By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Ryan Grigson emerged from his self-described “bunker” Friday and made his first public comments about the Indianapolis Colts’ free agent frenzy this week.
The second-year general manager said he wanted to take advantage of the team’s sizeable salary-cap room, and he had the full support of owner Jim Irsay along the way.
“He’s as passionate if not more passionate than any of us,” Grigson said during a news conference at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “When you talk to him, he wanted to be aggressive. I wanted to be aggressive. (Head coach) Chuck (Pagano) did because we want to win. I think you have to take these opportunities to acquire talent whole-heartedly, and I feel we did as an organization.”
The Colts added seven players during the first three days of the new National Football League year, which began Tuesday. Much of the focus went to a defense that ranked 21st in scoring last season and 29th against the run.
The new faces include safety LaRon Landry, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, outside linebackers Erik Walden and Lawrence Sidbury and cornerback Greg Toler.
Indianapolis has a reported $13 million in salary-cap space remaining, but it made no further additions Friday. The team did, however, release safety Tom Zbikowski after one season in the Circle City.
That continues an extensive makeover that also has seen the departure of cornerback Jerraud Powers and outside linebacker Dwight Freeney.
Even in a down season, Freeney ranked second on the team with five sacks, and there have been questions about whether the Colts have done enough to improve a pass rush that produced just 32 sacks last year.
“I feel really good about it,” Pagano said Friday. “I think we’ve still got a beast in Robert Mathis getting after the quarterback, a guy like Ricky Jean. We’ve got guys that are already here that have shown the ability to rush the passer.”
Indianapolis’ ability to pressure the opposing quarterback also could benefit from another year of experience in Pagano’s hybrid 3-4 scheme.
Though he’s a newcomer to the Colts, the versatile Jean Francois could be among the keys. He played under current Indianapolis defensive coordinator Greg Manusky early in his career in San Francisco, and he is familiar with the Colts’ system.
At 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, Jean Francois has the versatility to play all across the defensive line. That will help Indianapolis add to its complexity, shifting in and out of 3-4 and 4-3 fronts to keep offensive lines guessing.
“Ricky is a guy that you add in sub situations that they moved around (in San Francisco) that can give you some inside push,” Pagano said. “The numbers, you aren’t going to look on your computers and look up and see great sack totals or anything like that, but I think all his football is ahead of him in that regard.”
The Colts also are hoping Walden’s best football is yet to come. The former Green Bay Packer’s four-year, $16 million deal has been one of the most heavily criticized moves of the offseason so far.
Statistical analysis website Pro Football Focus has ranked Walden as the league’s worst outside linebacker in each of the past two seasons, but Grigson and Pagano see traits they believe will make him a better fit for the Colts’ defense.
“He’s a high-motor guy,” Pagano said. “He’s an energy guy. A lot of that stuff, he’s got a great repertoire of pass-rush moves and things like that and a lot of tools in his toolbox. But a lot of it is just outworking guys, and this guy’s got a motor that doesn’t stop.”
Indianapolis chose Walden over the top pass rushers on the market — Paul Kruger and Cliff Avril — and Grigson said he first noticed the linebacker years ago during the NFL Network’s early training camp coverage.
“You could just see him playing at a different speed from everyone else in terms of just his hustle and the way he gets after it,” Grigson said. “He’s a very confident guy. He has the will to get to the quarterback. Sometimes it’s more about the will than anything.”