INDIANAPOLIS — Coming into the offseason, finding another fierce edge rusher capable of bringing down the quarterback was something the Indianapolis Colts knew they needed.
They have veteran Jabaal Sheard, who was among the most productive pass rushers in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus. But production in terms of pressures didn't always parlay into sacks, and after logging just 25 of them as a whole defensive unit in 2017 — the second-fewest in the league — the Colts have turned to Tarell Basham as a player they believe can break out in his second NFL season in 2018 and help bring those numbers up.
After excelling as a 4-3 defensive end at Ohio University, Basham entered the league last season with the Colts knowing he was going to have to transition into an outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 scheme.
Basham grew as a player in 2017, but playing a different position meant patience had to be exercised. His development was slow at first — he was even a healthy scratch in Week 6 — but then a light flipped on. Coaches began raving about the difference they saw in Basham, and he notched his first two career sacks in the following weeks.
After coming out of the gates slow as a rookie, Basham ended the season on a high note. And now, the Colts' new 4-3 base defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus , getting him back to his college roots, seems to fit Basham like a glove.
With a fresh mindset — as well as a new approach to training and conditioning — Basham's coaches have taken notice of his progress this offseason, as well.
"He's (Basham) done a nice job," Colts defensive line coach Mike Phair said. "I can see Rusty (Jones) has done a great job with him getting his body changed a little bit so he has been putting the work in. He has come out every day just with the right approach — come out to work."
When the Colts selected Basham in the third round of last year's NFL Draft, the team, under then-head coach Chuck Pagano, utilized a 3-4 base defense, meaning he'd have to cut his teeth as a professional as an outside linebacker — not at defensive end. Now, Basham is back where he is comfortable in a 4-3, and Director of Sports Performance Rusty Jones and the rest of the health and conditioning staff have helped Basham adjust his body to the change.
The 4-3 allows Basham to just focus on one task — getting to the quarterback.
"Most definitely. The 4-3 is the system that I was raised in, an attack and react type of defense," Basham said when asked if he's more comfortable in the 4-3. "It's definitely got me feeling more at home, I would say."
But one of the added pressures of playing in a 4-3 is that the defensive front is depended upon to generate pressure, which makes the job of the linebackers and the defensive backs behind them much easier. Basham says he "definitely" feels the pressure to perform in this new scheme, but it's a challenge he takes head-on.
"You've got to love it when the stress is on. It gets everybody in that room and in that position to work as hard as they possibly can to get one thing done, which is to get them sacks (and) put the pressure on the quarterback," Basham said. "With this defense, it's a rush and cover defense, but we've got to be able to rush in order for those guys to be able to cover on the back end."
The Colts seemed so intrigued by Basham's progress that he was seen running alongside Sheard with the No. 1 defense for most of the offseason workout program.
While an actual starting position will be won during training camp and the preseason, Basham is amazed by the difference a year, and a defensive switch, can make.
"Way more comfortable than where I was after the draft. After the draft last year, things were just like going every which way, trying to get settled, trying to establish a role on the team, trying to learn this whole new position that I've never played before in my career ever, really, besides high school – which doesn't count," he said. "It was hectic for me last year right around this time, trying to find where I fit into the team and on the defense."