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Colts stay on defensive on second day of NFL draft

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Tarell Basham has watched the extensive renovation of the Indianapolis Colts defense, one that began shortly after Chris Ballard settled into his role as rookie general manager in late January.

Eight of the 12 veteran free agents signed over the past two months have been defensive talent. And the Colts’ first three picks in the NFL Draft? Ohio State safety Malik Hooker in round 1, Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson in round 2 and Ohio’s Basham in round 3.

That’s 11 of the 15 significant additions funneled to a defense that too often has been an eyesore.

“Yeah, I see they’re trying to get their defense going and I’m proud to be a part of the new Indianapolis Colts defense,’’ Basham said Friday in a conference call. “I hope that I’m able to come in and make an impact and hope you see us in the playoffs this year.’’

That’s the hope – the commitment – of everyone in the organization from owner Jim Irsay to Ballard to coach Chuck Pagano.

For too long, the defense has lacked stoutness against the run, consistency in getting after the quarterback and generating takeaways.

Again, the offseason has been about reversing the trend. It’s time to give the Andrew Luck-led offense the help that’s been missing.

That was the overriding theme as Ballard recapped the second day of the draft in general, and the latest phase of the offseason.

Defense, defense, defense.

He reminded everyone how he’s been spoiled the last several years during his association with the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears. Each featured reliable, oft-times disruptive defenses.

“It’s a quarterback’s friend; extra possessions,’’ Ballard said. “And defense travels. It travels on the road when things aren’t good on offense. When you have a good defense, it keeps you in ballgames and gives you a chance to win.’’

Last season, the Colts’ defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most meaningful categories: 30th in yards allowed, 25th against the run, 22nd in points allowed, tied for 26th in takeaways, 25th in third-down efficiency. It allowed at least 26 points in nine games. The defense’s eight interceptions tied a franchise record for fewest in a non-strike season.

“We had some holes that we needed to fill,’’ Ballard said. “Look, y’all watched the same games I do. We had some older players on defense that were great Colts, but it was time to move on and find some younger players.

“We’re not there, yet. We’ve still got some work to do.’’

The massive makeover included the departure of Robert Mathis, Mike Adams, D’Qwell Jackson and several others.

And it includes the influx of, to this point, three intriguing rookies.

Hooker and Wilson project to start the Sept. 10 season-opener on the road against the Los Angeles Rams. Basham, who’ll make the transition from defensive end in Ohio’s 4-3 scheme to outside linebacker in Pagano’s 3-4, should boost the pass rush in “sub’’ packages.

They fit Ballard’s blueprint with speed, athleticism and difference-making skills:

  • Hooker had seven interceptions last season at Ohio State. Opposing quarterbacks were limited to a 41.4 passer rating, the nation’s third-best among safeties.
  • Wilson had three interceptions as a junior at Florida, and the passer rating he allowed – 29.9 – was the best in the SEC.
  • Basham was named the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year on the strength of 11.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

Ballard wants a defense “that’s athletic and can take the ball away, that plays hard, that plays aggressive, that people know when they come into our building and we go on the road, they’re in for a four-quarter fight.

“It’s going to take time to get there, but we think we’ve added some good pieces.’’

 

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.