The Indianapolis Colts hired Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator this offseason but Bill Barnwell doesn’t believe that was the best move for Indy.
After four quality seasons, Matt Eberflus left the Indianapolis Colts to serve as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. This left an opening in Indianapolis for the defensive coordinator position. A spot that Indy elected to fill with external candidates.
The Colts ultimately landed on Gus Bradley. Bradley has been coaching at the NFL level since 2006 and has experienced a lot of defensive success. His most successful period was when he was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks from 2009 to 2012, where he mobilized the Legion of Boom.
Between Bradley’s history in the league and all of the young talent in Indianapolis, many believe the Colts will be able to have a dominant defense. However, not everyone shares that belief; some feel that Bradley was the wrong hire for Indianapolis.
One of those people is Bill Barnwell, an NFL writer for ESPN. In a recent piece ranking each team by offseason actions, Barnwell expressed concern about Indy hiring Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator and wondered if the Colts should have found a coach with a similar system to Eberflus.
Barnwell’s main reasoning for the concern was that Bradley’s past defenses needed specific personnel to have success:
"Bradley has fielded four top-10 scoring defenses over his 13 seasons as a head coach or defensive coordinator, and playing with a single-high safety, it should be no surprise that those teams featured superstars in center field. Bradley had Earl Thomas in Seattle and Derwin James with the Chargers, but when he hasn’t had a similarly talented free safety, his defenses have typically ranked in the bottom quarter of the league. (The exception is 2017, when the Chargers ranked third in scoring defense.)"
Barnwell goes on to acknowledge that Julian Blackmon is talented when healthy but that he hasn’t proven to be the caliber of safety as Earl Thomas or Derwin James. Barnwell’s final claim is that Gus Bradley may need to reinvent his system similar to how Dan Quinn changed things with the Cowboys.
Do Colts have the personnel for Gus Bradley’s defense?
Barnwell makes a great observation that is supported by history. There’s room to pushback about the ceiling of Julian Blackmon because he is talented and young, and could evolve into an elite safety. But, overall, it’s a fair concern raised by Bill Barnwell.
However, Gus Bradley has been around NFL football for a long time and this defense is loaded with talent at every level. Bradley has arguably the best linebacker in football, two Pro Bowl defensive linemen, and a former Defensive Player of the Year at corner.
Regardless of whether the Colts have an elite safety, Bradley and the defense should be able to figure out a system that is productive for Indianapolis. There may be growing pains through camp and the first few weeks of the season, but this unit is too talented to not figure something out.