PHOENIX – When Chuck Pagano sat down for his yearly hour-long media session at the NFL's Annual League Meetings on Tuesday morning, a throng of New England reporters surrounded the Colts head coach.
At first surprised, Pagano quickly realized the Dwayne Allen trade to the Patriots was the reason why the media was flocking to his table.
The Allen-trade talk was just the beginning of a Tuesday morning loaded with Pagano giving his thoughts on the 2017 Colts.
In less than three weeks (Monday, April 17), Pagano will have his players back in the building for the start of the team's offseason program.
Here are 10 takeaways from Pagano's time with the media on Tuesday:
1. Ready To "Adapt" If Luck Misses Offseason
The Colts are preparing to adapt this offseason if/when Andrew Luck has to miss time and/or have his reps scaled back during the offseason program and Training Camp.
Like Jim Irsay said on Monday, the Colts are not rushing Luck back anytime soon.
They will be plenty of patience with their $140 million quarterback.
"We expect him to make a full recovery but we just don't know yet (when he will be ready)," Pagano said on Tuesday. "I would be lying if I said it wasn't (unsettling). I can't lie to you. Yeah, you want to have your guy available and you want to have him year around.
"We've got to adapt. That's what great teams and great organizations have to do. You have to adapt and you have to adjust on the fly so we'll do that."
"Anytime you have a procedure done there's some uncertainty that goes with that, but we felt fully confident. There was a lot of dialogue, a lot of conversation that went into that decision. It wasn't one of those things where we woke up one day and said, 'Let's send him out to such and such and go get him fixed.' We felt like it was the best thing for Andrew moving forward. His preparation from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint last year was taxing. It's very, very difficult getting ready for Sunday's when you're healthy, let alone when you're dealing with stuff. I think (the surgery) was the best thing for the quarterback and for our organization."
No one should be surprised if the Colts dial Luck's typical off-season workload back quite a bit in 2017. That isn't too big of a concern for the Colts as the offense isn't changing schemes from 2016 and Kamar Aiken is the only new skill player expected to contribute.2. Colts Need Pro Bowl-Level Vontae Davis
The need is still there for the Colts to find a No. 2 cornerback opposite Vontae Davis.
After releasing Patrick Robinson and moving Darius Butler to safety, the Colts have a wide-open spot behind their Pro Bowl cornerback.
Getting Davis back to playing at a Pro Bowl-level is a major priority for the Colts in 2017. Davis, 29, is entering a contract year.
"We need consistent play out of Vontae," Pagano said. "We need him to be there week after week, after week. And we need him to be there for 16 weeks and play at a level that we know he can play at week after week. That's the expectation for Vontae. He knows that."
A former defensive backs coach himself, Pagano is a big favorite of what this draft class has to offer at corner, especially knowing the Colts will be in line to take one.
"This is a really good draft when it comes to secondary," Pagano said. "With the corners and safety prospects in this draft, you're going to get a good player and it'll be up to us how quickly we can develop those guys and get them on the field. There's going to be some growing pains. But there's great length (in the draft), there's great speed, guys with ball skills, guys with the skill set we're looking for."
3. Why Trade Dwayne Allen?
The vultures from the Patriots media peppered Pagano with questions on the trade of Dwayne Allen.
Pagano had plenty of praise for Allen.
With Allen off in New England, the Colts are now throwing even more at newly re-signed Jack Doyle and the still inexperienced Mo Alie-Cox.
After watching Doyle for four years, Pagano isn't too concerned about what his new No. 1 tight end is going to do on the field.
It's off the field where Pagano wants to see some more out of Doyle.
"From a leadership standpoint, it's his room now," Pagano said of Doyle and the tight ends. "And he's earned that. He will continue to come in every single day. I don't ever have to worry about Jack Doyle. I know exactly where he's going to be. I know he's going to be prepared mentally and physically. It's continue to do what he does on the football field for us. The role won't change significantly, but from a leadership standpoint, I think he's going to need to be a little bit more vocal. That will be my challenge to him. He's a very bright guy, but he's a lead by example type of guy. He's been very quiet. He goes about his business, does his job. He's always where's he's supposed to be. He's a check off all the boxes on him. From a vocal standpoint, I think he can take it to the next level."
Swoope will bump up to the team's No. 2 tight end, which is a virtual starter in Rob Chudzinski's offense.
The Colts only saw Swoope play more than 12 snaps in just five games last season, so there is still some unknown to him getting more and more action.
"The physical traits are there," Pagano says of Swoope." He will continue to develop as a route runner, as a blocker. He just needs to play. You could see once he got on the field and got more playing time, he started to feel more comfortable.
"(This year) coming up for Swoope, it will be pick with the experience that he's gotten and he's gained through his practice and preparation and play. It's a big year for him. He's getting better (as a blocker). It's not easy blocking the guys that you have to block in this league and that you ask him to block. We try to position those guys and give them the best chance to succeed and not put them in certain situations that we know might be a little bit difficult. He's getting better and he will continue to because he has a great work ethic."
The Colts will also take a close look at the tight end draft depth in 2017. Pagano has been really impressed with that bunch through his draft evaluations.
4. Offensive Line Looking For One More Piece To Compete
Pagano is a fan of what the Colts have at left tackle (Anthony Castonzo), left guard (Jack Mewhort) and center (Ryan Kelly).
It's time to settle the exact makeup of the right side.
"There's still going to be some competition there," Pagano said of right guard and right tackle. "We moved some guys in and out of there based on production, based on injuries. Le'Raven Clark is a guy. Denzelle Good is a guy. Joe Haeg is a guy. We've got some bodies there. (Brian) Schwenke will add some competition to the room.
"We've had good right guard play. We've had good right tackle play. But it's been kind of by committee. It will be nice to find a couple of pieces to plug in there and have your five guys in place."
Pagano also said the draft, with the Colts having seven picks in the first five rounds, could be used for another trench body.
"If we are fortunate enough to get one of the guys in the draft, we will create some more competition," Pagano said.
5. Kamar Aiken Adding Missing Physical Presence
To some, the Colts adding a former leading receiver might have been the surprise of the offseason in Indianapolis.
Kamar Aiken stands 6-2, 215 pounds. His playing style isn't lost on what the Colts were looking to bring in at receiver.
"He's a big, physical guy that can play with the ball in his hands, without the ball in his hands," Pagano said of Aiken. "He will be a force in the run game. He's not afraid to mix it up. He will do the dirty work. He's a great pro. He's a smart, intelligent guy. He understands what it takes day in and day out to become a really good football player.
"We've had some bigger guys (in Indianapolis), but just not enough of them. He brings a big physical presence to that room."
The addition of Aiken is "huge" for the competition at receiver, said Pagano, with the Colts looking for Donte Moncrief and Jacoby Brissett to ascend in 2017.
6. Colts Love 2017 Draft Depth
Heard this before in 2017?
Add Chuck Pagano to the members of the Colts that love how this draft is shaping up.
Outside of the defensive influence, Pagano is looking for the Colts to add another running back and potentially an offensive lineman next month.
"Obviously, defense will be a priority," Pagano said of the draft. "We will all know that.
"We will look to add a young runner on offense, maybe another piece to the offensive line. I think a young runner is paramount. There's a lot of good running backs in this draft.
"Defensively, you can never have enough pass rushers, enough cover guys. It's loaded with edge rushers and guys that can cover so we feel good about it."
Pagano also touched on his early impressions of working with new GM Chris Ballard.
"He's done a good job of unifying the building, bringing both sides together, from the personnel department to coaching."
7. AFC South Chip
A few members of the media from fellow AFC South teams made their way to Chuck Pagano's table on Tuesday.
They asked Pagano his thoughts on the AFC South being labeled as one of the NFL's weaker divisions.
"We take shots all the time, as you know, on how weak the division is," Pagano said. "Ask any of the coaches, or any of the players on any of the teams and they would obviously tell you differently. Three teams, we were 8-8, Tennessee was 9-7 and Houston of course has won the division the past two seasons.
"It's very, very competitive. I think the talent level on all the teams is getting better every single year. I don't know why that's out there because if you look at the talent and what's on the rosters, it's pretty easy to see."
Pagano believes the reputation of the AFC South is something that coaches and players embrace in a way.
"I think anytime anybody talks negatively about your team or your division, you have something to prove." Pagano said.
Besides the AFC South, the Colts will play the AFC North and NFC West in 2017. The schedule should be released next month.8. Dorsett, Green Needing To Make Big Jump
As the Colts wish to get faster and faster, two of their speediest guys need to make a big jump in 2017.
Phillip Dorsett, a 2015 first-round pick, and T.J. Green, a 2016 second-round pick, would be those two guys.
"Very, very important," Pagano said of their development. "We need them to (grow). And for themselves, they need to.
Pagano said the rare speed these guys possess must start to translate more on the football field.
Talking specifically on Green, Pagano said the Colts might have overwhelmed the safety a bit from a scheme standpoint.
Green played safety for just two seasons in college, and only started one year at Clemson.
"I take some of the responsibility on (his up and down play) because when we lost Clayton (Geathers), we loved moving Clayton down to move him down and play that dime linebacker spot in sub packages, Clayton was mature enough and understood the defense enough to go down there and function and play at a high level, but when we lost him, we tried to put T.J. in some of those roles. Him trying to process and learn the safety stuff and move into some nickel linebacker spots probably wasn't fair," Pagano said on Tuesday.
From a starting 11 standpoint, Dorsett and Green probably will not start in 2017, but they still could play major, major roles for the Colts.9. Defense Questions Lingering
Here are a few tidbits Pagano shared about the 2017 defense:
-Better play and leadership is needed after losing so many veterans: "We have to make a leap because we haven't done that. That falls on me, as the head football coach. Certainly, if we are going to have to have the success that we want to have this year, we are going to have to play really good defense. We are going to have to make a move on that side of the ball. Players understand that. Coaches understand that. I understand that. Huge point of emphasis on that obviously."
-The defensive line depth will lean heavily on the healthy returns of Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson: "Those guys are going to play a major role in the success of our defense. Having them healthy is going to be a huge factor in that."
-On David Parry's arrest and his roster spot: "He's still going through the legal process. I don't have any details to update at this time. As far as the football side of it, David has played good football for us, winning football for us but like everybody else, he's going to be in great competition for a spot."
-On the inside linebacker competition after adding Sean Spence: "There's going to be great competition there. We know how we finished the season (with Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison starting). We've added Sean. Sean brings energy, brings speed. He's a playmaker. He's an undersized backer. He's played mostly in nickel situations. He will play a significant role on special teams and will create more depth and competition there."10. Training Camp Moved
For the first time in the history of the Indianapolis Colts, the team will hold Training Camp at their own facility.
Chuck Pagano explained some of the reasoning for that on Tuesday, including the Colts installing another grass field outdoors at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"You don't have to pick up and move your whole operation," Pagano said of the Colts staying at home for Training Camp this year. "Mr. Irsay loves going to camp. I love going to camp. And Anderson was great to us. It was a great facility. Staying home this year we felt like was probably the best thing for us.
"We've added an extra grass field now. We took the turf (field) out. So we have plenty of grass. We have the indoor (facility). When you run into weather, we ran into weather a year ago, missed a practice, had to change up a couple of days and alter our routine because of weather. We don't have to worry about that now. Those are probably the top things."*
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