INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – He’s 23 and a rookie, but also a quick study.
As Ben Banogu has waded through his first offseason with the Indianapolis Colts, he’s watched and learned from his elders. And he stole from one.
The victim: Justin Houston.
It was during a recent practice that Banogu, eager and a sponge to everything going on around him, paid close attention as Houston worked against an offensive tackle in a pass-rush situation.
“He did a cool move rushing the edge,’’ Banogu said Wednesday. “I kind of saw it and I was, ‘I can see myself doing that.’
“I mimicked that and it kind of worked for me, too.’’
Banogu made his mark at TCU and caught the eye of the Colts’ scouting staff with his speed and explosiveness. In 27 games, the 6-4, 249-pounder generated 17 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss. He made plays that made a difference.
For that to continue, Banogu realizes his game must continue to evolve. And that involves stealing – OK, copying – pass-rush moves from other players.
“There’s a lot of moves in this league that have been done since the ‘80s,’’ he said. “It’s just how well you can do them. You just find a way to put those moves into your game and put your own special sauce on it and kind of run with it.
“I’m still a rookie, so I’m trying to learn everything I can to help myself.’’
There are worse teachers than Justin Houston.
The Colts’ selective shopping in the veteran free-agent market included luring Houston to town with a two-year, $23 million contract. He wanted to remain in Kansas City, but the Chiefs demanded their pass-rush standout take a pay cut. When he refused, they released him.
Just like that, Houston became the main pass-rush threat for coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense.
What are the expectations?
“Just what he’s done in the past, and that much more,’’ Eberflus said of Houston. “Just being in our scheme will help him in terms of getting his hand in the dirt and getting off and attacking that way will lend to his natural abilities.’’
In eight seasons with the Chiefs, Houston piled up 78.5 sacks, the ninth-most among active players. He had 11 in 14 games last season, incl
uding the playoffs.
“You don’t just fall into 78.5 sacks,’’ Eberflus said. “He knows how to rush the passer.’’
And with each practice, there’s been a trickle-down effect. Think of Robert Mathis, a rookie in 2003, watching, learning and taking pieces from the games of Chad Bratzke and Dwight Freeney and incorporating them into his own repertoire.
The specific move of Houston that captivated Banogu was a “speed-and-chop, try and burn the edge, try and get the tackle off balance and chop his hands down. Standard move. Just be able to bend and rush the edge.
“I think every player’s different,’’ Banogu added, “but as long as you can learn from each guy and try and take the stuff that they do and put it into your game and it fits the way you play, that’s going to help yourself the most.’’
Banogu’s rookie offseason – it ends with Thursday’s final minicamp session – has been split between linebacker and end. The Colts initially planned on allowing him to develop at SAM linebacker, but the more they watched him in practice, the more they were captivated by his pass-rush potential.
“You have to find a starting point for every player and see, ‘Hey, where can he ascend to?’’’ Eberflus said. “We thought, hey, moving him now to end is probably the best starting point for him relative to who he is, what he brings to the table and where can he impact our defense the most at the earliest fashion.’’
After reviewing practice video and huddling with his defensive staff, Eberflus discussed Banogu’s immediate future with general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich.
“We decided, ‘Hey, let’s put him (at end) and then we can build it from there,’’’ he said. “Can he do different things, put him in different spots? No question he can do that. But let’s get his feet on solid ground at one spot and then kind of develop him from there.’’
Along with gleaning things from Houston and other teammates, Banogu is getting comfortable with a different defensive approach. At TCU, he generally worked as a stand-up end in a read-and-react scheme. As an end with the Colts, he’ll uncoil out of a three-point stance.
“This defense is a lot more attacking,’’ he said. “It’s kind of cool in the respect that you kind of have a free flow.’’
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