Rookie Tarell Basham eager to learn from Colts’ legend Robert Mathis

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Robert Mathis #98 of the Indianapolis Colts waves to the crowd after the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – An interesting dynamic is steering an Indianapolis Colts’ pass rush that has been wandering aimlessly for too long.

Let’s call it a something old, something new approach.

Something old: Robert Mathis, 36 and in his first offseason as a retired Colt.

Something new: Tarell Basham, 23 and heading into his first season as a Colt.

Basham was in grade school when the Colts selected Mathis in the fifth-round of the 2003 draft, but their ability to connect on the practice field during the on-going offseason workouts is critical.

Mathis is paying it forward. The team’s career sack leader – 123, which rank 17th in NFL history—is serving as a volunteer coach. The old dog is eager to share the tricks that made him one of the league’s most disruptive forces for 14 seasons.

Basham is a sponge, and more than a little receptive to whatever Mathis has to offer.

“Oh yeah, he’s a great guy,’’ Basham said. “I’ve been watching him since I was . . . I don’t want to say the age because he told me yesterday I made him feel old.

“I’ve been watching him for a long time. He’s a legend. Not every rookie gets that opportunity to learn from somebody who’s a legend in their position.’’

It’s critical for there to be consequence from the convergence of what was and what might be.

The Colts’ pass rush wasn’t horrendous last season – the 33 sacks ranked in the middle of the pack – but neither was it reliable. The defense generated 21 sacks in the eight wins, only 12 in the eight losses.

The massive defensive makeover during the offseason was necessary to shed age and underperformance, but it also gutted the pass rush. Gone are players who accounted for 21.5 of the 33 sacks, including the top two – Erik Walden (11), who wasn’t re-signed; and Mathis (5), who retired. The top returner? Nose tackle David Parry, with 3.

“I know that you take some excellent rushers out of the mix in the three outside guys that we lost, but you’ve added some youth to the group,’’ coordinator Ted Monachino said. “You’ve added some speed and some power to that group that maybe we didn’t have a year ago.

“It would be our expectation that that part of our game would improve.’’

General manager Chris Ballard added veteran presences through free agency with outside ‘backers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon. To this point, each has been more complementary than catalyst in terms of pass rush. They combined for 8.5 in 2016.

Again, the pressure is on Basham to contribute. Immediately.

That, by the way, is his intention.

“Most definitely,’’ he said. “I expect to be able to pressure the quarterback. I know that’s what they got me here to do, to be a good pass rusher, but also set a good edge.

“I’m big and long. I plan to affect the game. That’s why they got me in here.’’

The Colts selected the 6-2, 262-pound Basham in the third round of the April draft, 80th overall. That makes him something of a franchise novelty. He’s just the fourth pass rusher taken that high in the last 16 drafts, joining Dwight Freeney (11th overall in 2002), Jerry Hughes (31st in ’10) and Bjoern Werner (24th in ’13).

While no one expects Basham to approach Freeney’s status – seven Pro Bowls, 107.5 sacks in 11 seasons – he needs to avoid being compared to Hughes and Werner. Neither first rounder panned out in Indy. Hughes and Werner combined for 11.5 sacks in 78 games with the Colts.

There figures to be a transition period for Basham. He had 29.5 sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss during a 51-game career at Ohio and was the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year last season after leading the conference with a school-record 11.5 sacks.

“Generally these guys were the best of the best where they were,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “Now, it’s the adjustment to the speed of the game and the talent level. Just the sacrifices and what it takes to be a pro day-in and day-out, and what you have to give up.

“It’s every day and it’s every day on a consistent basis. It’s the meetings. It’s the practices. It’s nutrition, it’s diet, it’s sleep. It’s a grind and it isn’t for everybody.’’

Basham, Pagano added, has “got a lot to learn. We’ve got some guys that he can gravitate to. Some guys, championship-pedigree guys.’’

Guys like Robert Mathis.

Basham didn’t attempt to disguise his willingness and eagerness to work with Mathis. He’ll listen, watch, learn how Mathis did it so well for so long. He’s already noticed what undoubtedly was the key to Mathis’ success.

“He has a great motor,’’ Basham said. “Ne never stops on the field and I’m trying to learn to have the same type of motor he has and the same type of get-up and get-after he did and try to attack the game the same way he did.

“You could definitely learn that no matter what position you’re playing. You can definitely learn from his motor and the way he attacked the game.’’

Mathis never was loquacious during his playing days, and that apparently hasn’t changed.

“He’s not the most talkative guy,’’ Basham said with a smile. “But it’s crazy. When he does say something, it’s like silence. Everybody listens.

“He’s a legend. Nothing but respect for him.’’

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