INDIANAPOLIS — Johnathan Hankins looks like a perfect fit with the Indianapolis Colts.
He’s big enough to stuff the run, versatile enough to play multiple positions along the defensive line and quick enough to harass quarterbacks. At 25, he’s young enough to be a cornerstone for the future and is just brash enough to give this defense some much-needed swagger.
Yes, Hankins has all the traits the Colts wanted for their latest revamp, and now they’re about to find out if this rebuilt defense can play up to Hankins’ lofty expectations.
“We’re trying to get the ball in the offense’s hands as much as we can and we want to be one of the dominant defenses in the NFL,” Hankins said.
In Indy, it seems like a foreign concept.
Almost from the moment the Colts drafted Peyton Manning in 1998, high-scoring games have been the franchise’s trademark.
The hope in Indy is that this offseason could, finally, change that perception.
New general manager Chris Ballard invested most of his money and draft picks on fixing a defense that was ranked No. 30 last season, and it’s given the Colts a whole new look.
Ballard let four aging starters — safety Mike Adams, defensive tackle Art Jones and linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Erik Walden — walk away. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis, the Colts’ career sacks leader, also retired.
The projected replacements include Hankins, 330-pound nose tackle Al Woods, linebackers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon and play-making safety Malik Hooker, Indy’s top draft pick.
But there’s no guarantee the other six starters will keep their jobs.
Safety Clayton Geathers is expected to start the regular season on the physically unable to perform list with a neck injury, and defensive end Kendall Langford remains on PUP with a knee injury.
Cornerback Rashaan Melvin is trying to fend off third-round pick Quincy Wilson, inside linebacker Edwin Jackson is facing competition from three other veterans and nose tackle David Parry has been slowed by an injured groin.
Even defensive coordinator Ted Monachino can’t say yet how many new faces will be in the starting lineup Sept. 10 at Los Angeles.
“Sure, I’d love to have 11 Pro Bowl guys lined up across the board, but we’re not at that point,” Monachino said. “We are at a point where we’re trying to collect and have as many guys as we can perform at a high level and play winning defense more often than eight times. “
The Colts believe they’ve found some answers by plucking players from other formidable defenses.
Before signing a three-year, $27 million contract in April, Hankins spent four seasons with the New York Giants. Sheard started eight games for Super Bowl champion New England last season. Simon, one of Hankins’ teammates at Ohio State, started five games with Houston’s top-rated defense last season. And after winning the 2007 national championship with LSU, Woods has been with Tampa Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
All that experience and knowledge should help, but it’s going to take time to get the Colts working in sync to redefine their image.
“I think there’s a perception out there, and we have to change it,” Pagano said, alluding to the word “soft” that has been bandied about for years. “You guys understand what I’m talking about. You guys write it.”
The rookies need to play a part, too.
Hooker returned three interceptions for touchdowns last season at Ohio State though he’s been slowed by a hamstring injury and two offseason surgeries. Wilson started for SEC East champion Florida and Ohio linebacker Tarell Basham was considered one of the top pass rushers in this year’ draft class.
So far, Hankins likes what he’s seen.
In May, he told NFL Network the Colts would be the AFC’s top defense. Instead of backing away from that boast, Hankins has doubled down.
Colts fans have heard it all before, but Hankins and the newcomers hope insist this time will be different.
“You have to set some high standards for yourself, and when you’re setting (them) for yourself, you actually keep it for other guys,” he said. “Everybody has got a nice high standard and you have to work to it to get to it.”
Notes: Receiver Donte Moncrief missed practice with a sprained shoulder joint. Pagano said Moncrief was injured Wednesday when he landed on the shoulder during a drill. … Receiver Bug Howard and defensive back Dante’ Blackmon were kicked out of practice about 20 minutes early because of a fight Friday. Both are undrafted rookies.