MONTGOMERY — When Indianapolis Colts first-year coach Chuck Pagano confirmed during his introductory press conference that the team would be installing a new defensive system, many of the team's returning players silently celebrated.
The decision by Pagano to switch from a more traditional 4-3 alignment (four down linemen and three linebackers) to a more aggressive 3-4 hybrid scheme (three down linemen with four linebackers with the option of quickly switching into other fronts) was first met with near wide-spread approval and more than a little bit of curiosity.
Indianapolis has not played any form of a 3-4 defense since the early 1990s. In recent seasons, Tony Dungy's Tampa Two formed the framework of the defensive game plan.
But as the defense evolved over the last couple of years, depending on injuries and roster moves, the Colts became less aggressive with its linebackers and defensive backs. Indianapolis depended on a pair of smallish pass-rushing defensive ends -- Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis -- to create most, if not all, of the havoc up front.
The team's cornerbacks were often stationed six or seven yards off opposing wide receivers, giving up too much of a cushion and allowing easy toss and catch completions to keep offensive drives alive. While fans often became frustrated with particular players -- such as Tim Jennings, Jacob Lacey -- the real blame should have been centered on how the defense was being used.
With the introduction of the new 3-4 hybrid system, though, things are about to change. The Colts are expected to challenge offenses more up front and in the secondary. There are drawbacks to ramping up the aggressiveness, however. Cornerbacks will often be given more man-to-man pass coverage responsibilities, which could result in big pass plays downfield.
One thing is certain. Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky aren't going to hold anything back. They're not prepared to play cautiously on defense. Indianapolis will want to challenge teams. They'll be a work in progress, though, until they get all the bugs worked out.