Gus Bradley

Colts To Retain DC Gus Bradley

The Colts’ loss in Week 18 left them just shy of a playoff position, and struggles on defense were a constant throughout the season. Despite that, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will be retained, general manager Chris Ballard confirmed in his end-of-year press conference.

“I know that’s been a hot topic for everybody, and it’s an area we need to improve,” Ballard said, via the Indy Star’s Joel A. Erickson“But in a little bit of defense, the year before, [Bradley] comes in, and we kind of had, I don’t want to say a veteran team, but we had some veteran players, and I just said, ‘Look, we’re going to go young in some spots [in 2023], and we went young in the secondary.”

Indeed, Indianapolis turned to a number of inexperienced options at the corner and safety spots, enjoying mixed results along the way. The team ranked 16th in the league in terms of passing yards allowed per game, but breakdowns on the backend hindered the unit. Injuries to cornerbacks Julius Brents and Dallis Flowers also left the team shorthanded for long stretches of the season.

The Colts’ front seven had a strong campaign in terms of pass rush production, posting 51 sacks. That figure ranked fifth in the league, but the team struggled against the run in addition to its errors in the secondary. As a result, the Colts surrendered 350 yards per game (24th in the NFL) and 24.4 points per contest (28th). Improvements in both respects will be a top priority this offseason.

“The points do need to come down,” Ballard added. “We’ll continue to have long discussions about where we’re going and how we’ll get that done, but saying that, we had new starters on defense. We did do some good things, too.”

Bradley took over the Colts’ DC job in 2022 after Matt Eberflus was hired as the Bears’ head coach. Indianapolis posted middling numbers in several categories last year, but he received a vote of confidence following the campaign After a 2023 season which included the decision to move on from former All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard as part of the overall goal of getting younger (and healthier) at a number of positions, both Bradley and head coach Shane Steichen will remain in place.

The latter showed promise in his first year as a head coach, and prior to his season-ending injury, quarterback Anthony Richardson flashed potential as well. Those factors will lead to optimism on offense, but the team’s defense will be a unit to watch closely moving forward. Roster changes will no doubt be coming, but there will at least be stability on the sidelines.

LB Shaquille Leonard Frustrated With Role

Last year saw the most limited season of Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard‘s career. As he continues to work his way back from the injury that derailed his 2022 season, his defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has publicly disclosed that Leonard is still on a timeline that will determine how soon he is able to return to a full-time role, with the current goal being sometime this month, according to Mike Chappell of FOX59/CBS4 Sports.

A three-time first-team All-Pro, Leonard was suffering a persistent back injury that limited him to only three games last year. Back surgery aimed at addressing the issue occurred before the 2022 season, forcing him to miss the first three games of the year. When he finally made his season debut, he only saw 16 snaps before exiting with a concussion. He would eventually play limited snaps in two more games before being placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the year after undergoing a second back surgery.

Since coming back, Leonard has returned to a starting role, playing in eight of the team’s nine games so far this year. While he’s looked a bit like his old self, flying all over the field in order to be a top-four tackler on the team, the staff has been a bit disappointed by his lack of flash plays. Usually a disruptive turnover machine, Leonard has forced no fumbles, has broken up or intercepted zero passes, and has been unable to land a hit on an opposing quarterback, while accumulating only two tackles for loss.

While he’s been starting, Leonard has still been on a limited snap count, while fellow Colt Zaire Franklin, the NFL’s leading tackler, has seen virtually every defensive snap of the season for Indianapolis. He recently voiced his displeasure with the situation, according to Nate Atkins of the Indianapolis Star, claiming he wants to be on the field 100 percent of the time. “My patience was kind of thrown out the window,” Leonard told the media. “I want to be on the field. If I want to buy a ticket, I can sit in the stands or something.”

Bradley told the media that he understands Leonard’s frustration and wants him to keep that hunger but was clear that the plan would remain the same, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. Even last week, when Franklin was forced to miss the Colts’ contest in Carolina, instead of bumping up the playing time of Leonard, the staff turned to second-year undrafted backup Segun Olubi. Olubi saw 100 percent of the team’s snaps in his first start last weekend; Leonard saw only 55 percent.

ESPN’s Stephen Holder offered another perspective of Leonard’s struggles to return to the field full-time, suggesting that the defensive scheme could have something to do with it. Bradley only joined the Colts coaching staff last year, a season in which Leonard barely saw the field. Leonard was previously the centerpiece of former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus‘ system, allowing him to roam and make plays using his instincts.

Bradley’s new system tends to funnel plays to the middle linebacker, allowing Franklin more opportunities to make plays on the ball than Leonard gets at his weakside position. It requires much more structure from Leonard, especially by asking him to take on more blocks, a difficult role for one of the league’s smaller linebackers to strive in.

While it has not been suggested anywhere, there’s reason to believe these scheme issues could lead to Leonard’s eventual exit from Indianapolis. Leonard holds a $19.79MM cap hit this year, and it’s set to only get bigger over the next two seasons. If Leonard isn’t able to return to his regular All-Pro level of play in Bradley’s system, there isn’t much need for the Colts to dedicate such a high portion of their salary cap to retain him.

Speculation aside, Leonard will soon be able to return to a full-time role, if Bradley stays true to his word. A full-strength Leonard will finally have a chance to show his potential in Bradley’s system. Hopefully, Leonard will look more like his former self in the closing weeks of the season. If not, though, the Colts may have some questions to answer moving forward.

Colts Won’t Re-Sign DE Yannick Ngakoue

A number of veteran edge rushers went unsigned during the initial waves of free agency, and will now wait until after the draft to land their next deals. One player falling into that category is Yannick Ngakoue, who is poised to be on the move once again.

The 28-year-old joined the Colts last offseason when the Raiders traded him for corner Rock Ya-Sin. That continued Ngakoue’s trend of bouncing around the league, after he had prior stints in Jacksonville, Minnesota and Baltimore. The move marked the third time that he played under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, and paid off in at least one statistical department.

Ngakoue led the Colts in sacks in 2022 with 9.5, something which comes as little surprise given his prowess as a sack artist throughout his career. The former third-rounder has collected no fewer than eight sacks in any single season, and has racked up 65 in 110 games in the NFL. However, he totaled 44 pressures per PFF, the second lowest total of his career, while delivering an underwhelming performance against the run. That has led the team in a different direction to fill his spot.

“We lost Yannick Ngakoue,” Bradley recently said, via Joel Erickson of the Indy Star“He was a tremendous player for us. That’s the NFL. There’s some times you bring new guys in, and they have to step up, and every year’s a new year with the team.”

The Colts added ex-49er Samson Ebukam on a three-year deal worth up to $27MM. Ebukam will be tasked with providing a consistent pass rushing presence off the edge, but his run defense will set him apart from Ngakoue as the team looks to take a needed step forward in all areas in 2023. For the latter, Bradley’s remarks confirm he will need to head elsewhere and quite probably join a sixth different team in the post-draft free agent market.

Ngakoue – who expressed optimism in the summer about Indianapolis representing a long-term home – is joined by the likes of Frank Clark, Leonard Floyd and Robert Quinn as veteran pass rushers who remain unsigned. That may not be the case for much longer, but in any event, he will not be back with the Colts in 2023.

Colts To Retain DC Gus Bradley

The Colts have undergone several changes on the sidelines this offseason, but their defense will be led by a familiar face. Gus Bradley will remain in place as the team’s defensive coordinator, as reported (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

[RELATED: Colts Hire Cooter As OC]

The 56-year-old joined the Colts last offseason after Matt Eberflus took the head coaching job in Chicago. He and the unit carried significant expectations heading into the season, but hardly anything went according to plan in 2022 in Indianapolis. The team’s midseason firing of Frank Reich was followed by a freefall under Jeff Saturday, leaving them with a 4-12-1 record.

The offense was at the heart of much of the Colts’ struggles, of course, as the acquisition of Matt Ryan didn’t stabilize the quarterback position. Defensively, Indianapolis had a mixed bag of results; the team surrendered just over 25 points per game, which ranked 30th in the league, but they finished mid-pack in terms of yards allowed. Bradley’s unit also fared relatively well against the run and posted 44 sacks.

Upon the hiring of Shane Steichen as head coach and offensive play-caller, attention turned to whether or not Bradley and his staff would remain in place. The pair worked together with the Chargers from 2017-20, so it came as little surprise that the Colts blocked Bradley from pursuing other coordinator vacancies. Steichen did not firmly commit one way or the other with respect to Bradley’s future during his introductory press conference.

Given the interest he and other Colts HC candidates had in keeping Bradley, though, this news represents an expected outcome. Continuity will likely be a welcomed sight on a staff which has a new head coach and offensive coordinator, and the former Jaguars bench boss will work for at least a second season in his fourth DC position. A rebound on offense will no doubt help Bradley and the Colts’ defense in 2023, a campaign in which the team will be expected to take a significant step forward.

Shane Steichen To Call Colts’ Plays, Does Not Commit To Retaining Gus Bradley

Nick Sirianni handed play-calling duties to Shane Steichen midway through the 2021 season. Brian Daboll just won Coach of the Year honors after he named Mike Kafka as the Giants’ offensive play-caller. The Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy hire did not change Kellen Moore‘s status as the team’s play-caller for the past three seasons.

Steichen will, however, take the more traditional approach for offense-oriented head coaches in Indianapolis. The new Colts HC confirmed Tuesday he will call plays. The Colts will look for a non-play-calling OC in the coming days and, perhaps, weeks. But they will entrust their 37-year-old HC to right the ship offensively.

The Colts’ latest HC contract reflects their confidence in Steichen. The deal is for six years, according to Ian Rapoport of (on Twitter). This matches the Texans’ DeMeco Ryans pact. Indianapolis is not in the same boat as its AFC South rival, having finished over .500 in three of Frank Reich‘s four full seasons. But the Colts went through a rather turbulent year. A six-year offer — longer than Reich’s initial pact — makes for a more attractive sales pitch in the wake of that.

Gus Bradley attended Steichen’s Tuesday press conference, and Stephen Holder of tweets Indy’s defensive staff was at the presser en masse. Late in the lengthy search process, Bradley became a candidate to stay in Indy. Several candidates were believed to be high on Bradley, leading the Colts to block him from interviewing for another DC position. The Panthers were interested in Bradley, Albert Breer of notes. That would have reunited him with Reich, but with Bradley blocked, Carolina brought in popular HC candidate Ejiro Evero.

The Colts not only blocked Bradley, but Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star notes the team prevented linebackers coach Richard Smith and defensive backs coach Ron Milus from exploring lateral moves. Of the Indy candidates, a connecting Bradley to Steichen was easiest. The two worked together with the Chargers for four years, finishing up that run as an OC-DC tandem. Milus and Smith worked with Bradley in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Steichen stopped short of committing to Bradley and his defensive staff, however, leaving his staff in limbo still.

That’s the next process that I’m going to go through, is hiring a staff,” Steichen said of keeping Reich holdovers. “Those guys, we’ll have those conversations in the next few days.”

Indianapolis conducted a thorough search, debating on third interviews with candidates. Although the franchise decided against that unexplored avenue, Steichen landed the job more than three months after the team fired Reich. Jim Irsay used Philip Rivers as a Steichen sounding board, Holder adds (on Twitter), with the longtime Charger QB and 2020 Colts passer calling the young coach “savant-like.” Rivers worked with Steichen for six seasons, the final four as his position coach.

The Eagles finished third in both points and yards on offense this season, after ranking outside the top 10 in each category in 2022. Steichen will head to Indiana after Jalen Hurts accounted for nearly 400 yards in Philadelphia’s narrow Super Bowl LVII loss.

For a while, it appeared Jeff Saturday was in play to stay on in this role. Irsay stunned the football world and angered many around the league by naming the former Pro Bowl center-turned-ESPNer as his interim HC. Despite going 1-7 during his first NFL or college coaching gig, Saturday interviewed twice for the full-time job. Saturday wished Steichen well and thanks Colts fans, including those that signed a petition for Irsay not to give him the full-time gig.

I’m so grateful for the last eight weeks of the season and the opportunity to represent you guys,” Saturday said (video link). “I appreciate the coaches for all your time, energy and effort. … It was an absolute blessing. I look fondly upon it. Wish we would’ve done better. But ultimately, that is where it is.

“… So, for everybody out there — including however many thousand who signed a petition, which may have included my wife and son, not exactly sure. But in all honesty, I’m so grateful for Colts nation and who you are. To represent the horseshoe, it meant the world to me.”

Colts Unlikely To Conduct Third HC Interviews; Team Pivoting Away From Jeff Saturday?

The Colts have delivered this hiring period’s top non-Sean Payton-related headlines. Both the team’s steady interest in retaining Jeff Saturday and its connection with a third round of interviews have injected confusion into a drawn-out search.

As this process (presumably) hits the homestretch, neither may be in the equation any longer. Saturday is not expected to be named the full-time Colts head coach, Zak Keefer of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The Colts are also unlikely to follow through with the rumored third sets of interviews. With the Colts’ second round of meetings lasting between 10 and 12 hours, it would seem unnecessary for the team to buck tradition and bring in candidates for third summits.

[RELATED: Who Will Become Next Colts HC?]

Jim Irsay‘s fondness for Saturday has kept the interim coach in the picture, with Keefer not completely ruling out another surprise decision from the owner. Nearly three months after GM Chris Ballard and others attempted to dissuade Irsay from naming Saturday interim HC, the owner heard more pitches against removing Saturday’s interim label. No team has promoted an interim coach to a full-time position since the Jaguars did so with Doug Marrone in 2017.

Saturday, who went 1-7 after moving from an ESPN analyst role to coaching his former team, being out of the running would ensure a more experienced coach leads the Colts in 2023. Among a host of finalists, one name might be worth monitoring. Irsay is believed to have flown to Philadelphia to meet with Eagles OC Shane Steichen ahead of his interview with Ballard the next day, Keefer adds. Steichen cannot be hired until after Super Bowl LVII. With the Colts not expected to make a hire until after Sunday’s season-ender, Steichen should probably be considered a true finalist. The Colts are believed to have winnowed down their list to a few candidates this week.

Steichen is likely one of the candidates who would plan to retain DC Gus Bradley. The Colts have prevented Bradley from exploring outside opportunities due to multiple candidates wanting to retain him. Several, in fact, want to keep not only Bradley but his defensive staff, according to Keefer. Steichen coached alongside Bradley with the Chargers from 2017-20, with the duo finishing that stay as an OC-DC combo. Raheem Morris coached with Bradley with the Buccaneers from 2006-08 as well, though Morris being a defensive coach would make Bradley an interesting fit, and was with Bisaccia last season in Las Vegas.

The prospect of leaving much of their defensive staff intact would be an interesting call for a team that went 4-12-1, though Bradley’s unit obviously presented fewer problems than the offense this season. While Eric Bieniemy interviewed with the Colts — the Chiefs OC’s lone meeting thus far in this process — Steichen and Brian Callahan are the only former offensive coordinators to have interviewed for the Indianapolis gig twice. Among those two, only Steichen has called plays previously. Fellow finalists Morris, Rich Bisaccia, Aaron Glenn and Don Martindale have expertise on the defensive side.

Colts Narrowing HC Finalist List; Gus Bradley In Play To Stay As DC

Drawing increased attention the longer it has persisted, the Colts’ coaching search looks to be hitting the homestretch. The team is believed to be down to a few finalists, Mike Garafolo of tweets.

This news comes after the team went through second interviews with numerous candidates. More notably, the Colts have been connected to a historically rare third set of interviews. It is not certain the team will proceed in that direction, but Jim Irsay said Tuesday (via Twitter) an immediate hire should not be expected. The franchise’s decision will come in “days, not hours.”

[RELATED: Who Will Become Next Colts HC?]

Irsay’s latest lines up with the report of third interviews and a weekend offering that indicated a hire may not commence until after Super Bowl LVII. Additional Colts interviews with Chiefs or Eagles candidates could not take place until then. Eric Bieniemy and Shane Steichen have interviewed with the Colts, the latter doing so twice.

Additionally, the Colts are not letting Gus Bradley explore other opportunities. Despite being a Frank Reich hire, Bradley is in play to stay in Indianapolis. Some of the candidates are interested in retaining the veteran defensive coordinator, Stephen Holder of reports (on Twitter). Bradley took over as Indy’s DC last year, after the Bears hired four-year defensive boss Matt Eberflus as their head coach. Bradley’s unit ranked 28th in scoring but 14th in DVOA this past season. The Colts roster four former Pro Bowlers on defense, though Shaquille Leonard missed most of last season due to injury.

Jeff Saturday promised major changes if he were to stay on as head coach — a scenario that should be viewed as live — so it is reasonable to expect he would not be one of the candidates who would keep Bradley, despite the two working together to close the season. Bradley worked alongside Rich Bisaccia with the Raiders, but that was also a forced partnership after Jon Gruden‘s exit. Aaron Glenn, Don Martindale and Raheem Morris being defensive coaches would point to Bradley’s exit.

Steichen, however, has a lengthy past with the longtime DC. Both were on the Chargers’ staffs from 2017-20; the Bolts rolled with a Steichen-Bradley OC-DC duo from 2019-20. If Steichen is the Colts’ choice, this certainly could be viewed as a scenario in which the team would retain Bradley.

In the fifth week of the offseason, here is how Indianapolis’ wide-ranging search looks:

Latest On Panthers’ DC Search

Today marks the first official day at work for new Panthers head coach Frank Reich, the first domino to fall in the 2023 HC cycle. Much remains to be seen with respect to his staff, including coordinators on both sides of the ball.

On defense, it became clear that Reich’s preference for his new DC was Vic Fangio. The 64-year-old agreed to terms yesterday on a deal with the Dolphins which will see him become the league’s highest-paid coordinator, however, leaving Carolina to look elsewhere to fill the position. A pair of finalists remain in the running.

Those two are Saints co-defensive coordinator Kris Richard and Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel. Those two are the only candidates other than Fangio to have interviewed for the position, so it comes as little surprise that they remain in the running. Joe Person of The Athletic notes that Carolina has “moved on” to Richard and Manuel as it pertains to the DC opening, with the latter seeming to be in the lead (subscription required).

Josina Anderson of CBS Sports also reports (via Twitter) that Manuel remains the subject of considerable interest from Carolina. The 43-year-old has two years of DC experience, dating back to his time with the Falcons in 2017 and 2018. That post came between tenures in Seattle and Philadelphia prior to his current one in New York. Neither he nor Richard, who has multiple stints as a defensive coordinator on his resume, have experience working with Reich, though they have ties to general manager Scott Fitterer dating back to their shared time with the Seahawks.

Anderson adds that the Panthers could have competition in the form of the Texans for Manuel’s services. Houston is thought to be a potential destination for him in the (expected) event that 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans is hired as the team’s new head coach. Especially if that were to happen, attention could shift once more towards a staffer who does have experience working alongside Reich.

Person names Colts DC Gus Bradley as someone who has been “mentioned” as a candidate to follow Reich to Carolina. As he notes, however, an interview request as not yet been submitted. Anderson tweets that Reich brought up the possibility of hiring the 56-year-old, something ownership was not in favor of. It was then that Fangio was pursued, to the point where the Panthers were willing to give him the league’s largest coordinator contract (Twitter link).

With Reich expected to call plays on offense, the team’s ultimate choice at the DC spot will go a long way in determining their success on that side of the ball. Steve Wilks, who guided Carolina to an impressive run at the end of the season filling in for Matt Rhule, remains on staff for now, but he is likely to head elsewhere with new faces coming in on the Panthers’ sidelines.

AFC Coaching Notes: Colts, Bills, Jaguars, Ravens

Since Frank Reich was able to land defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to replace Bears’ head coach Matt Eberflus, Bradley has begun the process of putting his staff together. Today Bradley added longtime defensive backs coach Ron Milus to coach his secondary, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. Milus first started coaching defensive backs at his alma mater, the University of Washington, about eight years after playing cornerback there. He held the college position for seven years before getting an NFL coaching opportunity in 2000. Since then, Milus hasn’t spent a season out of work with stints in Denver, Arizona, New York (Giants), St. Louis, Carolina, San Diego, and Las Vegas. His longest stint was with the Chargers, spending eight years in southern California and transitioning with the team to Los Angeles. It was in Los Angeles that Milus was retained when Bradley joined the Chargers’ staff. He followed Bradley to Las Vegas and will join him once more in Indianapolis.

Here are a few other coaching notes from around the AFC starting with another bit from the Hoosier State:

  • In addition to Milus, Mike Chappell of Fox59 reports that Indianapolis is also in the process of hiring linebackers coach Richard Smith, who worked with Bradley and Milus in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Smith has coached in the NFL since he debuted for the Houston Oilers in 1988 coaching special teams and tight ends. He found his niche as a linebackers coach in 1997 for the 49ers and has had three short stints as a defensive coordinator in Miami, Houston, and Atlanta.
  • ESPN’s Yates also tweeted out a report that the Bills have added former QB Kyle Shurmur on staff in a defensive quality control position. After four years at Vanderbilt, Shurmur signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs, spending time on their practice squad as well as on the Bengals’ and Washington’s practice squads. He was released by Washington a little over a month ago and that appears to mark the end of his playing career. He seems to be following in the footsteps of his father, Pat Shurmur, and joining the coaching track.
  • A castaway from the Matt Nagy Bears’ staff, outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey will not be without work for long as Curtis Crabtree of NBC Sports reports that Shuey is joining Doug Pederson‘s staff in Jacksonville in the same role. Shuey and Pederson had two separate tenures together in Philadelphia.
  • Pederson also made a crucial move of retaining running backs coach Bernie Parmalee. Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network tells us that keeping Parmalee was a priority for Pederson, especially due to his strong relationship with star running back James Robinson.
  • Baltimore has hired Rob Leonard as outside linebackers coach, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley (Twitter). Leonard will replace Drew Wilkins who left to join Brian Daboll‘s staff in New York. Leonard spent the past three seasons in the same position with the Dolphins. Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic adds that former Michigan analyst Ryan Osborn will follow Mike Macdonald to the Ravens for a quality control position. Osborn is credited with having a role in the development of Wolverines’ EDGE players like Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.

Colts To Hire Gus Bradley As DC

The Colts have tabbed their Matt Eberflus replacement. Gus Bradley has landed Indianapolis’ defensive coordinator job, Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star reports (on Twitter).

Bradley joined Jim Schwartz, Chris Harris, Joe Cullen, Kris Richard and Joe Whitt Jr. in interviewing for the position. This will continue an interesting stretch for Bradley, who will be a defensive coordinator for a third team in three seasons. The former Jaguars HC will move from the Chargers to the Raiders to the Colts.

Bradley, 55, spent four seasons with the Seahawks, Jaguars and Chargers before being a one-and-done with the Raiders. Las Vegas changing regimes led Bradley back onto the market, and he landed on his feet yet again. Eberflus spent the past four years leading the Colts’ defense, and Bradley will now be in charge of a group that houses Pro Bowlers in DeForest BucknerDarius Leonard and Kenny Moore. The Colts have ranked in the top 10 in points allowed in three of the past four seasons, finishing ninth in 2021.

Three four of Bradley’s four Chargers defenses ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed. The 2018 unit finished third, spearheading a 12-4 Bolts season. This season’s Raiders defense ranked 14th in yardage but 26th in points yielded, bottoming out in two blowout losses to the Chiefs. The Raiders did make strides, with Maxx Crosby earning a Pro Bowl nod and multi-city Bradley charge Casey Hayward grading as one of Pro Football Focus’ top-rated cornerbacks.

Initially making a name for himself by being the Seahawks’ DC during the Legion of Boom’s first seasons together, Bradley parlayed the group’s 2012 success into a shot as the Jaguars’ head coach. That tenure did not go well, and the Jags canned Bradley after a 14-48 record. This Colts gig will be Bradley’s fourth as an NFL DC.