Linebackers Barkevious Mingo, John Simon add toughness, competition to Colts’ D

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Barkevious Mingo #51 of the New England Patriots celebrates after the Patriots defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chris Ballard has been quick to act on his commitment to remaking the temperament of the roster he inherited, including what’s been an ineffective defense.

Remember a talking point when the Indianapolis Colts first-year general manager met with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine?

Ballard drove home the need for an influx of competitiveness, speed and toughness. His commitment included creating stiffer competition at every position.

“We will continue to look for that,’’ he said.

Say hello to outside linebackers John Simon and Barkevious Mingo.

They represent two of the early building blocks for a defense that by any standard hasn’t been good enough. Each was added last week as Ballard dipped into the NFL’s free agent market. The Colts also signed a third outside ‘backer, Jabaal Sheard.

Pencil Simon in as the projected starting strong-side linebacker, a young replacement for Erik Walden. Mingo, the 6th overall pick in the 2013 draft by Cleveland who has yet to fulfill expectations, offers pass-rush competition.

Simon’s reputation is one of a workaholic with a nasty side, and that’s been on display the last three seasons with the Houston Texans’ vaunted defense.

“I think I brought a little bit of that to the Houston defense,’’ he said in a Monday conference call. “Hopefully we’ll be able to install that here and get rolling.’’

Simon appeared in 38 games the last three seasons in Houston, 12 as a starter. That included five starts a year ago with the Texans’ No. 1-rated defense.

In the blink of an eye, Simon finds himself part of Ballard’s massive defensive overhaul. The Colts defense ranked 31st a year ago and too often has been an eyesore.

No one is surprised Ballard is in serious rebuild mold. At least eight prominent members of the ’16 defense won’t return: linebackers Walden, Robert Mathis (retired), D’Qwell Jackson (released) and Trent Cole (free agent); safety Mike Adams (free agent who signed with Carolina); cornerback Patrick Robinson (released); safety/corner Darius Butler (free agent) and defensive lineman Zach Kerr (free agent who signed with Denver).

“I know they’re making some changes,’’ said Simon, who relocated to Indy with a three-year contract that included $5.5 million in guarantees and a maximum value of $17 million. “It’s hard for me to answer because I didn’t know players personally there before. I can only speak for the guys they’re bringing in now and I know they’re going to bring in tough, physical players.

“We’re going to go out there and play tough and physical. I haven’t been here in the past, but I’m looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.’’

Another opportunity is precisely how Mingo views the Colts. He talked with former New England Patriots teammate Trevor Bates, a 2016 seventh-round draft pick of the Colts, before making his free-agent decision.

“I just felt it was the right fit,’’ Mingo said.

The Colts signed Mingo to a one-year contract that could be worth $2.5 million. However, only $1 million is guaranteed, which reflects a much lower risk factor than with Simon or Sheard (three-year, $25.5 million contract with $12.75 million guaranteed).

And that’s understandable. A high-profile pass-rush threat out of LSU in ’13, Mingo’s 62-game career includes just 7 sacks. One came on the first play of his rookie season – a 9-yard sack of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco – and he became the first Browns rookie to register a sack in each of his first three games.

Since then, he’s struggled to make a difference. Last season, Mingo appeared in 16 regular-season games and three playoff games with world champion New England. His contributions to the Patriots’ Super Bowl win over Atlanta in February consisted of 23 special teams’ snaps and two tackles.

“I guess I didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities I’ve had, that were given,’’ Mingo said of his four-year career. “Now I’m in a position to play a position and learn the defense and get everything going in the right direction.

“I feel like the Colts are the spot to get that done in. (The team is) just trying to create a culture where competition is at every position. When you’re competing, you’re getting better. You’re pushing everybody else to get better and that’s one thing I like about it.’’

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