring my all for those four games to start off strong and ride that wave all the way through the season."
For Paye, starting fast can come from playing fast, which is an emphasis new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and defensive line coach Nate Ollie are implementing for the Colts' front. Ollie talks about "running through a dark room" while attacking the ball, an aggressive style Paye feels fits his game well. And Bradley feels the same way.
"Credit to coach Ollie and that whole group because it is a little bit of a change in philosophy and Nate's got great conviction on it," Bradley said. "Showing him over and over what it can look like, and I think that's what the D-line is getting a feel for, what it could possibly look like and Kwity's a guy that sees the opportunities that are presented with this style, and I think every day he goes out there and practices it becomes more clear for him."
So if all this feeds into Paye's short-term goal of making the biggest Year 2 leap possible, what about that long-term goal?
Paye spent a week in Ghana this summer as part of the NFL's first official event in his home continent of Africa, working with kids and aspiring players who put up "crazy numbers," he said, in combine drills. And Paye, a Liberian, said he was inspired watching those African kids taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from and perform in front of a group of NFL players that also included Seattle's Uchenna Nwosu, Houston's Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Cleveland's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
"I can't wait until I get to the point where I can come out here and do something big for my country," Paye said, "and to organize something for Liberia."
So that long-term goal is to host an annual football camp in Liberia. And maybe through it, he'll find the next Kwity Paye – the next guy who makes the guy across from him say, "damn, I have to go up against him for four quarters."