Mike Phair Already Getting Results From Colts' New Defensive Line

Outsiders may believe that the Indianapolis Colts don't have any superstars on their defensive line, but that hasn't stopped coach Mike Phair from getting the most out of his players.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts aren't relying on a superstar's saving grace along the defensive line.

Instead, the unit is worrying about its fundamentals. Its objective: get off the ball quickly and wreak havoc.

Through two games, the Colts have done that, registering 14 tackles (eight for loss), four sacks, three quarterback hits, 17 quarterback pressures and three batted passes, all just between the linemen. That means that 57 percent of their tackles are either a sack or tackle for loss.

Pro Football Focus has given five Colts defensive linemen a grade that declares them above average or high quality.

"The key part is that they're getting off the ball — that's what we look for — and just playing hard," defensive line coach Mike Phair told Colts.com this week. "Those two things are the biggest part, and they've been doing that. We've just gotta keep it going. Everybody's going to get opportunities, and so we've just got to keep getting them off the ball."

Although the Colts defense is a unit in transition — switching from a three-man to a four-man front this offseason — Phair has helped get the line to quickly buy in and use the system correctly.

And while the Indy defensive line does have some veteran experience to rely upon — Jabaal Sheard is one of the most effective players in the NFL at applying pressure on the quarterback, while Margus Hunt has enjoyed a career year thus far with two sacks and tying for the league lead with five tackles for loss — perhaps the most exciting aspect of the group is its youth that has plenty of room to grow.

Kemoko Turay, a second-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, is not only making the transition to the NFL, but he's also making the move to defensive end from outside linebacker.

Turay gives a lot of credit to Phair and pass rush consultant Robert Mathis for helping him in his development.

"I'm learning from Coach Phair and Coach Mathis, just having them teach me the technique and the scheme and just how to play fast. Just try to help me get a feel on what I can be good at as a defensive end," he said.

There's a ton of talent to work with there in Turay, so Phair and Co. are trying to make sure they maximize his potential from the ground up.

"Just his whole game, from top to bottom. He just needs to stay with technique and fundamentals that we're doing and just keep rushing because he's going to keep getting better," Phair said of Turay. "The biggest thing with him is just playing. That's where he'll get experience and then he can learn from that experience. So, the playing time's going to help him so we've just got to keep building on that."

Turay isn't the only young, budding player on this Colts line, however. The Colts recently signed third-year player Jihad Ward, who was selected in the second round by the Oakland Raiders in 2016.

Ward has yet to find a permanent home in the NFL, moving from the Raiders to the Dallas Cowboys and now to the Colts. However, he's already making waves in Indy.

Last week against the Washington Redskins, his first game with the Colts, Ward was credited with a sack, two quarterback hits and another hurry.

Ward and Phair were together at the University of Illinois in 2015, so the familiarity is there. Ward says Phair always comes with a pro mindset, which had dated back to their time together at Illinois, as Phair had come from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to his stop in Champaign, Ill.

Phair isn't surprised about Ward's solid play with the Colts.

"I just know that he has got some talent and he has got some tools to work with," Phair said. "We just got him so we are putting him in there, letting him go and letting him play and get better."

Spoken like a true coach, however, Phair acknowledges there's still plenty of work to be done up front with his group, which will continue to see plenty of different pieces being used week to week.

"You're never really satisfied," he said. "You're always trying to get better, and finding guys and putting guys in different roles and different spots. So, we're always doing that every week, looking at a new group."

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