WESTFIELD, Ind. — Indianapolis Colts defensive line coach Mike Phair this week talked to reporters during the team’s training camp at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind. He gave the latest on the progression of the D-linemen, the depth up front, Denico Autry’s ascension, the addition of Justin Houston and more.
What was your introduction to this system? Was it college game or playing?
Phair: “No, really my exposure to it was when I went to Tampa Bay in 2002. Coach (Rod) Marinelli was there as a D-line coach. Monte Kiffin was there for three years. I was actually a personnel guy, I worked as a scout. I worked in coaching before that then I went there as a scout so I was introduced to the system there. Really, the coaching part of it is when I went to Chicago. And now years later in 2011 when Coach (Rod) Marinelli and Lovie (Smith) were there in Chicago. And Chris Ballard was there.”
This system is predicated on hustle, athleticism and quickness. When it’s done right, what does it look like?
Phair: “It’s an up-field pressure defense. You look at it, it doesn’t mean that we’re pressuring them. It’s like everything we’re doing is being disruptive. Like you’ll see when it’s done right, we’re getting vertical and knocking blockers off and being just extremely disruptive.”
What was it like with Tampa and Chicago? The system isn’t super complex, it can be, but what was it like getting an education from the guys in Tampa that have been doing it a long time and then going to Chicago? What was that like?
Phair: “The thing that was very common every place that you went, it wasn’t a bunch of trick ‘em with the plays. It’s not complex. It’s all about technique and fundamentals. It’s the details of it. We sit and talk about it. Now, you’ve got to do it. It’s one of those things that it’s easy to talk about, easy to say and hard to do.”
Do you think there was a point last season where it clicked for you guys?
Phair: “Well, you get more comfortable. It’s understanding your program of guys. It’s understanding and reprograming them to something that maybe they haven’t done, they haven’t been exposed to like all of us when you first come into the system. You’ve got to do it with reps, you’ve got to do it with playing time, you’ve got to do it with practice – that’s the key part when you kind of see really where everybody is at. Seeing them where they’ll get better with reps.”
This roster seems like it has a lot of depth up front. What have you seen so far in camp with your defensive line?
Phair: “Well, we roll our guys so much. You kind of look at it, we’ll always dress eight and we’ll play them all. Everybody is playing. It’s not like just four guys going. So you need depth. And Chris (Ballard) and those guys do a great job of bringing guys in and just keeping our guys fresh.”
Is Denico Autry doing as well in camp as it looks from the sideline?
Phair: “He’s doing a nice job. He's doing a really nice job, so we just got to keep it going. He's come out here every day with that whole mindset of just getting better.”
What is it about him that makes him so good?
Phair: “Well, he's got great length. He plays with really good pad level but the thing that's the biggest thing about him is he works his tail off. He comes out everyday and just works his butt off, and he's hustling to the ball. He's doing those things, those little things I was talking about, the details. They're everything in the system.”
How have Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay grown going into their second year?
Phair: “Yeah, they're getting better with these reps and that's why it's so important that they've got to get reps in order to really see the improvements and really get all the details down.”
Why do you think it is that so many pass rushers seem to make a huge jump from Year 1 to Year 2?
Phair: “You know, it's not, because they're getting reps. It's coming into the pros and sometimes you come in to a different system and you get used to it. Getting used to the different kind of players that you're going against, so. It's just, learn how to be a pro and they're doing that right now. They're doing a nice job with it and they're just going to keep getting better.”
What is the next step for this defense as a whole? You guys made a big jump last year, but what do you have to do this year?
Phair: “We're starting over, man. We're starting over. Everything from the basics, we talked about that front, technique and fundamentals. Everything that we talk about. We have to be a great hustle and defense. It all starts with our front. The front line has got to be ... that's where it all starts, with that hustle in front. You set the tempo.”
Is there a goal in terms or sacks or turnovers or anything like that?
Phair: “We always want sacks. I'm never going to give you a number; we just always want more. But it's all about, you got to stop the run too, so, it's just, when you kind of look at the way we teach and this alignment, the sign, the key technique. And we don't come off that. And, so that's pretty simple to talk about; hard to do.”
You’ve got numerous MVP-level quarterbacks and top-rated offenses on the schedule this year. How much pressure does that put on your guys to get after the QB?
Phair: “I don’t think about it.”
Phair: “All I'm worried about is today's practice, what we did, and what we do tomorrow. So, to be honest with you, that’s all I care about.”
What’s it been like working with Justin Houston, as he makes a transition from outside linebacker to defensive end?
Phair: “Yeah, (he’s) been a true pro. Put him on the right side over there and he just loves coming to work and he's been a true pro with everything.”
You already had a lot of veteran guys in there, but with the younger guys you have, is it important to have another guy with Houston’s résumé and his knowledge to bounce stuff off of?
Phair: “Absolutely, yeah. He's great to have in the meeting room and like I said, has been just a true pro with his whole approach and everything he does.”