For Colts’ defenders, it’s full effort or deal with ‘loafs’

Darius Leonard

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Effort is in the eye of the beholder, and a certain set of eyes – the only eyes that really matter – demands ultimate effort from the Indianapolis Colts’ revamped defense.

Every. Single. Play.

That’s been the case since first-year coordinator Matt Eberflus gathered his players in April and introduced them to a 4-3 scheme that would demand quickness, instincts and striking ability.

And relentlessness. There would be assignment mistakes because there always are assignment mistakes, especially when so many young players are expected to contribute immediately.

Eberflus’ linebackers room shared six career starts on opening day – “It might be an NFL record,” he said of the lack of experience at the position – and rookies Darius Leonard and Skai Moore started Sunday against Cincinnati.

Rookie or veteran, the charge is the same. Give effort. Run to the football. Eberflus wants a seven-plus swarm to converge on the ball carrier.

Failing that, be prepared for an uncomfortable film session the following day.

Be prepared to have your “loafs” compiled and pointed out.

Loafs?

“When you break speed. When your running form changes,” explained veteran end Jabaal Sheard, who declined to share his loaf total.

Don’t players always believe they’re playing hard?

“Yeah,” Sheard said, “but it shows on film.”

Reich smiled when asked about Eberflus’ grading system that includes a critical look at when a player might believe he’s giving 100 percent on a play, but in reality has fallen short.

“Oh, it’s brutal. It’s brutal,” he said. “I mean, it’s like something you would see in a TV commercial. It’s like kind of bizarre. I mean everyone is getting held accountable on every single play. There are no exceptions.

“You have to run to the ball . . . that’s the distinction we are looking for. The cumulative effect of that is going to lead to more turnovers.”

Over the past six months, players have gotten the idea.

“Players are pretty smart,” Reich said. “They know the difference between 99 percent and 100 percent.

“We are asking for 100 percent, absolutely.”

Leonard, whose quickness and play-making potential is evident, led the defense with nine tackles, six of them solos, and a fumble recovery. He and veteran safety Clayton Geathers were the only defenders on the field for each of the 55 snaps.

How many loafs did Eberflus nail him with?

“I had nine,” Leonard said sheepishly.

Did that shock him?

“I did,” he said. “It always shocks me when I see loafs. I think I get to the ball. Then I see on film I could have done better.”

If a linebacker or lineman crashes the line of scrimmage and gets caught up in the mass of bodies, the demand for more remains.

“Oh, you’ve got to turn and run,” Leonard said. “Even if the ball’s 95 yards down the field they want to see you running at least 15 or 20 yards.

“They want that mentality. It shows you can put your trust in me and your teammates know they can trust me to get to the ball.”

Was Leonard’s nine loafs among the team leaders?

“No, not at all,” he admitted with a smile.

Eberflus implied one player was graded with 15 loafs. Tackle Denico Autry apparently merited 11 (on 40 snaps) and tackle Al Woods eight (on 27 snaps). Autry had one tackle and Woods three, but Woods provided serious pocket pressure on Cincinnati’s opening drive that resulted in an Andy Dalton interception.

End Tarell Basham was hit with four loafs, which seemed a modest number.

“Yeah, but I only had nine plays,” he said.

This portion of Eberflus’ post-game film critique/grading isn’t meant to shame a player in front of his peers. It’s to instill in everyone to strive for that 100 percent, every-play standard. Hustling and swarming often leads to game-changing turnovers.

“This coaching staff simply wants more,” Woods said. “Their slogan is ‘Run till your heart bursts and give me one more play after that, then you can come out of the game.’

“I basically go till, ‘All right, I can’t breathe.’ Then I come out after that play.”

A player has the freedom to object if he’s slapped with what he believes to be an unwarranted loaf.

“If a coach says something, we have the right to say, ‘Hey, man, that’s me running full speed,’” Woods said. “If (the coach) objects, it is what it is.”

Eberflus’ insistence on players giving full effort on every play can be traced to Tony Dungy’s approach with this same defense. One of Dungy’s coaching disciples is Rod Marinelli, and Eberflus worked with Marinelli the past five seasons in Dallas.

Loafing, Eberflus insisted, is “obvious. It’s very obvious when you see it. You can put on any tape. It doesn’t matter if it’s elementary school or pro football, you can see it. You’ve got to be looking for it, though.

“Most people are enamored with scheme. They want to focus on this, that and the other thing; this coverage, that coverage, this front, blitzes and stuff. I think that’s important . . . but playing with great speed and great hustle is a trademark of our defense and has been a part of this system for a long time.

“To me, it’s easy to see and we’ve just got to decrease the number we have.”

Leonard isn’t interested in lowering his loaf number by one or two.

His goal?

“None,” he said, “That’s what you shoot for. It’s not (likely), but that’s what you aim for. You aim for the stars.”

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51