Linebacker Corps Continues To Be Instrumental to Defense's Success
INDIANAPOLIS – A little friendly competition can go a long way among teammates. Look no further than the Indianapolis Colts' defense for proof.
While the unit shares the same team goal of winning every week, the players have built something of a good-natured rivalry when it comes to making plays on game day. And at least one player believes it is a reason behind the defense's success this season.
"You can see it the last couple of games," linebacker Clint Session said. "It is like we have a little competition with each other. We are finishing every game and constantly saying stuff like, 'Hey, I've got more tackles than you,' or, 'Hey man, I've got a tackle for a loss,' stuff like that."
And with the friendly banter has come a sense of accountability.
"That's the kind of stuff you want from your defense," Session said. "It makes your defense hungry and gives you a purpose to work towards."
Session said the competitive atmosphere has helped the defense gel this season, particularly the team's linebacker corps.
Although success through 14 weeks takes a total team effort, the Colts linebackers have done more than their fair share of pitching in this season.
With defensive captain Gary Brackett leading the way, and Philip Wheeler and Session playing on the outside, the team's linebackers have been instrumental to Indianapolis' winning ways.
Each player brings something different, but the group has meshed together to perform remarkably well, helping the Colts boast the fifth-best scoring defense in the league (17.7 points per game).
"Overall, all of the guys have played solid," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Gary Brackett is having an outstanding year and certainly doing a great job in terms of setting up our defense, getting everyone headed in the right direction and making the necessary on-field adjustments. He's been a very strong leader.
"Then also, Philip Wheeler stepped in for (Tyjuan) Hagler, and he's been a guy who gets better every week. Every week he's been a bit more comfortable, a bit more active, and I think he's coming along nicely.
"Clint Session is having an outstanding year, too. You can see by his tackle totals that week-in and week-out he continues to always be around the football. He's had a lot of great hits and has been very, very key on a number of stops and short-yardage situations."
Session, in his second year as a starter, has emerged as a key player on the defense this season and provided a huge boost. His 104 tackles are third on the team behind safety Antoine Bethea (111) and Brackett (106).
"Clint is a guy who is just real fiery," Brackett said. "He's a guy who runs and hits and shoots his gun, as we like to say. When he sees something, he takes off and just goes and gets it."
Wheeler, who rounds out the linebacker unit for the Colts, has started five games this season since Hagler was placed on injured reserve in Week 8.
Wheeler's 39 tackles might not jump off the page, but the second-year veteran's increasing comfort within the defense helped him to one of the best games of his young career with 10 tackles at Jacksonville last Thursday.
"I think it is the case with everybody, the more experience you get, the better you are going to be in whatever you do," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he has benefited from Brackett and Session taking him under their wing and helping him get acclimated.
"They help me a lot," he said. "They obviously have more experience than me and can always show me a thing or two."
Brackett said Wheeler has come a long way since training camp and is really "coming into his own" over the past few weeks.
"This is his first time playing at this level and he's starting to figure out the game and things are starting to slow down for him," Brackett said. "Now he can relax and go out and show everyone the reason why he's here."
All three linebackers deflected credit as to why the unit has performed so well this season, but all agreed it begins with the coaching staff.
"Coach (Caldwell) just does a good job of getting us ready and prepared," Brackett said. "And with (Defensive Coordinator Larry) Coyer, he has a long-embedded linebacker mentality. He coached linebackers for years and sees things from our perspective and game plans accordingly. He allows us to be in position to where we can be successful."
Caldwell said the linebackers have benefited from their teammates winning the battle at the line-of-scrimmage, as well.
"All three of those guys would tell you that when they see their numbers are up, it is because of the big guys up front who draw double-teams," Caldwell said. "Good line play up front usually helps active linebackers make plays."
With two games remaining on the regular-season schedule, Brackett said the defense hopes to continue its strong play against New York and Buffalo and deep into the playoffs.
"We just want to continue to play good football," Brackett said. "Every week has been amazing to see who steps up and makes a play, and we just want to keep this thing going."