Colts’ DeForest Buckner larger than life in many ways

INDIANAPOLIS – It is larger than life. Literally.

Pass the south side of Lucas Oil Stadium and DeForest Buckner – hands on hips, eyes scanning an offensive lineman to manhandle, the quarterback to choke or running to kiss – stands guard. His mural is one of four decorating the stadium, joining TY Hilton, Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard.

Buckner is a big man: 6-7, 295 pounds. Its fresco brings it to another level: 50 feet.

And yes, he took the time to see himself well.

“It was pretty cool,” Buckner said. “Last year there was only TY up there. He’s been here for a while. He’s a hell of a player.

“After being here for a year and being installed on the building, it shows me a lot how much the organization appreciates me. And I appreciate the organization for giving me a chance. ”

The wall paintings on the stadium date back to the RCA Dome and are reserved for top talent: Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Adam Vinatieri.

You have to earn your place.

In no time, Buckner had.

Hear from Chris Ballard, who fixed one of his most glaring shortcomings in his defense – the three-technique tackle – when he traded the 13e overall pick in the 2020 San Francisco 49ers draft for Buckner, then signed him for an $ 84 million extension.

Buckner responded with arguably the best season of his developing career yet. He earned his first All-Pro first-team recognition – just the Colts’ honored third defensive tackle, joining Gene Lipscomb (1958-59) and Art Donovan (1954-57) – and racked up 9.5 sacks, a record of franchise for a defender to tackle.

“Last year has been really great,” Ballard said on Wednesday, pausing briefly and choosing his words carefully. “First year on the program and he’s in amazing shape, even better than last year. We follow this pretty hard.

“I think the sky is the limit. I mean, I do. I think he has defensive player of the year skills, I know that. ”

This would elevate Buckner to rarefied air again and might require an even larger mural.

One Colt was voted Defensive Player of the Year: Bob Sanders in 2007.

The personal goal is to make two.

On Buckner’s to-do list for 2021?

“Obviously doing All-Pro, Pro Bowl,” he said. “Get defensive player of the year, things like that. All of these goals are mine every year. ”

Ballard pounced when he found out the 49ers were ready to trade Buckner. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus made no attempt to hide his approval.

“Frank (Reich) and I were both in these discussions and I had two words: ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’,” Eberflus said after Buckner acquired by the Colts. “There is had no hesitation.

There are three vital positions in Eberflus’ defense: the three-technique tackle, linebacker Will and the nickel corner. This translates to Buckner, Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore II.

Buckner is the linchpin. And he’s only 27 years old.

Eberflus saw Buckner take on a bigger leadership role, which is important given the off-season departures of Justin Houston and Denico Autry.

“His growth as a leader is really accelerating,” said Eberflus. “I can feel it in the whole squad and in the defensive line room, and I think it will impact that way. The first year you kind of get to feel the band and what the culture is like here and where it is.

“I think this year 2 is going to be another big step for him.”

This includes in the field.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Brady witnessed Buckner’s disruptive presence every day at training camp when it was a 1 on 1. It was either about finding a way to at least slow down the inside push. de Buckner or to face a dysfunctional offense.

“We have to make sure we target him, and we can put four hands on him – guard and center – (and) help them sometimes,” Brady said. “You can’t do it every game, but when you can you have to try to help these guys.”

Dealing with pressure is a job description for quarterbacks, but they universally hate pressure in the middle. Quarterbacks feel a little more secure when they can step into the pocket and allow outside rushers to pass them.

“If you’ve got speed rush guys around the edges, the safe haven for a quarterback is going up in the pocket,” Brady said. “We have a group up front and if they can keep the pressure from getting too much into the quarterback, then the quarterback will be fine.

“When you have a guy who is disruptive on the inside it can cause a bit of a problem. “

Buckner’s value on defense might have been better highlighted in Week 12 last season. He and Autry missed a critical AFC South meeting with Tennessee after being placed on the COVID-19 list.

The defense tallied 449 total yards, 229 rushing yards and 28 first downs – all-season highs – and the Titans rolled 45-26.

The Colts recovered and secured a playoff berth, but their first-round loss to Buffalo left everyone unsatisfied.

Including Buckner

“Every season you can look back and say, ‘Dude, if I just played this play. If only we had done this. If only we had done this, ” ‘he said. “But that didn’t happen. Focusing on this season, we all know what we have to do as a unit, as a team, offensively, defensively.

“Everyone just needs to do a little more. This is what we had to do last year. That’s why we failed. ”

Reaching Super Bowl LVI on February 13 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Is the primary goal.

“Definitely realistic for this team,” Buckner said. “You saw what we were able to do last year, and I feel like we only got better in the offseason and we have a great core coming back.

“I think it’s possible, certainly. “

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