Two weeks from today, the Colts will be on the clock in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. They may take a quarterback with a top-five pick who, instantly, will be viewed by pundits and analysts as the potential savior of a franchise coming off a turbulent 4-12-1 season.
But the players who returned to the Colts' facility on Monday for the start of the offseason program want to be the reason for a 2023 bounceback, regardless of who's taken with that high first-round pick. While their new head coach wasn't here for the quarterback changes, coaching firings and gutting losses of 2022, a number of core players – like DeForest Buckner, Zaire Franklin and Michael Pittman Jr., who all spoke to the media on Wednesday – were.
And it's impossible for those guys to forget what happened in 2022, even if Shane Steichen isn't belaboring those points.
"I'm still thinking about it," Pittman said. "Today we were watching some film in there, and I'm like, dang, we had that game, we let it slip. It's always there. Which, I don't know, might be good because we don't ever want to feel like that ever again.
"I mean, that was probably the ultimate low of my career."
Some of the film players watched this week came from 2022's implosion against the Minnesota Vikings, in which the Colts squandered a 33-0 halftime lead to lose in overtime in Week 15.
"Once you get back into it, it is super frustrating watching these games," Franklin said. "I'm watching the film from Minnesota like, 'what?' You know what I mean? So, it's so many games but that's the difference in the league.
"It's funny just sitting and talking to a couple of guys in the building and all that stuff, it starts now. Obviously, we got scars from last year, different things we wish went in a different way, but we have to heal together, we have to come together now."
Realistically, the returning guys already on the roster are the guys the Colts will lean on to bounce back from last season: Buckner, Franklin, Pittman, Jonathan Taylor, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, Grover Stewart, Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo, Shaquille Leonard, Kenny Moore II, Isaiah Rodgers Sr., Julian Blackmon, among them, as well as several second-year young players like Alec Pierce, Jelani Woods, Bernard Raimann, Nick Cross and Rodney Thomas II.
Listing out those names, you can see a good collection of talent, both in players who've proven themselves in the NFL or who the Colts believe possess untapped potential. The draft picks that'll be added to the roster in a couple of weeks will help, but can only be part of the solution in Indianapolis.
"Our best players have to play to their capability and the young players have to play to their capability that we thought," general manager Chris Ballard said after the 2022 season. "I don't think the cupboard is dry. I do think we have some good young players and I think we have some players in their prime that can play better."
In that sense, the fresh eyes Steichen can get on these players is important, with their own growth and improvements critical in determining the direction of the upcoming season. Last year's record, and last year's individual performances, aren't the focus for the new guy in charge.
"It's all about now," Steichen said. "That's all it is. It's all about this year. Whatever happened in the past happened in the past, and we're focused on the present right now."
Steichen is focused on installing a new offense, and above that, a new culture on 56th Street. He brought in several new young, energetic coaches, and put up new mantras across the building with impressive reminders of the greatness in which this franchise is steeped on the walls:
"The vibes around the building are a lot different compared to that last week of ball," Buckner said. "I'm excited — Shane made some changes around the building, some renovations and stuff like that. Changing the decorations around the building. I think a lot of change this offseason definitely needed to be had to move forward."