INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus today spoke to the media via video conference as the team begins training camp. What's the latest on how the defensive end competition is looking to shape up, what Xavier Rhodes needs to do to get back to All-Pro form, how to take advantage of various rotations and more?
You can catch that entire session above, but here are some main takeaways:
» The next month or so is going to feature one heck of a competition for reps at defensive end: While the veteran Justin Houston, fresh off an 11-sack season, is already established at one defensive end spot, Eberflus pointed at several names of guys who will be in the running for the starting defensive end job opposite Houston, which was previously occupied by Jabaal Sheard, who remains a free agent.
The good news for the Colts is they have a solid mix of both veterans and younger guys, as well as versatile pieces that can play either inside or off the edge, that Eberflus is confident can get the job done at defensive end.
There is Ben Banogu or Kemoko Turay, who are more speed rusher types who pretty much exclusively play off the edge; there's Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis, who can play both at defensive tackle and defensive end; and then there's a veteran like Al-Quadin Muhammad, who is more in the Sheard mold of someone solid at setting the edge and making plays against the run.
Kendall Coleman, Gerri Green and Jegs Jegede will also get opportunities to show what they can do at defensive end when the team begins full camp walkthroughs and practices soon.
"Jabaal (Sheard) was a really good player versus the run. He had some good pressures over his career. So, he is going to be hard to replace in terms of that, but we will just let that play out relative to the practices coming up here once we get the pads on," Eberflus said.
» Eberflus and his staff are looking forward to the challenge of helping Xavier Rhodes get back to playing at an All-Pro level: Rhodes was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL just three years ago, when he was named First-Team All-Pro as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Rhodes has had a couple good years since, but admitted that, for a variety of reasons, he just wasn't playing quite as well as he would've wanted to of late.
The Colts jumped at the chance to sign Rhodes to a reported one-year contract this offseason; they feel his familiarity with defensive backs coaches Jonathan Gannon and Alan Williams, both of whom coached Rhodes when he was with the Vikings, will pay dividends.
Eberflus said today that Rhodes will need to get used to the way his defense practices, but feels he has every resource available to get back to where he wants to be.
"The No. 1 thing is we want to model for him and show him the perfect picture of the techniques that he needs to have in his toolbox. I think that's so important," Eberflus said. "Then as a coach, we want to inspire him through his mind and telling him the 'why' of what we're asking him to do. That's important to model it and then inspire it. Then we're going to be truthful and honest in our correction of his technique and his effort. We're just going to be on top of that, just to make him better as a player. Then we're going to have to do a good job because with every player when they work this technique and we ask them to practice this certain way and play a certain way – this is the hardest thing he'll ever do in terms of practice.
"So he's going to need some encouragement," Eberflus continued. "He's going to need some encouragement there to be able to help him along the way."
» There are plenty of ways to get the best 11 players out on the field as much as possible: Sometimes when you're switching back and forth between the base and the nickel formations — and all the possible subpackages out of those — you have to make tough personnel decisions. When going into the nickel, for example, the Colts typically add a cornerback to the mix, but have to take a linebacker off the field.
That might not be as cut-and-dry this year, however. Indy features three extremely talented linebackers in Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke, and one can imagine it'll be tough to take any one of those guys off the field. So Eberflus said it's on him, and his staff, to ensure they're being creative and always thinking about the ways that they can keep their best 11 players on the field at the same time, while also always addressing the matchups they'll be facing.
"There are a couple ways you can do that … and one of them is to stay base versus sub people, which I think is a good idea to do sometimes," Eberflus said. "We've done that in the past. You can play your zone coverages and certain pressures out of it and certain things you can do out of that base package versus their sub people. That's one way to keep all three of those guys on the field.
"The other way is to do things in sub packages," he continued. "You actually put your sub packages in and you leave the three linebackers out there."
There are other moving parts, of course, but Eberflus wants to be sure to utilize training camp practices and walkthroughs to nail down every single personnel package.
"There are a lot of different ways you can maneuver your people and put them on the field, but the best 11 is what we're always trying to do," he said. "We'll take away some of those things during the training camp here and the practices and the walkthroughs and then we'll see how it goes and see if it moves down the road."