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ANDERSON – While the Indianapolis Colts' first-team defense might not play more than a series or two in Sunday's preseason opener, the glimpse will be worth watching.
At least five of the 11 expected starters – going by the team's official depth chart – will be new to the defense this season: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, tackle Ricky Jean Francois, outside linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry.
The Colts looked to upgrade in the offseason. They've made changes, no doubt. Only time will determine if the changes were for the better.
Today, still undefeated in training camp, the outlook is predictably optimistic.
“Those (new) guys, the best thing about them is they're football players,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “They love the game. They love the passion of the game. They go out there with a great attitude. And, No.1, they're good football players and great people.”
The Colts play the Buffalo Bills at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in their preseason opener at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.
Cory Redding, a second-year returnee from the extreme Colts makeover of 2012, said his new teammates have already made a change in the defensive approach.
“In my mind, it's night and day,” Redding said. “Last year, we did some good things, but still we needed a lot of work against the run, a lot of work against the pass, a lot of work at different things and scheme-wise.”
The different now, Redding said, is that the defense has a wealth of players who are the right body types and skill sets to flourish in the 3-4 defense favored by Manusky and Colts coach Chuck Pagano.
In addition to the previously mentioned five newcomers, the team acquired linebacker Kelvin Sheppard in a trade with the Bills (for defensive end Jerry Hughes) and added rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner (currently behind Robert Mathis on depth chart). Also playing for the first time is second-year nose tackle Josh Chapman, who was injured last season but has been dominant at times during training camp at Anderson University.
Manusky said the starters will play a series or about 10 plays, depending on the situation, against the Bills.
“More than anything, I want to see a high level of defense in the sense that I want to see guys flying around,” Manusky said. “I want to see very little mental mistakes, even though it's a different offense that we'll be facing. We really don't know much about it. It's going to be a little bit of a curve, but I want to see them playing together and rallying around each other and I think we have the people to do it.”
Toler may not see action at corner since he has been sidelined part of the camp recovering from a concussion. Darius Butler likely steps in there. With Pat Angerer still on the physically unable to play list, Kavell Conner and Sheppard will move into that spot.
Pagano and Manusky agree that the returning players have a better grasp of the defense and terminology in their second-go round. Most of the players who have been added have the veteran savvy to catch on quickly.
“What I like best is you're not handicapping guys,” Redding said. “You're not handcuffing them and tell them, 'You have t do this and you have to do that.' In this defense, it's interchangeable positions. I can play an end or a nose or a three-technique. I can stand up if I want to. I can put my hand down.
“I have the freedom, and all the guys on the defense have the freedom to do whatever they have to do to get the job done.”