Colts don't have a coach, but they do have a brand new defense

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Dallas Cowboys linebacker coach Matt Eberflus on the sidelines during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium. Baltimore beat Dallas 37-30.

INDIANAPOLIS – We do not know who the Indianapolis Colts’ new coach will be. Oh, we know it won’t be Josh McDaniels. That’s about the only certainty.

But while we don’t have the identity of the new coach, we can definitely tell you all about his defense.

That’s because one of the under-the-radar revelations in recent days is Colts General Manager Chris Ballard’s stated intent to retain Matt Eberflus as the team’s defensive coordinator. The team’s original plans went awry when McDaniels bailed at the 11th hour Tuesday night. He opted to remain the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator after agreeing to terms with the Colts, who had already scheduled a Wednesday news conference to introduce him.

Eberflus, who had anticipated joining McDaniels' staff, had already signed a contract and had begun working at Colts headquarters. And there he will stay. Soon enough, Eberflus will be spearheading a major shift to a new defensive scheme – once the Colts figure out their head coach.

Is this process unorthodox? You bet. But it’s happening. It’s what Ballard wants and he shows no intention of wavering.

“I got to know Matt Eberflus a few years ago and was blown away by Matt,” Ballard said. “Matt was a coveted coach. He’s a very talented defensive coordinator. I feel very lucky to have Matt Eberflus in the building running a scheme that I think fits our team that we can scout for.”

If you’re worried about Eberflus being hesitant about attaching himself to a potentially awkward situation, don’t be. All indications from inside Colts headquarters are Eberflus is raring to go, fired up about the opportunity.

So, what kind of defense will the Colts’ new coach be inheriting? Ballard made several references to the Tampa 2-style defense the Colts and the Chicago Bears – one of his former teams – used with great success in the 2000s. But, further reporting has clarified what the Colts really are going for is a style similar to that of the Dallas Cowboys, who have been running a modified version of the system. Eberflus was Dallas’ linebackers coach, working under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, whom Ballard has known for years.

Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus with linebacker Sean Lee against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

It won’t be your classic Tampa 2, but it will be a speed-based, 4-3 scheme that relies heavily on the defensive front to create pressure on quarterbacks and limit big plays.

“We’re playing on an indoor surface,” Ballard said. “We’re going to be playing in ideal weather eight to 12 games a year (and) that’s going to be based on athletic ability and speed. That’s how this defense is built. It’s easy for young players to play because it’s simple and it allows them to play fast and physical and that’s what we want to be.”

A quick film review of the Cowboys’ defense allows us to extrapolate a few important points about the new Colts defense:

>>The Colts seem likely to run what’s considered a 1-gap defensive front — one that positions defensive linemen to attack a single gap and emphasizes penetration. In the 3-4 scheme used under recently-fired coach Chuck Pagano, the defensive linemen typically are asked to play a 2-gap style. In it, linemen are positioned head up against an offensive linemen and attack one of the two gaps on either side based on reads and where the ball goes once it’s snapped.

The 1-gap scheme will require a lot from defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a candidate to be the so-called under tackle – a key element of the scheme. While the system won’t be identical to the one the Colts used under former coach Tony Dungy, the importance of this position can be seen by looking back at the role of Booger McFarland. The former Colts defensive tackle was traded to Indianapolis from Tampa Bay in 2006 and provided a key boost to the defense on the way to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title.

The coming defensive migration could be a compelling reason for the Colts to target North Carolina State pass rusher Bradley Chubb with the third overall choice in April’s NFL Draft. A premier edge rusher, such as Dwight Freeney, is a huge variable in this kind of scheme.

>> The Colts will need more out of their linebackers. In the new scheme, Jabaal Sheard would presumably shift from rush linebacker to defensive end, playing in a three-point stance. John Simon, on the other hand, seems like a potential 4-3 strong-side linebacker. But questions exist at the middle and weak-side linebacker spots. Whether the Colts have the athleticism on their roster to man those spots is debatable, at best.

The good news here is that Ballard and his staff have a great deal of experience scouting for this kind of defensive scheme. The Colts, according to a source, have already formulated a plan for addressing their defensive personnel this offseason to fit the new scheme. You can rest assured moves at linebacker will be among those changes.

A related point at linebacker: The traditional Tampa 2 defense did not ask linebackers to be frequent pass rushers. But as blitzes have become much more of a staple in the NFL, the modernized version of the scheme is going to include the pressure packages that are a must in today’s game. The linebackers will have to be good in open space and solid in coverage. But linebackers such as Simon, with some pass-rush ability, would definitely be a bonus.

>> As for the defensive backs, you can expect the Colts to still mix up coverages. The original Tampa 2 relied on a basic base coverage, with corners defending flat routes and two deep safeties protecting the deep halves of the field.

Though the 68-year old Marinelli is a Dungy disciple, NFL offenses became adept at beating basic Cover 2 coverages long ago. It certainly still works situationally, but to deploy it full-time is not an option. The prominence of three-receiver sets nowadays, among other things, makes it difficult to use the coverage more extensively.

But one thing we can safely assume is the Colts’ cornerbacks won’t have to play nearly as much man-to-man defense as they did under Pagano. The perimeter corners had, perhaps, the toughest jobs in the old scheme. This change should take some of the load off what is a relatively young group of players. After significant attrition, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston and Kenny Moore – all rookies – were the Colts’ three top cornerbacks by the end of the 2017 season.

Once free safety Malik Hooker recovers from his knee injury, he could thrive in the new scheme because of his great range. The Colts should be able to continue to use the versatility of strong safety Clayton Geathers in their defense. In fact, his ability to play linebacker in sub-packages is, arguably, better suited to this scheme.

The coming Colts defense is going to be a dramatic departure from anything we’ve seen in the past six seasons.

No, we don’t know who’s going to coach the Colts. But we know their defense is about to look a whole lot different.

More Colts:

Colts coaching search: Is Reich the man to beat?

Doyel: Worry about Luck not the coaching search

3 things to know about Leslie Frazier

Follow Colts Insider Stephen Holder on Twitter: @HolderStephen and Facebook.

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