Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus Shares ‘a Pair and a Spare’ Philosophy

Phillip B. Wilson

INDIANAPOLIS — In an NFL season of unknowns, there is one certainty for Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

His message is still the same to players: Be ready for anything.

That starts with being prepared to play as if this wasn’t a season impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. And because the Colts like versatile players, they can anticipate being asked to adjust when the personnel changes.

“I had a boss I used to work for a lot of years used to say, ‘Hey, I have to be able to have the chance to look around the corner,’” Eberflus said on a Friday Zoom video conference call. “I think we are looking around the corner and we don’t really know what’s going to happen, but I do know this, that every coach and every player needs to be ready to go and do his job but also we have to give him some parameters to say you might have to do somebody else’s job and get prepared to do that.

“We’ve always had that – and you guys have heard me say this for a couple of years now – a pair and a spare philosophy. Well, that is really starting to play out now because we need a pair and a spare at every position – that’s a coaching position or a defensive position.”

The Colts have a recent history of relying on young players who were thrust into roles that required immediate contributions. All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard led the NFL in tackles as a rookie in 2018. That same year, the Colts selected offensive guard Quenton Nelson with the sixth overall pick and he’s now a two-time All-Pro who hasn’t missed a start.

Sticking with defense, where Eberflus is entering his third year with the Colts, linebacker Bobby Okereke was a 2019 third-round pick and didn’t miss a game in his debut. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, a second-round selection last year, played in 15.

“The guys that are coming in, we’re fortunate because if you look back two years ago we were relying on Darius Leonard, all those rookies and the first-year players to play right away and to start for us,” Eberflus said. “To some degree last year (that) was the case too with a lot of the rookies that we drafted.

“But we are one year down the road past that, so our guys now do have some experience and now we have to make sure we’re doing a good job of training them and position-flexing those guys as much as the d-line like I talked about – to be able to flex those guys in and out.”

Eberflus was referring to having several players in the D-line mix as a result of the free-agent departure of defensive end Jabaal Sheard. Denico Autry, Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Ben Banogu, and Tyquan Lewis will be vying for playing time.

“Also for me as a coach and as the defensive coordinator, (I have) to be able to move in and out of each position coach and be able to assist and help where I need to do that,” he said. “There are a lot of unseen things that we don’t know that we will have to adjust, and the philosophy for the coaching staff (and) what we talked about is the ability to adjust, adapt and then overcome.

“We’re going to do that together. We have to have the flexibility to adjust and adapt to the circumstances and then overcome obstacles and adversities together. That’s what we’re going to have to do.”

(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is phillipbwilson24@yahoo.com.)

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