INDIANAPOLIS – Reality of life in the NFL came on several fronts when the Colts returned to Indianapolis after 3 A.M. on Monday morning.
The first dose came on the ride home from the airport.
For the first Monday since mid-July, the Colts were not clocking in for a week of work that morning.
The 2014 season was over. And the black trash bags and assortment of cardboard boxes around the locker room indicated just that.
Players gathered to listen to Chuck Pagano at one final team meeting around 3:00 p.m. before the head coach held his last press conference of the season.
The final indicator that the Colts' calendar had turned to 2015 came shortly after Pagano's presser. The team announced the signing of 10 players to future/reserve contracts, pushing the roster closer to the 90-man mark that will be monitored daily between now and September.
Here are five quotes from Pagano's final press conference on Monday that will be storylines to watch in the offseason:
1. "I think it all starts in the trenches. If you can't dominate the line of scrimmage, you're going to have a long, hard day. I think we just found that out."
Bowen's Analysis:* *From Jim Irsay's comments after the AFC Championship to Pagano's on Monday, this was a common theme. Late in the year, the Colts run defense had its moments but once again could not contain the Patriots rushing attack. The Colts hardly have any unrestricted free agents among their top level linemen (Cory Redding the biggest name). On the offensive side of things, the interior of the line still remains up for grabs with so many different players seeing a chunk of playing time in 2014 (plus the possible return of Donald Thomas at guard). Defensively, the Colts will continue to look for the right body types in their 3-4 defense. How effective Robert Mathis can be coming off his Achilles injury will significantly impact what the Colts pass rush looks like next season.
2. "You have to be honest with yourself. I have to and everybody has to. You got to take a look at it and you have to be willing to grow. You've got to make the decision to get better, and that started (Monday), and it will be tomorrow and the next day."
Bowen's Analysis:* *Going back to Irsay's remarks in Foxborough and he says the Colts need to evaluate what the likes of Seattle, Green Bay, New England are doing to consistently reach their level. The next few weeks for the Colts coaching staff will be all about evaluation with just under two months until the free agency period begins on March 10. Players will reconvene for OTAs on April 20 and by that point the outline for the 2015 Colts will be in place as another journey begins. Being able to consistently play against the upper echelon of the NFL, at home and in foreign territory, is something Irsay pointed to as this new era of Colts football heads into Year Four.
3. "You saw what it opened up for (Tom) Brady and his playmakers on the outside. That's what the offseason is for."
Bowen's Analysis:* *Pagano was asked about the need for a run game and how necessary that is to alleviate some of the pressure off of Andrew Luck. Dwayne Allen said after the loss to the Patriots that the lack of a run game threat allowed for the Patriots to drop their linebackers and congest passing routes down the field. The Colts run game had its moments in 2014 but come playoff time, the air attack was the main source of production for the Indy offense. Questions regarding Trent Richardson (where does he fit?), Vick Ballard (health), Ahmad Bradshaw (health/free agent) and Boom Herron (expanding role?) will impact how different this running back group will look three months from now.
4. "You want to be the champ, you've got to beat the champ, and we haven't done it. So we've got to find a way."
Bowen's Analysis:* *From the Colts players, to Pagano on Monday, they know the Patriots will be on their minds this offseason. Whether it's motivation in offseason workouts or dissecting that AFC Championship to see what needs to be addressed, the Patriots are a measuring stick for the entire conference. Pagano made that clear again on Monday in his season-ending presser. The Colts will see New England next year in the regular season with a home contest at Lucas Oil Stadium, looking for their first win over the AFC Champions since the 2009 regular season.
5. "You guys know the way Reggie's wired. You know his work ethic. You know his mindset. Would I be shocked? No. We just take things one day at a time."
Bowen's Analysis:* *Wayne is clearly the headliner when it comes to veterans entertaining the retirement question this offseason. The Colts all-time leader in games played will have surgery on his triceps injury. He will then sit down with his family before making a decision on whether or not season No. 15 will come. Cory Redding and Matt Hasselbeck are two other names to watch this offseason to see if they want to chase that elusive Lombardi Trophy.