In March of 2013, in the midst of a free-agent frenzy, the Indianapolis Colts signed LaRon Landry to a four-year, $24 million contract.
"We feel LaRon is an absolute game-changer and a true impact player," Ryan Grigson said in a statement released by the team (via Rich Cimini of ESPN New York). "We're talking about a 220-pound safety that runs a 4.3 and plays to that speed. His approach to the game and his style of play are lights out and embody the culture we're building on the defense and this team in general."
Colts fans were in a tizzy after the signing, excited to have a safety that had all the measureables, a safety the local media compared to Bob Sanders. He was going to be an enforcer, a playmaker.
It's safe to say that things didn't quite go according to plan.
All of Landry's issues that had plagued him periodically throughout his career shone in 2013.
- Injuries: Landry missed four games due to an ankle injury early in the season, and he missed crucial offseason and training camp sessions prior to the season with lingering issues.
- Tackling: A big hitter at times, but Landry's inconsistent form and poor angles led to a team-high 13 missed tackles. He finished the season ranked 45th among starting safeties in Pro Football Focus' tackling efficiency metric.
- Coverage: Landry was 41st among safeties in cover snaps per reception and failed to force a single turnover throughout the season. The player hailed as a playmaker prior to the season by Indianapolis staff finished the season with one tackle for a loss, two passes defensed*, zero forced fumbles and zero interceptions.
*Landry didn't get a single hand on a pass all season. His two passes defensed included knocking the ball out of Jacoby Ford's hands with a nice hit on a slant pattern against Oakland and knocking Cincinnati WR A.J. Green out of bounds before he could get his feet inbounds.
There are a myriad of statistical nuggets and on-film miscues that we could look at to prove Landry's ineffectiveness last season. But really, the best way to show it is his "highlight reel" from 2013, which is basically a collection of tackles made on players who have already earned first downs:
It was a bad year for the former Pro-Bowler. That statement cannot be denied.
The question is: Will it continue to be bad? Can Landry re-gain the form that Grigson and Chuck Pagano saw in him? Or are the Colts doomed to paying $6 million dollars a year for a below-average safety?
It all starts with getting him on the field.
Over the last four years, Landry has missed 19 regular-season games, playing a full season only in New York in 2012. Landry played all 16 games in each of his first-two seasons, but he missed one game in his third year and has struggled ever since.
Some of the issues come with his style of play, see the concussion he earned against the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs last year. But most of Landry's tweaks and issues seem to come off the field. Perhaps this is something to do with how much training he does in the offseason, stretching his body to its physical limits, something Grigson told media at the Colts' complex during mandatory minicamp after Landry sat out with a lower-body injury (via Mike Wells of ESPN.com).
He's probably overusing those areas. LaRon has gotten extra nicks from doing stuff on his own. He's a guy that's constantly trying to push his body to the limit. You look at him and you can see he's obviously doing something.
Not only have the injuries hurt by taking him away from the field on Sunday afternoons, but they've hurt his pre-season integration with the secondary as well. Landry missed most of last year's training camp with injuries and has already missed this year's mandatory mini-camp. Add that to the fact that he does not attend voluntary workouts or organized team activities in the offseason, and you get somebody who has missed a crucial amount of team-building during the last two summers.
So, the first step is getting him on the field during training camp in late July. With a new starting safety next to him, whether it's Delano Howell, Mike Adams or Colt Anderson, Landry's work to build communication on the back end will be vital.
As far as on-field play goes, Landry has to start making big plays for Indianapolis if the defense is to have any chance of being an above-average unit. He's never going to be the consistent player who shuts down part of the field in pass coverage, and unless his tackling improves, he won't be shutting down the run consistently either.
What Landry has is speed and power, which can lead to big plays, whether it's forcing fumbles or getting into passing lanes more quickly than expected.
The problem, however, is that Landry's instincts were painfully slow last season. Without his athleticism and speed to make up for those instincts, Landry wouldn't be starting on any team. If he can do a better job of anticipating throws, he can get to the spot as the receiver catches the ball (or before) and create more live-ball situations.
If he's only relying on his speed, he's going to be there in time to prevent a few extra yards after the catch, but not much else.
With Antoine Bethea gone, the Colts have lost one of the more intelligent and dependable members of the defense, and Landry is going to have to pick up some of the slack.
It's going to be a difficult task for Landry to get back to being one of the better safeties in the league. The last time he finished a season with a positive grade from Pro Football Focus? When he played for the Washington Redskins in 2011.
But that doesn't mean it can't happen. It's going to take work, work put in off the field in film study of opponents to more accurately know their tendencies and work with his teammates in the secondary to build a stronger base of communication and chemistry.
We know he has the physical attributes. But as it is with all NFL-caliber players, it's just a matter of putting it together on the field.