INDIANAPOLIS –An NFL team is comprised of 53 players and approximately 20 coaches every season.
To get to the season, a player undergoes rigorous spring work and training camp, a structure of practice and classroom sessions that provide knowledge of the system and the chance to bond with teammates with whom one goes into competition.
Chuck Pagano came aboard in January, and one of the first things he mentioned was the importance of relationships in an organization. Pagano daily is a man of his word, and he has shown leadership in all avenues along the way.
As the club fought through the dog days of training camp, one message resonating for Colts players was to play for each other. It was a critical message then, and it applies now as the club prepares for its fourth regular season game on Sunday against Green Bay.
"Playing for each other means put to yourself aside and check your ego at the door," said Pagano. "It's all about the team. It's all about winning, and that's the bottom line in this whole thing. When we do win, I tell them there will be enough credit to go around. Get a role defined for yourself and play for your teammates. At the end of the day, there will be enough credit to go around."
Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky is an NFL veteran whose 12-year playing career preceded a coaching stint that now totals 12 seasons. He has witnessed locker rooms for years and with many different organizations. He values the Pagano message.
"What we try to do is get everybody to play together as one unit, and they're playing for one another," said Manusky. "We're relying on each guy to do his job out on the field for every snap, every play. If we do that for 80 snaps, each play we'll have success. That's what everybody wants.
"I think after a while when you get that success, what happens is the focus goes on the team, and eventually goes to players and individuals after that because they have so much success winning football games."
No units on the field represent more selfless performance than do special teams. Special Teams Coach Marwan Maalouf was with Pagano in Cleveland and Baltimore – an eyewitness to Pagano's ways. Maalouf has seen dividends reaped when players are accountable to each other.
"Playing for each other, it's all about the camaraderie," said Maalouf. "They're not playing for us. I guess they are in a way. When they start playing for each other and they start looking out for each other and communicating, that just opens up a flood of positive things."
Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians senses what is going on with the team. He was a member of the club's coaching staff from 1998-2000, a period of growth that saw the Colts go on an unprecedented run of 115 regular-season wins from 2000-09, the best in league history.
Players throughout that era cared tremendously for each other, and the team built a special kinship with Colts fans. Arians sees the same bonding taking shape already.
"It's more than two or three guys. I think this group is bonding pretty quickly," said Arians. "The locker room is a band of brothers. They have to be accountable to each other for every action they make on and off the field. What they do should and is judged by their peers. … You have to play for each other. The offense has to care about the defense and the defense has to care about the offense. … You have to practice hard against each other, then let lay it out on the field and go to the locker room and have fun."
There are tangible things that relate to victory, but intangibles can play hidden roles in success. Arians is a believer that close bonds can affect a record positively.
"There's no doubt. I've been on a couple of (other) teams where the defense hated the offense, the offense hated the defense," said Arians. "They didn't hang out together, and that's when they start pointing fingers, 'We won the game, the defense lost the game.' That stuff. It's, 'Colts win, or Colts lose.' "
Pagano, Manusky, Maalouf and Arians all see players embracing the notion of playing for each other. In camp, Manusky fingered Jerraud Powers as just one player who is helping lead the way.
"(Jerraud) Powers. Jerraud has really bought in and has been playing at a high level every day from the first day that he got here," said Manusky. "It's exciting from my standpoint to see a young gentleman like that shine."
Powers is in his fourth season with the club, making him one of the senior members on the squad. He also is one of the brightest and most thoughtful players in the locker room, and he explains the philosophy preached by the organization.
"You have to look at the bigger picture. It's like guys who weren't able to do the conditioning test during the off-season. Once we ran the conditioning test in training camp, if you came out of shape you're not helping your teammate," said Powers. "You're not serving the team. You're not in it for the bigger picture. What Chuck's message is, 'Everybody's accountable for each other.' I'm going to count on the next man to know his assignment, know his job and know he is going to get it done. Just like they're going to count on me and know I'm going to get it done. I think that's his definition of serving each other.
"Football players, we all have egos. I want to be the best defensive back in the league. I want to go to the Pro Bowl. We all have our own selfish egos. At the end of the day, you want to win those championships. To win the championships, everyone is going to have to play together as one, as a team. When you win, all the accolades come with it. If we're able to serve each other and everybody be on the same page all year, it's going to be exactly fine with no problems."