Robert Mathis: Defensive Progression 'Going Great'

Intro: Veteran pass rusher Robert Mathis is entrenched in Year 1 under defensive coordinator Ted Monachino, and says he likes what he sees so far.

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ANDERSON, Ind. — Robert Mathis has pretty much seen it all as he enters his 14th year in the National Football League.

Having been on a roller coaster ride exclusively with the Indianapolis Colts' franchise — which has included mostly division championships, deep playoff runs and a Super Bowl title, but then a couple not-so-fruitful years — the Alabama A&M product continues to forge ahead, at age 35, as one of the team's top defensive players.

So despite the fact that Mathis has tons of experience behind him, he's still excited to come to work day after day, as the Colts have a new defensive coordinator in Ted Monachino who has been implementing an overall defensive scheme Mathis is definitely a fan of.

"It's going great," Mathis said Tuesday after the Colts' morning walkthrough practice at Anderson University. "I'm very happy with the progression and how things are going. Ted, our DC (defensive coordinator), he does a great job of balancing the rush coverage and play calling and everything, so I am happy with the progression."

Every defensive coordinator across the league comes into the season with aspirations of seeing his players attack the opposing offense with every opportunity they have, but Monachino has hinted at specific ways he wants to utilize his defenders to turn a gameplan into execution on Sundays.

A huge part of that gameplan for Monachino will be how he utilizes Mathis, who just last season returned from 10 surgeries to repair a torn Achilles — and the bad infection that followed — in Week 2, and still managed to record seven sacks on the year.

This time around, Mathis enters the season fully healthy, and while Monachino said you "can't run the wheels off" of him, he wants to have Mathis on the field "as often as he can handle."

"We are going to continue to use him in both base and sub on first and second down and on third," Monachino said Sunday. "So based on the situation, based on the rotation, based on the number of reps he has each game, we'll try to manage those guys because they deserve it, they've earned it."

Mathis is just one of four players on the Colts' defense returning with at least 11 years of experience, joining inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (11th year), outside linebacker Trent Cole (12th year) and safety Mike Adams (13th year).

Monachino acknowledged that he feels very fortunate to have such veteran leadership available to make his job easier each and every day.

Practice highlights from day five of the Colts 2016 Training Camp.

"You can never ever discount the fact that they've got an awful lot of experience underneath their belts and the game goes slowly to them," Monachino said. "You rely on them to help teach the younger players. You do an awful lot with them as you talk through the install and make sure that it's clean to those guys because if they're going to pass the information on down to the younger guys you want to make sure that they completely understand and that they're on board with the call."

Monachino added: "I don't think that old guys last in this league – I think experienced guys do."

"Rare warrior veteran-type players would describe those guys," he continued about Mathis, Jackson, Cole and Adams. "I don't think that any of them see themselves as old and frankly neither do I."

Part of that leadership has been tested in training camp already, as the Colts have seen a wide variety of players stepping in at the safety position, which has been hit with some injuries.

With projected starter Clayton Geathers on the active/non-football injury list since the start of camp — and with second-round pick T.J. Green just returning on Monday after a brief injury-related absence from practice — the team has relied on others, like cornerback Darius Butler, to step in to fill the void.

Mathis said despite some hiccups, the defense hasn't missed a beat, which is a credit to both his teammates and coaches.

"Yeah, there are no big I's or no little you's around here," he said. "Everybody has a job and everybody is expected to be interchangeable at different positions and the guys are doing a pretty good job of it."

As for Mathis himself, he says he's feeling just as healthy and explosive as he did in 2013. His stats that year? 54 tackles, 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles.

Asked if he still has "it," Mathis didn't hesitate.

"Yeah, I do," he said. "Stay tuned."

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