Gary Brackett Continues to Flourish as Captain, Starting Middle Linebacker
INDIANAPOLIS – He's a veteran now, has been for a long while.
But Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said while that's true, and while as a defensive captain since 2006 he is also very much a team leader and core player on the Colts' defense, in at least one sense, he absolutely does not act that way.
Yes, Brackett will lead. And yes, he will counsel younger players.
And yes, he feels as if it's his responsibility to do each.
But Brackett said it's just as true that in his eighth NFL season and sixth as a starter, he must spend time doing the things that made him critical to the defense.
That means working. And that means continuing to get better.
"The defense is new as far as what we did last year," Brackett said recently during the Colts' 2010 organized team activities, which concluded in early June at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"I really can still get a better grasp of what we're doing and be able to better communicate with the guys on the side of me."
Brackett has been improving steadily for the past several seasons.
And in recent seasons, he has gotten more recognition league-wide as one of the AFC's better linebackers and as a reason for the Colts' success.
Brackett, who has started at least 12 games in each of the last five seasons, finished second on the team last season with 115 tackles – 81 solos – and with the Colts' defense emphasizing attacking more than previous seasons, he developed into one of the team's best blitzers, registering seven pressures and a quarterback sack.
One of the defense's most consistent players, he has had at least 113 tackles each of the last five seasons, defending 18 passes and intercepting 11 over that span.
This past season, Brackett also had an interception and a pass defensed.
And while Brackett, at 5-feet-11, 235 pounds, may not fit the prototypical dimensions for an NFL middle linebacker, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said in Brackett's case, there has been far more to his career and his value to the defense than numbers on a roster list.
"He's not as tall as you'd like to see at middle linebacker, and maybe he doesn't weigh as much as some others," Caldwell said, "but in terms of effectiveness, in terms of punch, in terms of the savvy the knowhow to get his job done – and not only that, to make all the necessary checks – he does all those extremely well."
"He's tenacious. He's quick. He's determined. He's smart. He's a great leader."
The Colts made that clear earlier this off-season when they signed Brackett to a long-term extension, establishing him as a vital part of the defense moving forward.
While part of Brackett's value to the Colts is on the field, he also is critical off the field. On the first day of the Colts' rookie mini-camp in early May, two veterans approached Caldwell to ask to speak to the rookies about what veterans expected of the younger players. One was quarterback Peyton Manning, a four-time Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player.
The other was a player originally acquired as a free agent rookie from Rutgers shortly following the 2003 NFL Draft.
That other player was Brackett, who said he focuses during the off-season and regular season on each of his roles, taking his role as defensive leader seriously.
"I think individually – that's when we're with our individual coach," Brackett said. "That's where I worry about keeping my pad level down when I'm breaking on the ball, making sure I don't false step. I'm constantly self-critiquing myself, and I'm probably the toughest critic of myself.
"As a leader, those are things you do when you come together. Maybe you're at a walk-through and something needs to be said. If somebody's unsure about something, I ask if we can see that again. I want to make sure this guy's 100 percent knowing where he needs to go, so when he's out there, he can fly around to that ball."
That time in the film room – knowing when to ask a question during game week or in OTAs – is something that's critical, Brackett said.
"Any time we're meeting together, if I can sense in the room that there's some confusion, you speak up," he said. "You say, 'OK, what needs to be said?' You try to eliminate any of that confusion.
"We just have to make sure we limit our mistakes. When we limit our mistakes and make sure we can go out and fly around and everyone knows the defense, I think we're very effective."
Brackett said individually that could be more true this season, the second under second-year defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. Brackett flourished last season in Coyer's more attack-oriented scheme, consistently getting pressure in blitz situations.
A year in that system, Brackett said, should only help.
"I'm familiar with what we're doing," Brackett said. "I know the different coverages we're doing now. I can teach them now, and help some of the other guys. I go in and see Coach Coyer, so I can see where his mind is at: Is this our game plan? We want to continue to focus on this and have that communication, knowing what's going on and knowing what to expect."