Gus Bradley has plans for Pro Bowl defensive players

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INDIANAPOLIS— GusBradley is just five days away from his new role as the Colts’ defensive coordinator. He hasn’t met many roster members and hasn’t hired any position coaches yet.

But he doesn’t have to guess which playmakers he inherits.

All he had to do was watch the Pro Bowl.

“The truth is, there’s a Pro Bowl player in every position group – the D-Line, the linebackers and the DBs,” Bradley said. “When you have that, it takes a skill set, presence, hard work and mentality to get to that level. And having that at every position group is unique to find yourself in a situation like this.”

Bradley refers to defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, linebacker Darius Leonard and nickel cornerback Kenny Moore II. They were the ones who propelled Matt Eberflus’ unit into the top 10 in takeouts and efficiency, even though the group failed to close games.

It’s clear they will remain the focal points of Bradley’s defense, perhaps in different ways.

Bradley wants a player-led defense, with one alpha dog leader per position group. That’s how he helped build Tampa-2’s defenses with the Buccaneers as a linebackers coach, where he had Derrick Brooks in his position to play with Ronde Barber in the high school. When he got his first chance to be a coordinator with the Seahawks, he drafted and developed fiery Pro Bowlers such as Cam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas into a unit known as the Legion of Boom.

Between his stops at Tampa Bay and Seattle, Bradley formed the Cover-3 defensive brand with light blitzes he’s been using ever since. He describes it as uncomplicated, so it can accentuate the coverage abilities of better players. They are supposed to hit the ground running.

In Los Angeles, Derwin James became an All-Pro safety as a rookie. In Las Vegas last season, veteran cornerback Casey Hayward followed Bradley from the Chargers and played at the Pro Bowl level in his first year with a new team.

That doesn’t mean it always works. As Jaguars head coach from 2013 to 2016, his units finished in the back half in three out of four years. It wasn’t until their final season there, however, that the band showcased those kinds of stars.

Cornerback Kenny Moore II reached his first Pro Bowl last season after leading the Indianapolis Colts with four interceptions.

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In Indianapolis, he will inherit two Pro Bowl cover players. Leonard led the NFL with 15 forced turnovers last season and is a three-time first-team All-Pro in just his fourth season. Moore II picked four picks to reach his first Pro Bowl last year.

Leonard particularly fits the profile with which Bradley excelled.

“At the end of the day, Gus Bradley is a linebacker at heart. He has a thing for the linebacker room. He coached it and he knows that’s what drives the team,” David Hawthorne said. , who started 41 games at linebacker for Bradley with the Seahawks from 2009 to 2011.

“With a guy like Leonard, the sky’s the limit. He’s already a great player and he’s going to get even better. What Gus is going to help him do is just see the game from the point of view of coach. If Gus can appoint you coach on the spot, then you’re hitting all the cylinders.”

Something new for Bradley is having one of his best players inside the line. Buckner reached his second Pro Bowl last season by leading the Colts with seven sacks despite facing more double teams than any player except Aaron Donald. His 6-foot-7 length and speed at 295 pounds make him difficult to handle otherwise.

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner led the Indianapolis Colts with seven sacks last season.

It’s the reverse of what Bradley trained last year with the Raiders with Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue combining for 18 sacks on the edges.

“Having a 3-man technique like that is a really good foundation,” Bradley said. “I remember we watched (Buckner) in San Francisco because it’s a similar pattern now, a similar pattern in San Francisco. Robert Saleh, who was the defensive coordinator there, was a control coach quality for us in Seattle. So there are some similarities. That’s where I think with Buck, he looks at this and says, OK, I hope he has a pretty good idea of ​​how he will be used.”

These three stars are in their prime, as Leonard and Moore II are 26 and Buckner is 27.

Bradley spoke to Eberflus about what each does well, but he also wants to take their games to new heights. That growth will ultimately determine what the Colts’ new defense can become.

“I think sometimes players hope for a clean slate,” Bradley said. “I’m not sure they want me to talk to every coach that was here and form an opinion. I think they would say, ‘I hope we have a clean slate and Gus, you assess, the coaches evaluate and then let’s go.’

That’s what we’re going to give them.”

Contact Colts insider Nate Atkins at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NateAtkins_.

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