INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis is tired of talking about a new era.
Players and coaches are ready to finally start showing off that new look.
With Sunday’s season opener at Chicago looming, players and coaches returned to practice Monday with a refreshingly new regular season approach.
Electricity is in the air, and guys have a little more bounce in their step, coach Chuck Pagano said after Monday’s practice. The attention to detail was better, the meetings were excellent.
It’s a promising start for a team that had been a playoff regular and perennial Super Bowl contender until Peyton Manning got hurt last season.
Now, the experts believe Indianapolis will be the league’s worst team for the second straight season, projections the Colts are using as motivation.
They proudly point to T-shirts depicting their No. 32 ranking overall and are aware of those one-win predictions even with No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck calling the plays, but are determined to prove them all wrong.
They’re basing that off last year’s record and last year’s team and that’s in the past, new defensive end Cory Redding said.
The truth is nothing looks the same in 2012.
Indianapolis began its reclamation project by releasing the injured, 35-year-old Manning on March 7 to clear the path for Luck, considered the most NFL-ready quarterback to enter the league since Manning in 1998.
Two days after Manning’s release, first-time general manager Ryan Grigson cut defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt, running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark in the franchise’s most massive personnel purge in more than a decade. Before March ended, longtime center Jeff Saturday and emerging receiver Pierre Garcon, both free agents, had signed with new teams, and longtime starting offensive lineman Ryan Diem had retired.
So the Colts restocked with a combination of highly touted rookies, cost-effective veterans and unfamiliar faces with something to prove. The moves forced the players to spend most of the offseason trying to get acclimated with one another.
While Luck was busy trying to figure out blitzes and deal with the speed of the pro game, Pagano, a first-time head coach, and Grigson were fine-tuning the roster by signing free agents, making waiver claims and trades. The biggest came last week when Grigson sent two draft picks to Miami for former first-round pick Vontae Davis, Indianapolis’ new starter at left cornerback.
Meanwhile, the rookies were doing their own thing.
Tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill scrambled to learn the playbook and quickly get in sync with their new quarterback. Sunday’s game will show everyone how much progress they’ve made.
We’re there, Allen said. We’ve had as much time, even more time, than the guys last year had to get ready. They’re different offenses, different playbooks, but they set the bar (in a shortened offseason) and we feel like we have what it takes to play like we’re more prepared.
The newcomers aren’t the only ones trying to catch up.
A few longtime veterans still hanging around the Colts’ complex– notably Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne – are learning new positions, too. Freeney and Mathis are now listed as linebackers in Pagano’s 3-4 hybrid defense, and Wayne, who has been making a living by playing almost exclusively on the left side, is moving all over the field now, too.
What hasn’t changed? The veteran speeches.
Oh yeah, you can tell it’s a different week, Allen said. A lot of vets who were giving the rookies a couple of reps here or there, they (the veterans) are back in and they’ve definitely relayed the message that this one, it’s for real.
Luck & Co. are still not sure what they’ll be up against in Chicago given that linebacker Brian Urlacher is promising to return a little more than three weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
And they can’t be entirely certain who will be on the field with them, either.
Pagano said veteran receiver Austin Collie (concussion), left guard Mike McGlynn (sprained left ankle) and defensive end Cory Redding (strained right knee) are expected to play Sunday.
All three practiced Monday and should play key roles against the Bears – if they’re healthy.
I’m pretty sure he (Collie) is fresh, cornerback Jerraud Powers said. You know Austin, he’s one of the hardest-working guys on this team and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back on the field and be there for us.
Regardless of whether the new-look Colts are all on the same page for the opener.
I can’t wait to see him (Luck) perform again, along with everybody else, Pagano said. So I guess I’m excited and anxious just like he is. I think we’re all excited to see him when it really counts.