"Our defensive line, the way we're set up, I'm talking about our three interior guys, our nose, our three and our five technique, I feel like we're ahead of where we've ever been as far as guys not only being able to play the run but guys being able to give you a pass rush on passing downs," Pagano told reporters Wednesday, via the Indianapolis Star.
And on paper, he's right -- this is probably the best defensive line and defense as a whole that Pagano has had since at least 2013. Hankins adds a different element in the middle than Pagano might have ever had. General manager Chris Ballard also attacked the second and third tiers of free agency to complement those players with capable pass rushers.
It adds an interesting dynamic for the head coach this year. For the first time in almost five years, something is expected of a defense that is getting a heavy facelift. For years, Pagano could eschew blame by subtly pointing at what many believed was an underperforming offensive line assembled by former general manager Ryan Grigson. Malik Hooker is the only defensive first-round pick on the roster, though Ballard spent picks in the first, second (Quincy Wilson), third (Basham), fourth (Grover Stewart) and fifth (Anthony Walker) rounds on defense this year.
This team is a year or two away from no longer being considered hamstrung by Andrew Luck's contract. The pressure will be on Pagano to orchestrate something significant from the pieces he has been given.