The Indianapolis Colts have lacked a dominant edge rush during the Chris Ballard tenure. Honestly, they have mostly lacked even a capable pass rush off of the edge in recent seasons. Ballard took note of this deficiency in the 2021 NFL Draft and invested the 21st overall pick in Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye.
Paye's rookie season was far from immaculate, but it was a solid start to the young player's career. He finished the year with 32 total tackles, 10 QB hits, four sacks, and a forced fumble in 15 games played.
While some first round players may sit on that solid first season, Paye has continued to put in the work this offseason to improve on his game. He spent the month of February working with EXOS to do some corrections and to rehab his lingering hamstring injury. He then traveled out to California to work with his trainer, Eddy McGilvra, for six straight weeks. In recent weeks, he has also been working with Colts' legend Robert Mathis to refine aspects of his game.
Paye hasn't taken a day off this offseason and, according to McGilvra, the results have certainly shown up in training. I sat down with McGilvra to talk about his long offseason of work with Paye and what we should expect from the young pass rusher in year two.
Reflecting on Year One
Paye was thrown into some tough situations as a rookie. On top of dealing with a lingering hamstring injury, he faced a gauntlet of skilled left tackles to start his career. His opening run of games featured prime match-ups against former All-Pro's Duane Brown and Andrew Whitworth along with a game against former Pro Bowler Taylor Lewan.
Welcome to the NFL, rookie.
Paye was able to battle through the adversity and put together a solid year one. To McGilvra, he couldn't have asked for a better start to the young pass rusher's career:
I thought that it couldn’t have gone any better overall. Even having that adversity with his injury, that is a blessing to go through that early in your career. That adversity keeps him hungry going into the offseason, where some first round guys may take it easy after a productive rookie season. I was really proud of what he did out there.
For McGilvra, a lot of this offseason's training came down to just refining what Paye already showed he could do rather than starting from scratch like the pair did last offseason.
"The first phase of it was to watch what he was doing and what worked for him in year one." MCGilvra explained. "We didn’t add too much to his game, just corrected some little details that could have given him maybe 3-4 more sacks this past year."
All Gas This Offseason
Kwity Paye's mindset coming into this offseason can be summed up perfectly by a quick text that he sent McGilvra after the 2021 season:
"Gas pedal, bro."
Paye had no intention of resting on his laurels after year one. He wanted to spend this offseason continually working on his game and become the true number one edge rusher that this team needs. It is that mindset that separates Paye from most players.
"He just wants greatness." said McGilvra. "I’ve seen a lot of guys say that they want to be great, but I can see that Kwity means it when I am working with him. He puts his words into action."
Paye and McGilvra spent basically every day and night together when they were training out in California this offseason. They spent time watching film, working on run fits, working on pass rushing-- they even went with a few other vets to hot yoga at night as well.
The pair was constantly working to improve on the foundation that Paye built in year one.
"He wanted to go nonstop for the whole month and a half that he was out here." McGilvra explained. "He came in and attacked, and the progression was incredible. I saw it day after day and week after week. I told him that he was lining up for a huge season."
While McGilvra wouldn't spill everything that the two worked on this offseason, he did give a little bit of insight into some of the pass rush work that Paye did out in California:
"He added a counter off of his long arm. He added some counters to that and he really worked on flattening the top of his rushes. Those were our biggest two points of emphasis going into our training."
Here are a few clips from McGilvra's Twitter account that shows the work Paye has been putting in this offseason:
Change in Defensive Coordinator
The Colts made some major changes to the defensive side of the ball this offseason. Former Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus was hired to be the Head Coach of the Chicago Bears, and he essentially took the Colts' entire defensive staff with him.
Replacing him is long time defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who famously helped build the legendary Legion of Boom defense in Seattle back in 2012. Bradley is well-known for his attacking fronts that put a ton of stress on opposing offenses.
McGilvra couldn't be happier about the change happening in Indy:
He’s now going into a situation that is almost picture perfect. It gave us a better understanding of where he was going to be on the field. There was the question when we first started working on who was going to be his DC and his DL Coach. Also, the question came up whether we should focus on him being in a tighter alignment or work more with him being in a wide nine.
He didn’t get to that nine technique too much with the past DC. His rush track on third and long situations definitely will change and he is mostly going to be on the left side of the ball in a right hand stance next year.
With this new defensive scheme, there is much more clarity as to where Paye will be lining up. Under Matt Eberflus, Paye was mostly aligned as the right defensive end lined up over the offense's left tackle. He faced a tougher match-up on passing downs and typically had to be in more of a 5-Tech or 7-Tech position to play the run more efficiently.
Under Gus Bradley, however, he will mostly see snaps over the offense's right tackle. He will be lined up out in more of a wide-nine alignment and he will be asked to attack rather than crash down and collapse like he did under Eberflus.
When discussing these different style with McGilvra, he talked about some of the different defenses that they studied this offseason to prepare for this change in philosophy up front:
It was Gus (Bradley) with Jacksonville, (Robert) Saleh with San Francisco, (Jim) Schwartz with Philly, and some of Gus (Bradley) with the Raiders last year. A lot of how Maxx Crosby was used last year is where you will see Kwity. Some other examples of guys in this role would be Cliff Avril in the Seattle days, Yannick (Ngakoue) with the Jags, (Nick) Bosa with San Fran.. you are going to see him on that left side and in a right hand stance and he’s just going to go.
Matt Eberflus had a ton of success with the Colts and more than deserved the opportunity he got with the Bears. However, this type of change was something that was needed to give some extra juice to the defensive line.
Eberflus prioritized run fits and contain rushes in the pass game. Under Gus Bradley (and DL Coach Nate Ollie) it is going to be straight attacking all game long. This is an area where Paye will be able to thrive.
It is hard to truly put it into words, because we were so excited when we heard what had happened. Not to knock Eberflus or the DL Coach from last year, but it just wasn’t defensive end or defensive line-attack friendly. If you look at the Robert Saleh and Gus Bradley type of defensive lines, those guys just play at a whole different speed and they play free.
Don't Be A Fan Later
Kwity Paye is bound for success in the NFL. He is a special athlete that is coming off of a strong rookie year and has put in the work to drastically improve upon his game. The stars are aligning perfectly for him to take a major step forward in 2022.
His trainer, Eddy McGilvra, has worked with some of the best defensive lineman in the NFL over the past few seasons. When he speaks highly on a player, it is always worth monitoring because he truly understands what makes greatness in this league.
McGilvra had some final words in our conversation on what to expect from Paye in year two:
"Don’t be a fan later. If he gets his full go and the Colts are competing like we all expect them to, the sky is the limit, man. I could see him sneaking into the Pro Bowl or leading the team in sacks when it’s all said and done."
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.