INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus recently joined Colts.com's Matt Taylor for a one-on-one interview. What were Eberflus' thoughts on Year 2 guiding the Indy defense, the addition of Justin Houston, the development of Darius Leonard and much more?
What have you seen defensively so far through the offseason program and OTAs?
Eberflus: "I think we're doing a good job of just learning the system and the rudiments of everybody's techniques and fundamentals. That's what we do this time of year. And then just focusing on the foundation, the pillars, so to speak, of what our defense is all about. We really reteach it from the ground up. We want to take it from step one — as we say, put our socks on and lace our shoes up one thing at a time. And in that, the foundation for us, really, is simple. It's about effort and execution.And those are the things that we preach. And we have a methodical way of teaching it to the rookies. And we reteach it to the veterans every year. We have some new faces in there, obviously, with the rookies but also with guys that we acquired throughout the course of the offseason. So those guys have not been through the movie. It's the first time through. And the other guys have been through it one time and we're restarting it from the beginning, so it's exciting."
With so many starters coming back from last year and some new talented guys to throw into the mix this year, how much further ahead of the game are you at this time compared to last year?
Eberflus: "Yeah, I mean, I think that's a good statement. We are further ahead. But the way we look at it as a unit is that every guy has to improve on his fundamentals and his techniques. So, what we did in the offseason was we took basically a bad play tape of every player — and I think a couple guys had mentioned that to the media — but we bring them in right when they get back and show them, 'Hey, these are the fundamentals.' We break it down by front and coverage so they can have it divided that way so it's organized for them. And then every single guy has to work on those fundamentals and techniques during the offseason, during his summer training, and then also during the training camp, so we're a better football team technically and fundamentally when we go into our first game."
Are you seeing guys improve in terms of what you showed them heading into the start of the offseason?
Eberflus: "Yeah. It is. And there is some improvement. And it's small, and what you do is you give guys focus points in terms of fundamentals — 'Hey, this week or this day I want you to work on getting better at this technique or this fundamental'. And when you do that, you do see improvement."
With so many returners this year, does that afford you the luxury to be able to put in more tweaks to the defense or maybe do more things you might not have been as comfortable with last season?
Eberflus: "Yeah, I think you base that on what you see in terms of execution. So what can the guys handle? If they're executing well and are doing it with speed and precision then you move onto the next thing. And if they're not doing that, then you slow the wagon down and say, 'Hey, guys, we'll move to the next step when we get these things down.' But we're not going to ever do anything that's going to hurt effort and execution. If it is, we'll take it out. We won't do it."
The Colts ranked eighth against the run last season and shut down some elite backs. What was the key to getting that done, and can that momentum carry over into 2019?
Eberflus: "I think run defense is team defense. It takes everybody. We always say that we'll be a good tackling team when our corners tackle. And we'll be a good hustling team when our D-line hustles. So, it comes down to, really, those things in terms of just playing good, sound, team defense. And everybody knows where they're supposed to be; now they can be physical, they can be violent and they can execute with swiftness."
The Colts right now don't have a ton of big bodies up front on the defensive line, the more stereotypical 300-pound guys at defensive tackle or nose tackle. Is that at all a concern for you, or do you embrace that and prefer the quicker guys up front?
Eberflus: "I think you look at the individual. We're going to have eight, 10 guys in there that we feel good about. We'll bring up eight or nine to the game, and that's going to be a rotational thing for us as it has been in the past in our system because we ask the guys to play so hard and so physical. So, we want to get that down in terms of whose where and whose what. To answer your question, really, it's based on the individual. You think about the different size of bodies we have in there. We have a Margus Hunt, who's a guy who's a large person and moves really well and does good things as opposed to a Kemoko Turay, who's more of a fast edge-type player. So, it just depends on the body. And everybody has to know how to use their leverage, their strengths, know what their weaknesses are and play to the best of their ability."
Justin Houston is in the fold now. When you saw that move come across your desk in the offseason, how excited were you?
Eberflus: "That's a great move. I mean, Chris [Ballard] and the scouting staff have done an outstanding job in terms of acquisition of players and the drafts, and certainly, getting Justin Houston is going to be a big bonus for us. And, you know, he has to learn, and him and I are talking and Mike Fair is working with him, and the D-line guys are working with him. And he's doing a great job of soaking it all in and really focusing on the fundamentals of how we play the position."
When you look at Houston, what's the biggest adjustment for him going from standup linebacker in the 3-4 to defensive end in the 4-3?
Eberflus: "Yeah, it's the same thing happened when I was at the last place I was at — we transferred over from a 3-4 to a 4-3. I had a couple good guys on the edges there that were really good players that had to adjust to putting their hand down and playing in a four-three. There's a little bit time on task experience, and he'll get that. He's one heck of an athlete; one heck of a player. So, he'll figure it out with time and experience and some coaching and him just understanding the position."
Just seeing Houston from afar during the spring, he just looks physically like he's still an elite player. Do you still see elite traits from him on the field?
Eberflus: "Yeah, there's no question. He's got the movement and the athleticism and all the skill that you need at the position. So, we're certainly excited about it. And again, he's just got to have time on task, and he's just going to keep rising through the summer, through the end of OTAs and into training camp."
You brought up guys like Kemoko Turay and some of the young defensive ends. When Houston is here, do you just point at a guy like Turay and say, "Go follow him; go do what he does?"
Eberflus: "Yeah. It's great to have guys that have done it; that have so many sacks like Justin does. And he can really teach those guys, 'Hey, this is how I've rushed this guy or that guy. These are some of the things that I've done that have worked for me.' And it's always good to have that."
Where have you seen growth in Turay from Year 1 to this offseason?
Eberflus: "Well, it's just being in the system one year, being through the whole movie. I think that when he lines up now that the terminology's not foreign to him, it's not different to him. He understands what we want from him in terms of basic fundamentals of the position and he's just going to continue to get better. These guys take time. What you don't understand, if you look at the pure numbers of pass rushers, man, it takes time. It's like Year 1, it's OK. You could look at any of them - Robert Mathis or whoever it is — whoever we've had in the past here. I know some guys have taken off right away but many times it was our first-round players. When you get a guy that, he's learning, it takes him a couple years to get going. And again, this is a work in progress and, man, he's going to get better this year."
The Colts drafted seven defensive players — a ton of guys with speed and athleticism. What do you make of the versatility of the group? Specifically a guy like Bobby Okereke or Ben Banogu with their positional flexibility.
Eberflus: "Yeah, we really like those players just because of who they are athletically and then who they are as men. They have the movement, they have the skill, but more importantly, who they are as men.They are hard working, blue collar guys that love football and love to work. So, to me, when you have a guy like that you're never going to go wrong. Those guys that work themselves into the positions they need to."
Have you ever coached a guy like Banogu? How rare is his flexibility?
Eberflus: "Yeah, I mean, over the years I certainly have coached a few guys like that. But he's a unique individual. It is very exciting. And it's going to be our job to make sure we put him in the right spot so he can succeed."
How did it go when you critiqued Darius Leonard's rookie season with him?
Eberflus: "Well. It went really well."
Because he had such a good year…
Eberflus: "Well, he's a humble person. And he's a worker. So, he's got the traits. And that's a tribute to him and his upbringing and also the selection process with Chris and the scouting staff. All those things come together. So, he took it well. You know, he wants to get better, wants to work. And right now, this time of year, he's not in there, but man, he's doing the mental work and the film work and all those things. And he'll be ready to go as we get going here."
Quincy Wilson seemed to grow up a lot in the second half of last season. Where did you see him start to kind of put things together and have the light bulb go off?
Eberflus: "Yeah, I think it was about midway. We started to use him in different spots. We put him in some different things, in our dime or money position in our sub-packages. And confidence started to come there. I put him on some tight ends and put him in some different spots that, really, he could excel at and I think he took off from there. Started to make plays and started to gain some confidence. I think that he got healthy, which certainly helps. I know he was dealing with some things, some nicks here and there, and he got healthy so I think it all came together. And for him, the sky's the limit. It's like, our system doesn't put ceilings on anybody. The cream will rise to the top. And if guys, if you're willing to put in the work and put the work in and believe in the system, man, you can go to the top on this thing as a unit and also as an individual."
I've been asking the defensive players this question, so I'll pass it on to you: your thoughts on the 2019 schedule, and playing so many great offenses and quarterbacks and the challenges that come with it?
Eberflus: "Yeah, I mean, I'm going to give you the coach answer — and this is really what I believe, 'cause I don't think it works any other way: we're going to focus on us. We really are. We're going to focus on our execution, our fundamentals, how hard we play, how fast we play and how well we execute. And if you focus on anything other than that, you're doing yourself a disservice."
So the opponent really doesn't matter at that point…
Eberflus: "No, it really doesn't."
Have you lightened up on the loafs yet?
Eberflus: "No. No. I have not and I will not, and that's part of the system. And everybody that's coached in the system, we have a duty and an honor to uphold (that standard). And all that goes all the way back, way back for 30, 35 years in this system. So it's our job to make sure we hold that up."
How much did the loafs evolve last year? Did they decrease as the season went on?
Eberflus: "They're always going to be there. They're always going to be there, 'cause when you're held to a high standard, there's always going to be those (teaching moments). There's always going to be those things and guys know it and guys just try to improve themselves every single time they go out."