By Tom James CNHI News Service
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Strong safety, free safety. Who plays where?
If Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky have their way, that’s what opposing National Football League quarterbacks will be wondering this year.
Typically, veteran Antoine Bethea would be listed as the Colts’ starting free safety and newcomer LaRon Landry as the team’s starting strong safety. But when the team’s pre-season two-deep depth charts were released, the roles were reversed.
It was Bethea who was announced as the strong safety. Landry — the bruising hitter obtained as a veteran free agent from the New York Jets during the offseason — was given the free safety title.
So what gives?
“[They’re] playmakers. They can both play down in the box. They can both blitz. They’ve got [pass] coverage ability. They can play deep in coverage. They give you a ton of versatility,” Pagano explained Monday.
“It doesn’t matter [how their positions are listed]. We don’t have to say, ‘You’re the free and you’re the strong.’ They’re interchangable. [It’s] good for us and what will be hard for our opponents to kind of diagnose.”
That’s the plan, anyways.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day, they are not going to be able to tell their quarterback, ‘[Bethea] is always going to be in the middle and [Landry] is going to be down in the box.’ Both guys can play in the box. Both are good against the run. Both can cover. Both can bring pressure when you blitz them,” the Colts coach said.
For his part, Bethea admitted that he was a little surprised when he saw that he was now a strong safety. But his overall responsibilities haven’t really changed. He has experience playing closer to the line of scrimmage since he’s been with the Colts.
“We’re interchangable It’s a safety position. We’re both going to be playing down [close to the line of scrimmage]. It’s not really that big of a deal,” he said.
“You don’t know who’s going to be playing the post or who’s going to be down in the box. I think it’s going to help the defense out a lot. A lot of times, the quarterback is focusing on the safety, who’s coming down and who’s going to the post. When you don’t know, it’s a good deal [for the defense].”
Colts add linebacker
The Colts acquired outside linebacker Cam Johnson in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers Monday in exchange for a conditional draft pick.
Johnson (6-3, 268) was originally a seventh-round selection of the 49ers in the 2012 NFL Draft. Last season, he spent the first 14 games of the year on San Francisco’s practice squad before being elevated to the active roster on Dec. 22. Johnson saw action in the final two regular season games.
He played in 42 games (34 starts) at the University of Virginia and registered 130 tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
As a senior in 2011, he started all 12 games and led the team with 4.0 sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss. In 2010, Johnson was named an All-ACC third-team selection after totaling a career-high 53 tackles, while leading the team in sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (14.5).
“He can play either, he can play the rush or strong [linebacking position]. Good edge-setter, got some pass-rush ability. We feel good about that acquisition,” Pagano said.
The deal that brought Johnson to Indianapolis was the 14th trade made by general manager Ryan Grigson during the year-and-a-half that he has been on the job.
In order to make room for Johnson on the regular-season roster, rookie right end Justice Cunningham was waived Monday afternoon. Cunningham was one of two seventh-round draft picks by Indianapolis last spring.
The other seventh-round selection, rookie running back Kerwynn Williams, was signed to the practice squad Monday afternoon. Williams had been waived on Sunday.
In addition to Monday’s trade, the Colts signed rookie wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers to the practice squad and waived wide receiver Nathan Palmer from injured reserve with an injury settlement.
Rogers (6-3, 205) was first signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent before being waived on August 26. In three collegiate seasons (two at the University of Tennessee and one at Tennessee Tech), he posted 139 receptions for 2,100 yards and 21 touchdowns in 36 games played.
Rogers had off-field issues at Tennessee.
“We’re giving him an opportunity just like anybody else. So the ball’s in his court. He understands that. Even though I’ve only known him for a short period of time, we’ve had a conversation about that. He understands what the situation is,” the Colts coach said.
“Again, the ball’s in his court. He’s a big, fast, talented guy. But we all know talent will only take you so far. He’s got an opportunity, so hopefully he takes advantage of it.”
Pagano offered some injury updates heading into Sunday’s regular-season opener with the Oakland Raiders (1 p.m., Lucas Oil Stadium).
“[Offensive tackle] Anthony Castonzo is supposed to be ready and rolling by Thursday. Should have him out there by Thursday and should make the game. [Inside linebacker] Kavell [Conner] is better than he was. He came in and we initially thought it might be a week or so, but he looked really good [Monday],” the Colts coach said.
“He didn’t practice but he’s day-to-day. [Tight end Coby] Fleener practiced. [Wide receiver] David Reed, he’s still going through the protocol with the concussion. He’ll be day-to-day and going through that process.”
Castonzo is recovering from a sprained knee. Conner incurred an ankle sprain in the pre-season finale at Cincinnati. Fleener also has been rehabbing a sprained knee. Reed suffered a concussion against the Bengals.
Tight end Dwayne Allen (foot), offensive guard Mike McGlynn (knee) and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) are all expected to play against the Raiders.
Rookie safety John Boyett was arrested by Indianapolis police early Monday morning on preliminary charges of disorderly conduct, public intoxication and resisting law enforcement after an altercation at a downtown bar.
A team spokesman told the Indianapolis Star that the Colts are aware of the situation and won’t comment until it is done gathering facts.
Boyett was a sixth-round draft pick. He is currently on the non-football injury list.