The Herald Bulletin

March 14, 2013

Colts continue to remodel defense

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Shortly after signing a reported four-year, $22 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, former San Francisco defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois attempted to describe his value to his new team during a media conference call.

“They’re getting a versatile player, a big dude that can do just about anything you want him to do besides punt and kick field goals,” Jean Francois said.

Pressed on the latter statement, Jean Francois reiterated he’s no threat to veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee — who’s currently scheduled to play next season under the franchise tag.

“No, I can’t do no kicking,” Jean Francois said and then laughed. “You won’t get a kick out of me. If you want to win, please do not let me kick.”

That’s not likely to be a problem. But the former LSU star could be asked to do just about everything else along the defensive line. He’s capable of playing at nose tackle and both defensive end positions, and he’s expected to bring another physical presence to Indianapolis’ run defense.

“Ricky is a quick, aggressive and extremely powerful player,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said in a team release. “He has been a mainstay the last four years within a dominant NFL defense with a lot of special players. He not only has familiarity with our scheme and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, but he is versatile enough to play any of our defensive line positions. At 26 years old, we feel the arrow is pointing straight up, and we’re looking forward to him making a big impact for us this coming season.”

Grigson put his stamp on the Indianapolis offense during his first draft last spring, selecting eight players on that side of the ball in his 10 picks.

During this year’s first three days of free agency, Grigson flipped the script. Five of the seven players he’s signed are defenders, including Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry — another former LSU alum who agreed to a four-year, $24 million deal late Wednesday night.

“We’re ecstatic about this signing,” Grigson said in a Wednesday night release. “We feel LaRon is an absolute game-changer and true impact player. We’re talking about a 220-pound safety that runs 4.3 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) and plays to that speed. His approach to the game and his style of play are lights out and embody the culture we’re building on the defense and this team in general.”

The Colts also signed cornerback Greg Toler and outside linebackers Erik Walden and Lawrence Sidbury during the opening day of free agency on Tuesday. The team officially announced it has re-signed cornerback Darius Butler — news first reported Tuesday — adding to it’s Thursday haul.

The result is a completely revamped secondary, with Toler likely to start at one corner opposite returning Vontae Davis and Butler playing as the nickelback. Landry likely will get the nod at strong safety, replacing Tom Zbikowksi alongside veteran Antoine Bethea.

Walden also is expected to start as the outside linebacker position is shuffled. Robert Mathis will move to Dwight Freeney’s old “rush” linebacker position while Walden will be asked to set the edge on the opposite side.

As for Jean Francois, he said discussions with the team didn’t get as far as where he’ll line up in the fall. He’ll work this spring and summer in Miami and focus on playing on the interior and the edge.

Like each of the five free agents who spoke to the media before him — Landry hasn’t had an official news conference yet — Jean Francois mentioned rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the potential of the Colts’ offense among the reasons he signed with Indianapolis.

But he also likes the look of the team’s ongoing culture change.

“They are building their defense,” he said. “The Colts always have been known for their offense, but sometime we’ve got to change the trend and become a defensive team, too.”