WESTFIELD – Year 2 has come into focus for Kwity Paye.
The first noticeable sign? The Indianapolis Colts’ 2021 first-round draft pick was sporting glasses when he met with the media on reporting day last Tuesday at Grand Park Sports Campus.
“Last year,’’ Paye said with a smile, “I couldn’t see.’’
Apparently he had gotten used to living with and playing with blurred vision in his left eye. It never was a problem at Michigan because Wolverine defensive linemen were more “man-key’’ as opposed to reacting to the snap of the football.
“I didn’t know it was such a big deal,’’ Paye said, even though he conceded “driving at night’’ was problematic.
Former defensive line coach Brian Baker first noticed the issue while reviewing video of Paye’s rookie season. It was obvious Paye was quicker to react to the snap of the ball when he lined up at left end. His dominant right eye triggered a fast “get off.’’
That wasn’t the case when Paye was at his usual right end spot.
“Last year was more ball-key where I had to periph the ball,’’ he said.
Paye admitted to Baker the blurred vision was an issue.
“I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, with my left eye I struggled to see,’’’ he said. “He said, ‘Go get that fixed in the offseason.’
“I went and got some glasses, got some contacts. It’s fixed now. I’m ready to go. Now we’re cookin’.’’
It’s not as if Paye endured an unproductive rookie season. The 21st overall pick in the draft started 15 games and finished with 4 sacks and 10 quarterback hits. His pass-rush presence seemed to increase with each passing week, and that was without a reliable edge threat on the other side.
The defense’s pass-rush once again revolved around All-Pro tackle DeForest Buckner, whose 7 sacks – along with 18 QB hits and 10 tackles for a loss – led the team for a second consecutive season.
As much as Paye’s decision to address his blurred vision should enhance year 2, so should how he opted to spend a good portion of his offseason.
He opted to join Buckner and a few others for extended training at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. Buckner has worked out in Norman the past three summers with Mark Hall, his offseason trainer.
“He touches the bases of everything that I want to do as a player, especially playing the inside, and he also started off as a d-end when he first started training guys,’’ Buckner said. “When it comes to conditioning or even technique and building our strength through the whole offseason, I feel like he covers the whole basis.’’
Paye decided to join Buckner, as did Ben Banogu, Dayo Odeyingbo and former teammate Taylor Stallworth. He went to Norman June 9, right after the Colts’ veteran minicamp ended. He returned to Indy a week before camp opened.
It was training-centric from day 1.
“Not much to do there in Norman,’’ Paye said with a laugh. “It’s a great campus, but other than that . . .
“Seeing how hard Buck works in the offseason and how well he comes into camp and how in shape he is, I was like, ‘I have to go down and get some work with him.’ It was extremely good work, watching film with those guys and stuff.’’
The 6-3, 265-pound Paye is a nice blend of speed and power, but he wanted to advance his repertoire.
“I’m a very athletic guy,’’ he said, ‘but I feel like sometimes being athletic can only take you so far. You have to be really precise. I need to be precise with my steps.
“I’m playing more left (end) this year and I’m right-handed, so (I’m working on that). Placement with my stabs, my moves on the o-lineman’s hands.’’
Nate Ollie is in his first season as the Colts’ defensive line coach. He’s had to build a portfolio for each of his players and has been impressed with what he’s seen of Paye.
“Hard worker, a very hard worker,’’ Ollie said. “He’s eager to learn.
“He went down there in Oklahoma with Buck, and Buck took those guys under his wing. He was down there for like a month, just training, working. To me, that shows drive and hunger.’’
Ollie monitored the Norman workouts on Instgram. He noticed the intensity level and how the players worked out in shoulder pads and helmets. He noticed Buckner – first-team All-Pro in 2020, second-team in ’19 – comfortably assuming a leadership role.
“How does that not [make] you better?’’ Ollie asked. “Iron sharpens iron.’’
The Colts are anticipating Paye experiencing a significant leap in his second season, even with the position change.
The major reason: Yannick Ngakoue.
“Just more energy, more vet leadership in our room,’’ Paye said during OTAs. “To be able to pick is brain because he’s played in this defense for a couple of years.
“Just learning from him.’’
Ngakoue has been a whirling dervish during training camp. He’s the playmaking LEO in Bradley’s defense – lined up at right end, well off the left tackle – and he’s 100 miles per hour every snap, whether it’s in team drills or one-on-one work against the offensive line.
Just as important, Ngakoue represents a proven complement for Paye. He has 55.5 career sacks in 95 games and is one of three players with at least 8 sacks in each of their last six seasons.
Offensive coordinators undoubtedly will focus pass protection schemes to account for Ngakoue and Buckner. That should provide favorable opportunities for Paye.
Expectations for Paye and the defense as a whole spiked with the acquisition of Ngakoue and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
“I think it’s justifiable,’’ Paye said. “I feel like our defense last year was really good, and then we add some really big guys to our defense just to add to it.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.