UNCHARTED TERRITORY

Gary Brackett said having someone talking in his head between plays beginning next season will be uncharted territory. Brackett, the Colts' middle linebacker and defensive captain, this week discussed a new NFL rule allowing coach-to-defensive player in-helmet communication.

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Electronic Device in Helmet will be Adjustment, Brackett Says

INDIANAPOLIS – The experience will be a new one for Gary Brackett.

Beginning next season, the Colts' starting middle linebacker will have help calling signals for the team's defense, a responsibility he has had for the past three seasons.

The help will come from what he calls a voice inside his head, which he said will be a new experience – perhaps not entirely new, he said, but new enough. Because Brackett never has had a voice in his head during a game.

At least not someone else's voice.

"Other than the little guy who's already in the head, my study partner," Brackett said with a laugh on Monday, "but other than that, there's nothing. It's uncharted territory.

"You don't know exactly how it's going to be."

Brackett, the Colts' team captain, was discussing a new rule passed by NFL owners during the 2008 League Meetings last week in Palm Beach, Fla. Under the rule, coaches will be able to communicate with defensive players via an electronic in-helmet system in the same way coaches have communicated with quarterbacks since 1994.

As is the case on offense, defensive coaches will be able to communicate with one defensive player until the play clock reaches 15 seconds.

"Hearing from the quarterbacks, how they get relayed some of the information that's vital and how they can communicate to their guys – you love to have that same advantage on the defensive side of the ball," Brackett said. "Teams are looking for any advantage they can get. You play against a good quarterback and he knows what defense you're in, it makes his job a lot easier."

Brackett said while he was glad the rule was put in place, he will "wait and see" about its full impact.

"It's more of an anticipation-type thing," Brackett said. "I don't think it's going to be the end-all, be-all. I don't think we'll be able to totally do away with our signals and some of the things that we do now from the sidelines."

Brackett has called signals for the Colts' defense since 2005, when he took over as the team's starting middle linebacker. That's a role he also had held throughout his high school and college career, but never previously has he had a coach talking in his headset between plays.

Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy last week said while there are several issues about the rule about which he is uncertain, he is sure Brackett will be the one wearing the communication device.

Brackett said he considered the possibility of an in-helmet device last off-season, when owners considered a similar proposal. Still, he said he was mildly surprised the league implemented a rule favoring defense.

"I think the way it is now, they'd be excited if it was all shootouts, 40-to-50-(point) type games and a whole bunch of touchdowns," he said, laughing. "As a defensive player, you don't want to see that happen. You want to see it be an equal opunity for the offense as well as the defense to go out and be productive."

Brackett said he spoke with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on Friday, and Manning told him pre-planning exactly what will and won't be communicated will be critical.

"We spoke about making sure we get the process down before we get to the season, exactly how you want it and who you want it coming from," Brackett said. "What are you guys going to be talking about, if anything? It's a situation where I can't talk to them. They can talk to me. I need to know exactly the information and I don't need to know any more than I need to know and I don't need to know any less.

"I want to know the personnel on the field, what guys they have in. I want to know if Devin Hester is in the game, should I gear the defense to that? Then, I need to know our coverage. I still have to focus, then as a player, I have to play.

"It has to be a win-win situation. I don't want it to be where I'm struggling to get the calls, then it's taking away from my play. It has to be, 'This is what you're going to get me and these are the keys you want me to alert the other guys to.' I can call the defense and still be able to line up and process the information, then I need to be productive on the field."

Dungy, speaking last week at the meetings, said he doubted the change will eliminate the need for defensive signals. Offenses, Dungy and Brackett each said, will be able to change personnel packages near the 15-second mark on the play clock, meaning defensive coordinators will still have to communicate after the in-helmet devices are turned off.

"It's uncharted waters, so it's all speculation at this point, how effective it could possibly be," Brackett said. "Talking to offensive players, they can always wait for that 15-second point, then it's back to the same old thing. First, they bring in their regular package, then another wide receiver, which forces us to go to the nickel. I'm sure some of that's still going to go on. At this point, it's just speculative how it will help in those types of situations."

And Brackett said no matter how much electronic assistance the NFL allows, defenses or offenses can't – and likely won't – rely on it too much.

"You don't want to get in a situation where we're not reading our keys," Brackett said. "Then it becomes counterproductive. You still want to rely on your keys. You still want to rely on your instincts. You don't want to get into a situation where you think you know what's going to be done. You're still going to have to play football."

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