INDIANAPOLIS – To become a true Super Bowl team, Bill Polian knew his defense needed an upgrade at that position.
Fittingly, some 14 years later, in the same role Polian was in for the Colts, Chris Ballard was sold on making a seismic trade, once he saw that position (and that player) impact the Super Bowl.
For Polian, it was giving away a second-round pick during a 2006 in-season trade for defensive tackle Booger McFarland.
For Ballard, it was sending the No. 13 overall pick this past March to the 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
Nearly a decade and a half span the two trades, but the value for that position, in virtually the same Tampa 2 defense, remains.
“The most important person in the defense, the key player is the 3-technique, the guy who is closest to the ball,” Polian, the Hall of Famer and former Colts President, explains. “He does the most disrupting. And he’s the guy who triggers the pass rush.
“We know, based on experience we’ve had with both Peyton (Manning) and (Tom) Brady, (Jim) Kelly and (Dan) Marino, almost any quarterback, but all the elite ones, hate people under their legs, hate people who can rush up the middle. The only people who have had success against Brady over time are those who can rush up the middle. If you can put pressure from the inside in the passing game, then the (Dwight) Freeney’s and (Robert) Mathis’ can really go to work.
“The fact that Buckner is an elite pass rusher from the inside, and also an elite run player gives you the opportunity for a really key defense. We did not get to a Super Bowl level until we got Bogger McFarland. And that’s on me. I didn’t do a good enough job of getting someone like that. Chris Ballard has learned that lesson and went out and got Buckner and that’s going to be huge for that defense.”
As Ballard watched Buckner in Super Bowl LIV, the GM fell more and more in love.
-It was the impactful sacks (1.5 for Buckner in the game) Buckner had against Patrick Mahomes.
-It was the constant high-level of effort, seeing a 6-7, 300-pounder stay alive in plays all over the field.
-It was Buckner still delivering pressure in the 4th quarter, showing off rare stamina for a defensive tackle.
When the Colts made the trade for Buckner, Ballard wanted everyone to go watch how he played in the Super Bowl.
“All you have to do was put on the Super Bowl,” Ballard said. “The great players produce in the great games. Just watch the Super Bowl, that guy played his ass off. And he was disruptive the entire game.”
Obviously, Ballard hopes Buckner (who is a far more consistent and disruptive player than McFarland was) can help the Colts get to the point where Polian and company got to more than a decade ago.
Jim Irsay certainly has fond memories of those days, and that 2006 season, in which the defense did plenty of heavy lifting in capturing Super Bowl LI.
The Owner is quite happy to have a difference maker back at such a critical position.
“He’s special,” Irsay said of Buckner, when speaking to Colts.com earlier this offseason. “The long arms, the knee bend, to be 6-7, to play inside like that’s remarkable. He’s never on the ground, he’s so sudden. Even though he’s 6-7, he’s just really, really, really a remarkable athlete, and quite frankly, I use this this word carefully, but I just can’t even think of anyone that was like him. To be that size and play inside like that, I mean, you have to realize what kind of athlete you have to be. And he gets double teamed and he still makes plays, because he’s never on the ground and he never quits.
“He’s special and he’s a special leader.”
And the Colts hope they will see Buckner back in that ‘special’ game one day, donning the blue and white.