INDIANAPOLIS – Monday marked another checkpoint of spring work for the Indianapolis Colts as the team engaged in its first Organized Team Activity (OTA).
Colts veterans and all but a few rookies had the opportunity to work together on the practice field for the first time this spring.
Veteran players have been at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center doing spring work since the middle of April. Players selected by the Colts during the April 26-28 draft spent three days, May 4-6, going through a rookie camp. Monday was the first time merging new faces with the established veterans.
The OTA schedule will include work today and Wednesday. Next week, the OTAs will go Monday through Wednesday again. Following a week's break, the final four OTA practices will be June 4-7, and the club will hold a mandatory mini-camp from June 12-14 in winding up formal work for the spring.
Three of the club's rookies, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver Griff Whalen and Ohio wide receiver LaVon Brazill, will miss the duration of OTA practices because of academic requirements. The trio will join their teammates for the mandatory camp in the third week of June.
The importance of OTAs and camps held this time of the year cannot be overstated. Last year, this type of work did not happen because of labor matters. Players this year appreciate the opportunity to learn and train under conditions that do not have the pressure found in training camp or the regular season.
Muhammad Ali once said fights are won or lost far away from witnesses, in the gym, out on the road and long before he danced under lights.
"There is a lot of truth in the statement he made," said linebacker Pat Angerer. "This is a great time to work on the technical aspects of the game. We're putting in a new defense, and it's a good time to see what works and what we need to focus on.
"The work we are doing now is very helpful. It's something we didn't have last year, and this really is my first off-season of work. As a rookie, I was learning as fast as I could after the draft, and I didn't have the maturation time last year with my teammates. It's big-time getting work now, particularly with the new system we have. Guys are buying into what's going on here. They're here working hard every day, and good things will come from it."
In 2000, Indianapolis provided a prominent voice to talk to its players about the importance of work during this time of the year.
At the request of President Bill Polian and Head Coach Jim Mora, legendary Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight addressed the Colts following a spring practice. In a 15-minute talk, Knight told the players that competitors and champions are forged much more by work this time of year than at any other. He stressed that fundamentals and techniques honed now paid dividends when the stakes were higher.
Knight, one of the winningest collegiate coaches, urged players to take a serious approach to all preparation, commenting that the mental aspect of the game is to the physical side of it as four is to one.
Safety Antoine Bethea was not with the team when Knight spoke, but he agreed with Knight's assessment of spending time now preparing mentally so that game action in the fall finds players performing to their fullest abilities.
"Around this time of year is when you can really focus in on your fundamentals. When you are doing that and being fundamentally sound, that's when you become a better player," said Bethea. "A lot of people have ability in this league, but you need to be fundamentally sound on every play. That is when you find real impact.
"We have a lot more time this time of year to work on the details. During the season, you're really focusing on the game plan and who you are playing. We are trying to learn the new defense like the backs of our hands. We want to play soundly technique-wise, and this is the time to make those strides. Do it now so in the fall you're not saying, 'I have to break like this.' You want to be playing naturally when the games start."
An observer more than a little interested in the squad's development is first-year General Manager Ryan Grigson. Grigson had 13 previous seasons in personnel with St. Louis and Philadelphia. A stalwart lineman at Purdue, Grigson started his personnel work after a brief playing career.
"I love being out there and watching the players, from the first pick in the draft to the last man we signed as a free agent because they wouldn't be here if we didn't think they had a chance," said Grigson. "You like to see how they develop, and you like to see how they come along with each practice.
"It's an opportunity. I've been through it as a player, and I've seen it as a scout. Some guys seize the opportunity and some let it pass them by. It's unfortunate."