INDIANAPOLIS – Change for the Indianapolis Colts came quickly and dramatically after the end of the 2011 season.
Within 24 hours of the final gun at Jacksonville, Owner and CEO Jim Irsay started reshaping the organization. Within three and a half weeks, new General Manager Ryan Grigson and Head Coach Chuck Pagano were in place.
A coaching staff that had only three men retained from the previous season signaled further change, while subsequent personnel moves saw prominent players like Peyton Manning, Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Jacob Tamme and Melvin Bullitt depart the roster.
Grigson and Pagano have added new faces to the mix and players returned this past Monday to start off-season conditioning. New stall assignments added to the fresh faces in the locker room.
Visible also were shirts in lockers emblazoned with the message, "Build the Monster."
Tenured Colts players noted the changes and voiced understanding that the reality of the NFL calls for such times to occur. To a man, the tenured voices of Antoine Bethea, Austin Collie, Robert Mathis, Pat Angerer and Jerraud Powers showed excitement for the start of a new era and welcomed the opportunity at hand.
"I think everyone is excited. I'm excited," said Collie. "We start fresh. Forget about what happened in the past and keep pushing on. I think everyone is optimistic around here and ready to get going."
Powers joined the Colts in 2009 along with Collie. They both saw Super Bowl action as rookies and each had his first losing season in 2011. Powers is working through the business side of the sport.
"In my rookie year, one of the media guys was trying to get me ready for the business side of the game. I probably didn't understand it then," said Powers. "After this (past) year and seeing all moves and how things happened and shook up, it was kind of crazy to see. At the end of the day for a player, you kind of expect those things. You heard about what might happen or what might not happen. When everything did happen, it was 'Geez, that's my guy. I can't believe he's not going to be my teammate anymore.' On the flip side, it is a business."
Bethea has met every challenge presented to him in a career that has spawned two Pro Bowl nominations. He observed the landscape in the locker room.
"It's different. It's very different but at the same time, it's exciting," said Bethea. "You do have some familiar faces like Jerraud Powers. I think it's going to be fun. It's going to be very interesting. A lot of people are counting us out, but they're (front office and coaches) doing a good job of bringing new parts to the team. We'll see how it goes."
Angerer joined Bethea as the only two Indianapolis defensive players to open 16 games a year ago. He is seeing the changing nature of the NFL, too.
"It's exciting. Whether change is good or bad, it needed to happen and it happened," said Angerer. "I think everybody is excited to get going and move forward and compete.
"It is the NFL. That's life. It's part of this business. We're moving forward, and I think everyone in here (the locker room) is excited about it. We're working hard."
With the certainty that the defensive scheme will change under Pagano, Mathis claims to "feel like a freshman all over again." Mathis and Reggie Wayne were two veterans who were re-signed by Indianapolis recently.
Mathis is a proud competitor whose motor is stuck perpetually in full gear. He is all about winning, and he does not accept a public notion that the team is ticketed to struggle in 2012.
"If there's anybody who has a chip on their shoulders, it's us. We have to get it done," said Mathis. "Everybody is here, 100 percent to get this 'rebuild' word out of everybody's mouth. We're here to win games, and we're not going to fall short of our goal.
"It's a brotherhood, a true brotherhood. We've been counted out already. You just have to take that and use it as a positive motivation."
Mathis is likely to embrace the new shirt in the locker room. He much prefers the word, "build." He has no taste for "rebuild."
"(I) can't stand it," said Mathis. "We are professional football players. I didn't come here to lose any games. I don't have 'rebuild' years in me. We've come to play. … That's our goal, not to rebuild or not having moral victories – just to win games."
The new season will mean new teammates for Mathis. Understanding the business does not keep him from noticing the changed landscape in the locker room.
"It's weird. At the same time it's a business, so it's understood," said Mathis. "That shock value is not there because you understand it's a business. … I'm still kind of looking over and I'm used to seeing (Jeff) Saturday, (Peyton) Manning, (Ryan) Diem, those guys. I guess you just have to get used to it."