ANDERSON – Football has played a role in Ryan Grigson’s life from the outset.
His father played at Northwest Missouri State, and Grigson still has the $50 bond his father’s team there chipped in when Ryan was born.
Grigson’s involvement led him from Highland, Indiana to Purdue and onto professional football, where he has forged an impressive personnel career in three different leagues.
The last 13 seasons have been in key evaluation roles with St. Louis and Philadelphia and now one day past his seven-month anniversary of being named general manager of the Colts, Grigson will set foot on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as his team battles St. Louis.
It will be his second time in the stadium as a key decision-maker with the Colts, yet he does not know what he expects to feel.
“I won’t know until I get there. When I walked out there for that mini-camp practice, it was a tremendous feeling to be in there for the first time (as a Colt),” said Grigson. “It’s exciting.”
It is not that Grigson does not take time to reflect or notice the things on the periphery of his job, it is just that he focuses intently on doing it.
After being named to his post on January 11, Grigson and Owner and CEO Jim Irsay hired Chuck Pagano as head coach and then they oversaw of the building of a coaching staff and a subsequent playing roster. By the way, the team held the top pick in the draft and key positions in each round. While Grigson had a great opportunity, he had the pressure that accompanied the seat in which he sat.
Now as training camp has led to preseason games, Grigson is eager to keep working his process.
“It’s exciting. Just like day one, we’ve taken it one step at a time, one play at a time,” said Grigson. “We’re implementing so many new things since we started. We’re just taking it day-by-day and trying to get better every day. It’s a very simple approach.”
That approach has led to only 27 players returning who finished last season on the active roster. There are 27 rookies on roster, along with another 14 with no more than one year league experience.
The team has had 21 camp practices and is ready to measure itself against outside competition. The typical emotions abound.
“I’d say it’s excitement. There’s always the unknown,” said Grigson. “There is a fear of the unknown, so to speak. I know this much, we’re going to come out and we’re going to play hard. If the team makes a mistake, just like you did when you were a kid make it at 100 miles per hour. That’s what Chuck (Pagano) and his staff have done from day one.
“I feel confident in the respect that everything can’t be learned by week one of the preseason, but we can do everything we do at a high level and high rate of speed.”
Anyone who claims to be immune to the emotions of the game and the anxiety of competition likely is being less than honest. Grigson is forthcoming.
“I’m excited. I have butterflies. I’m not going to lie,” said Grigson. “We’ve come such a long way in this whole process and to actually see the product out there on the field against another team in a different colored jersey, it’s exciting. I can’t fake that.”
Sunday is the first step the Colts can take to help erase the memories of a 2-14 record in 2011. This is the biggest off-season overhaul of the franchise since 1998. That year with a new general manager (Bill Polian), head coach (Jim Mora) and rookie quarterback (Peyton Manning) the team earned a 3-13 record that matched the previous season’s mark which ushered in the new era.
Growth that year came in spurts. Setbacks were evident and often, but progress was made because a program stayed its course.
There are no magic pills this time either. The cure all will be diligence, patience, attention to detail and the demand that full efforts are given by everyone in the program.
“I think you have to have patience. I’ve probably said it 100 times, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ That’s the approach we’ve taken,” said Grigson. “We’ve constantly chipped away from day one. That’s the thing. That’s why I’m on my phone. That’s why the coaches work the crazy hours they do.
“There’s a ‘healthy paranoia’ almost. You don’t want to feel you’re not doing all you can all the time. We still have a long way to go. The players know that, but it’s not going to be for a lack of effort.”
Questions have been posed to numerous players and to Pagano about the approach this Sunday for victory. It is undeniable that this preseason is different in nature than ones from five-to-six years ago when a veteran roster was in place. There are so many unproven components on hand that they must be tested.
Pagano says winning remains a top priority, and Grigson echoed the same notion that one never has set foot on a field of competition without the thought of trying to win.
Grigson and Pagano will have every aspect in balance as the club hits the field Sunday. It is the first of four formal evaluations before the opener in Chicago. Grigson is looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’m just looking to Sunday (against St. Louis), just to see everyone come together and do things – the offensive line, the defensive line, see how we play against the run,” said Grigson. “There are a lot of little things in the back of my mind I’m looking forward to seeing. It’s so brand new. It’s like from day one. It was a blank piece of paper, and we’re just filling every line in as we go here day-by-day.”
Grigson was hit Friday with the same topic everyone in camp has been hit with, and that is his opinion on the development of quarterback
“He really is what we thought he was,” said Grigson. “We just have to get him in front of some other folks and see how he responds. The one thing you can tell from his body language, from how he reacts on the field from how he does things, he’s his harshest critic.
“Nobody is going to be able to push his buttons. He pushes his own buttons. He wants to be great. He absolutely hates incompletions, you can see it on his face. He wants to complete every pass, and that’s good to see.”