INDIANAPOLIS —Let's just say Robert Mathis is a little amped up about the fact the Indianapolis Colts, with a new head coach and new defensive coordinator in town, are making the change back to a 4-3 base defense in 2018.
After a six-year hiatus under previous head coach Chuck Pagano, who brought a 3-4 defensive scheme with him when he was hired by the team in 2012, general manager Chris Ballard earlier this offseason said the Colts will be returning to their successful roots from the first decade of the 2000s, when speed and explosiveness were the name of the game in the 4-3 under future Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy.
After retiring following the 2016 season, Mathis — who earned a majority (83.5) of his Colts franchise record 123 sacks playing defensive end in the 4-3 — has entered his second season on Indy's coaching staff as a pass rush consultant, which will be his first under new head coach Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Mathis told Colts.com's Matt Taylor this week what to expect from the Colts' defense moving forward as it makes the transition back to the 4-3.
"It's about speed," Mathis said. "Speed is No. 1 — first and foremost. And everybody, even the bigs in the middle — the D-tackles — everybody has to run, everybody has to have speed and quickness and good footwork."
Back in 2003, the Colts uncovered an absolute gem when they selected Mathis in the fifth round of that year's NFL Draft, and after showing his potential in his rookie season with 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, Mathis exploded the following year, notching 10.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
With Mathis on the left end and Dwight Freeney on the right in the Colts' speedy 4-3 defensive scheme, the Colts would feature the NFL's most feared pass-rushing duo, arguably, of all-time. From 2004 through 2011, the pair collectively averaged almost 20 sacks a year, and when the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter, it was a total assumption that either No. 93 or 98 — or both of them — would make a big play to not only bring the opposing quarterback down, but to get the ball back in the Colts' hands.
Now charged with helping develop the new breed of Colts pass rushers, Mathis said the opportunity to be on the coaching staff — in more of a custom, carved-out role — has been a "dream come true."
"Because they allowed me to transition the way I wanted to, and that's kind of weaning myself off of the game," Mathis said. "This will be my second year, and I'm just still excited to be in the building, to be around football. So I'm forever indebted to the organization — and it was great. I have no complaints about it, besides, you know, a few more wins here and there would've helped, but it was great all-around."
After breakind down some of the film of his best rushes from the 2011 season — the last time the Colts ran the 4-3 — Mathis said he's excited about the future of the Indy defense under Reich and Eberflus.
"We're back to the 4-3 — speed, get to the quarterback," he said. "Man, pass rush is back in Indy."