INDIANAPOLIS – As AFC contenders loaded up on offensive firepower this offseason, the Indianapolis Colts took more of a defensive approach.
With three 2021 Pro Bowlers already in the starting lineup, general manager Chris Ballard traded for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and signed veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore to create one of the team’s most star-studded defenses in years.
But prior accolades won’t automatically translate to wins on the field this fall. And that’s a fact linebacker Zaire Franklin is working to remind each of his teammates of as offseason training continues at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Despite boasting an NFL-high seven Pro Bowlers last season, the Colts lost their final two regular-season games and missed the playoffs with a 9-8 record.
A 26-11 loss against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars in the finale left a scar.
“I would just say – obviously we got great players – having Yannick here, having Gilmore here is great,” Franklin said. “But, at the end of the day, I told the team – the expectations and kind of the names on paper is one thing. We gotta show up on Sundays. You know what I mean? That’s really how I feel, to be honest with you.
“Obviously, I know Gilmore is gonna bring his best. He’s gonna elevate the whole defense to another level. Yannick obviously is a pass rusher, and we’ve played against him. He got sacks against us. But at the same time, it’s not really about what we look like on paper and accolades everybody’s accumulated because last year we had accolades out the (rear end), respectfully, and we didn’t win anything.
“ … When I talked to the team, I was just telling them guys got paid, guys are (in the) Pro Bowl and All-Pro, but it’s all about the banners on the wall at the end of the day.”
The hope is the new additions alongside a new scheme under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will help Indianapolis add to a banner collection that has hit a dry spell.
The Colts haven’t won the AFC South since 2014 and haven’t won a postseason game since 2018.
Bradley plans to install a defense with less complicated calls, allowing defenders to play fast and free. It’ll be months yet before the level of success with that plan is revealed, but hope springs eternal in the offseason.
“I think just the simplicity of the defense – we’re gonna run our stuff, and we’re gonna be great at it,” linebacker Bobby Okereke said. “And (with new) coaches coming in and the position flexibility of everybody, it’s just an exciting opportunity.”
Matt Pryor has become known for his versatility early in his NFL career.
Over three seasons with the Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, he’s appeared in 44 regular-season games with 15 starts split between guard and tackle.
This spring, he’s got an opportunity to earn a starting job for the first time, and he’s focused all of his efforts on left tackle. That’s included dropping weight and taking boxing classes to improve his quickness and footwork.
Versatility can help a player break onto an NFL roster. But excelling at one position is the way players stick around for the long haul.
“I mean, I say the more you can do, the less you get paid,” Pryor said with a laugh. “So, when it comes to being a young guy, of course doing more is better. That way you get a shot out there. Because I know my third year, I played all four spots (except center). That’s what kind of got my film and allowed me to get the opportunity to get traded and to come over here.
“So if anybody’s going through that, just take advantage of it. And when the opportunity comes to just stick at one position, give it your all.”
ON THE DOCKET
With the 2022 NFL schedule released Thursday, Indianapolis learned it will open the season Sept. 11 on the road against the Houston Texans and play four primetime games.
The Colts’ home opener is Sept. 25 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and they will host Monday Night Football games against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 28 and the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 26.
Indianapolis also will travel for Thursday Night Football against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 6 and Sunday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 4.
There are no three-game road trips or home stands, but the Colts will play five of their first seven games against AFC South opponents – with three games against divisional rivals on the road.
Other notable dates include the return of Carson Wentz and the Washington Commanders on Oct. 30 and the return of former offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 20.
Indianapolis closes the regular season at home against the Texans on Jan. 7 or 8.