INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chuck Pagano waited patiently last year as the Indianapolis Colts rebuilt their offense. Now, he'll go to work on giving the defense a whole new look.
The Colts' coach finally has the size, depth and personnel to make the transition from Indy's traditional 4-3 defensive front to his preferred aggressive 3-4.
In 2013, he won't have to hold anything back.
"We can do a lot of what you call exotic-type of things going into year two where coming in here changing over from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and doing the things you want to do on third down," Pagano, a former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, said Friday.
"Year one to year two will be huge because of just familiarity and you are going to be able to expand and get after the quarterback in a lot of different ways."
The Colts didn't have nearly as many options last season when they were trying to mix undersized, quick players from their previous defensive system with a group of newcomers that was better suited to play the 3-4.
By signing five big-hitting, young free agents, Pagano can now roll the dice more often.
Linebackers Erik Walden (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) and Lawrence Sidbury (6-3, 261) are bigger, stouter run-stoppers. That should help revamp a defense ranked 31st against the run last season.
Cornerback Greg Toler, a former starter in Arizona, has a knack for being around the football and likes playing man coverage, just the kind of player Pagano loves to build around.
Safety LaRon Landry left the Jets for Indy after a Pro Bowl season and may wind up being the most visible newcomer in Indy next season.
"He's a game wrecker. He's a game changer. When you walk in, people are now going to have to look at it and they are going to have to look at the defensive personnel and one of the first guys they are going to talk about is LaRon Landry," Pagano said.
"They are going to say, 'We've got to account for this guy. We've got to make sure we block this guy.' They are going to try and do whatever they can to account for him. He's a difference-maker."
On Thursday, the Colts added their latest free agent — 295-pound defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, considered by some to be the only free agent capable of playing all three positions on the defensive line.
The signing reunites Francois with Greg Manusky, Indy's defensive coordinator, meaning the transition should be smooth. And the versatility means Pagano will be able to move Francois around to get better one-on-one matchups.
It's all part of Ryan Grigson's game plan.
When Grigson took over as Indy's GM last season and decided to take Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick, his top priority was protecting Luck and surrounding him with enough pieces to succeed as a rookie.
The second phase of the plan was changing the defense, and team owner Jim Irsay gave him carte blanche to do what was needed.
Grigson was asked if there was any hesitation about spending more than $100 million on free agents.
"I explained what our game plan was and gave him updates through the whole process, gave him text messages and he was on board," he said.
The question, of course, is what will the Colts do next?
Grigson and Pagano stayed pretty much behind the scenes all week until Friday, perhaps an indication they're done signing the high-priced free agents, though a few tweaks are still likely.
They've already bid farewell to career sacks leader Dwight Freeney and on Friday released starting safety Tom Zbikowski. Now they are in the market for a veteran backup quarterback after losing Drew Stanton to Arizona.
Otherwise, the focus will continue to be on giving Pagano the kind of defense he wants.
"We have considerable depth. We have bigger bodies now than we've ever had on our roster," Grigson said. "I wanted to be aggressive. Chuck did because we want to win. I think you have to take these opportunities to acquire talent wholeheartedly and I feel we did as an organization."