WESTFIELD, Ind. — Julian Blackmon relayed the bar set for him and the Colts' defense early into training camp: 40+ takeaways in 2021.
"That's our goal and we're sticking to it," Blackmon said.
Watching all three levels of Colts' defense swarm throughout training camp, it's been clear how deep-rooted that goal is. Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers had an interception during Thursday's practice, while guys like Bobby Okereke, Darius Leonard, E.J Speed, Kenny Moore II, Xavier Rhodes, Rock Ya-Sin and T.J. Carrie (among others) have been all over the place in pass coverage. Even defensive tackle Grover Stewart had an interception earlier in camp.
"It's one of those things where you're shooting for perfection and you'll catch excellence, the old saying," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "I think that when you set the bar high like that, it's on their mind. It is achievable, we can achieve it. It's been done in the past.
"… It's a goal that we have, but again, we understand the mission is to go out and do it one game at a time. We understand we have to do that but again, it's going to be hard to reach but we have to seize the opportunities. You can't miss those opportunities."
The Colts had 25 takeaways in 2020 but felt they left a number of them on the field. Eberflus' defense had 26 in 2018 and 23 in 2019, so there's a been a certain level of consistency there.
That number hasn't been reached by an NFL defense in almost a decade. The Chicago Bears (44) and New England Patriots (41) both hit it in 2012; since then, the 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Panthers came closest with 39.
Of course, for the first time in 2021 the NFL will play a 17-game regular season schedule. But 40 would still mean more than two takeaways per game; on a per-game basis, getting 40 in 17 games would be equivalent to getting 37.6 takeaways in a 16-game season. Since 2011, only seven teams have had 38 more more takeaways in a single season.
It's a lofty number. But hearing what Colts players and coaches have said about it, and then watching those efforts translate to the practice fields here at Grand Park over the last few weeks, one thing is clear: Lofty does not mean unrealistic.
"If you look at the tape we're always punching, we're always stripping. The way we attack the ball," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "If you look at the missed opportunities that we had last year, I had six. Other guys had a dropped interception or the forced fumbles that we had, we don't scoop it up.
"It's realistic. We think that we can shatter that goal but it's going to take repetition in practice, then we get in the game, when the moment comes you've got to seize the moment."
- Quarterback Jacob Eason hit wide receiver Mike Strachan for a touchdown in a red zone 11 on 11 period, accurately firing a strike only the 6-foot-5 Strachan could snag.
- Eason also had another impressive throw in 11 on 11 when he changed his arm angle to zip a pass from the boundary to the sideline to running back Jordan Wilkins. The pass needed that kind of velocity on it to allow Wilkins to pick up some yards after the catch.
- Quarterback Sam Ehlinger had a solid day, too, highlighted by completions to tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
- Kickers Rodrigo Blankenship and Eddy Pineiro both made all of their field goal attempts, including a long of 50 yards from each.
- After practice, coach Frank Reich issued a challenge: If a player could hit the goalpost with a pass from about 20 yards out, all meetings for the rest of the day would be canceled. Up stepped linebacker Matt Adams, who nailed the attempt, sending the Colts players into a celebration — and free afternoon. "Now we get a little bit of rest," Leonard smiled.
They said it
"If I practice like I play, I should be fine. Thinking back to last year, we had no preseason games, we had so many drills in practice that put us in position to make plays like we would in a game. But if we do go out there and play, just give you that game environment, that game mentality, maybe just a series to get your body and mind back in to it." - Leonard on playing in the preseason
The Indianapolis Colts hit the field for their 17th practice of training camp.