INDIANAPOLIS – With about a dozen new starters, a first-year coach and a new general manager, the 2012 Indianapolis Colts will begin the first chapter of 'Build the Monster' starting Sunday in their regular season opener in Chicago.
After an extremely busy offseason and a preseason record of 2-2, the Colts begin the league schedule on the road for the third consecutive season. Kickoff in Soldier Field is 1:00 p.m. (ET).
Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith is no stranger in meeting the Colts and even though many of the faces he is used to seeing are not around, he still sees a foundation being built.
"It is different of course. Ryan (Grigson) and Chuck (Pagano) have both done a great job of leading the molding of the football team," Smith said.
"Just basing it on how the guys played in the preseason, it's really come together fairly quickly. But you know you have to have the signal-caller. Everyone needs a special quarterback nowadays, and the Colts for sure have one."
The signal-caller Smith is referring to is Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
For the sixth time since 1955, a rookie quarterback will start the season opener for the Colts, and Luck is looking to become just the second to win that opener.
Luck will draw off his experience in four preseason games and when asked to looked back on his first career start at Stanford as a redshirt freshman.
"I remember not sleeping very well the night before and realizing that I hadn't been hit in like a year and a half. Which again, I think the preseason games helped out a lot," Luck said.
"Obviously the speed is going to pick up in the regular season. It is a full game and it is for real in the win-loss column, but I think it was a nice sort of stepping stone."
Opposing Luck on Sunday will be a Bears defense that projects to return all 11 starters and includes numerous Pro Bowlers on each unit.
The Chicago offense has a handful of new starters headlined by three-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall joined the Bears this year from Miami.
Indiana native and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is reunited with Marshall after the two previously played together in Denver.
"He's one of the premier receivers in the NFL, many Pro Bowls, caught a lot of balls, and a guy I've worked with and feel comfortable with," Cutler said. "So when we had the opportunity to get him, I was 100 percent in on it."
The playmakers in the passing game are being added to an already-established rushing attack, led by Pro Bowler Matt Forte.
With Marshall and rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery catching passes from Cutler, one would think the passing game would be the focal point for the Bears, but Colts players believe Chicago will stick to tradition.
"They like to control the game through their run game," Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. "They're going to pass it when they need to, and they definitely have some capable weapons in doing that, but pretty much it's what I guess you would think of the Bears as a running type of team."
Freeney and the Colts finally will get to test out their new hybrid 3-4 defense in live competition.
With almost the entire first-team defense intact, Freeney is ready for Colts fans to finally see what the new scheme will produce.
"You're going to see a very aggressive defense," Freeney said. "It's going to be a little different than years past. The Cover-2 shell was years past, sit back and keep everything in front of you. We are more dictating things this year. You're not going to be sitting back so much. You're attacking."
With 11 years of NFL experience, Freeney is now third on the Colts roster in years played in the NFL. He said there is nothing like the start of the season.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri echoed the same sentiments and at 17 years in the league, he knows maybe better than anyone in the Colts locker room what it will be like on Sunday afternoon.
"When it gets to the regular season, it's something special," Vinatieri said. "The excitement level amps up about six more notches. It's important, one game at a time. It's a marathon, and it just keeps amping up the later in the year you get."
Bears 29, Colts 13 – September 7, 2008
The inaugural game at Lucas Oil Stadium did not go as planned for the Colts as the Bears got some revenge from Super Bowl XLI played a year and a half earlier. Rookie running back Matt Forte had 123 yards and a touchdown in his first-ever NFL game. Quarterback Peyton Manning was 30-of-49 on the evening and his touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne brought the Colts to within 15-13 midway through the third quarter. However, that Bears lead would only grow when linebacker Lance Briggs picked up a Marvin Harrison fumble and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown. The Bears would add a fourth quarter touchdown, thus giving the Colts their first season-opening loss since 2004. Ironically, the Colts opened up the 2008 season with the same three opponents they will start the 2012 season against.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck against the Bears defense: Pro Bowl defenders are scattered all over the Bears defense, and Luck's first test in the NFL will be against one of the more formidable defenses in the league. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne is back, and the Colts drafted a pair of tight ends and receivers to give Luck additional weapons in the passing game. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is expected to be in the lineup on Sunday and has teamed up with fellow backer Lance Briggs for 15 Pro Bowls.
Bears wide receivers against Colts secondary: Vontae Davis and Brandon Marshall will meet again on Sunday after playing for the Dolphins last season. Marshall and rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery have been added to a strong Bears receiving corps and gives quarterback Jay Cutler numerous options in the passing game. After throwing 26 interceptions in 2009, Cutler has thrown 23 over the last two seasons. Davis is expected to start for the Colts and gives Indianapolis another experienced player in the secondary.
The Colts are 34-33-1 in regular season openers.
The Colts have 34 wins on opening weekend, which is second-most in the AFC.
Colts outside linebacker Mario Addison (2011) and wide receiver Kris Adams (2011) are both former Bears.
Since 2004, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne leads the NFL in catches (718) and reception yards (9,809).
In two career games against the Bears, Wayne has 16 catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns.
Since 2002, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is second in the NFL with 102.5 sacks.
Former Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings are both on the Bears roster.
The Bears are 52-35-5 in regular season openers.
The Bears have 63 wins in home openers, which is the most in NFL history.
The Bears .707 winning percentage in home openers is the best in the NFC.
Bears coach Lovie Smith is 4-4 in openers.
Bears kick returner Devin Hester has 18 returns for a touchdown in just 92 NFL games. He is one shy of the NFL record held by Deion Sanders.
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on how important it is to stop running back Matt Forte):
"We've got a huge challenge. He's one heck of a running back. He's big, he's strong, he's fast. If you don't set the edge on him, he can get around the corner and take it to the house. He can take it the distance, plus he's got great vision and an ability to cut back. We've got to do a great job up front of playing square, knocking him back and setting the edge. Our chase mechanics on the backside (are important). They do a nice job. You know, Mike Tice being an ex-offensive line guy his whole life, they do a great job with their blocking schemes. There's going to be some scheme runs in there, but they do a good job of cutting off the backside. If he sees an opening there, he's not afraid to cut that thing back. If we're on the ground, we've got a potential for big plays."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what is the most exciting part of taking over a team that is completely starting over):
"Just go watch them play. See how they react to this environment, when it's for real, when it matters. I'm just excited. They expect it, we expect it as a coaching staff. I expect them all to go play well. I know the effort is going to be there. I know they're going to play fast. I also know there are going to be some mistakes made. We're all excited just to see them go out there and perform and play."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on how much Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher impacts their defense):
"I mean he's a future Hall-of-Fame linebacker. He's a beast in the middle of that defense, and they're extremely strong up the middle. (Brian Urlacher) and (Lance) Briggs are two of the best linebackers in the business. When he's out there, it's just a different dimension. Like where I came from when 52 (Ray Lewis) is out there, it's a whole different defense. It's the same thing with them. When 54 (Brian Urlacher) is out there, it's a whole different defense."
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck(on what he's seen from the Bears defense):
"Seems like all-stars all over the field. Obviously (Brian) Urlacher, (Julius) Peppers, those names are ones everybody knows. They are good, tough, physical. They know what they're doing. They don't mess up. It will again be a great measuring stick and a great challenge for us."
Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers(on the challenge of the Bears receivers):
"Everybody knows the chemistry is there between those two guys and it seems like Jay was pretty excited when Brandon Marshall signed with Chicago in the offseason. They got a pretty good chemistry going and you can tell that from the past. Alshon (Jeffery) is more of a taller guy sort of like Brandon Marshall. I watched him a lot at South Carolina, didn't get a chance to play against him but he had a tremendous college career. I think they are pretty high on him in Chicago now. Devin Hester, he's been doing it for a long time. He's a guy if he gets the ball in open space, he can take it to the house at any time. They do have a lot of different styles at receiver, but I think we matchup well with them."
Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith(on the new addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall):
"He's a scholarship player, there's no doubt about that. He's everything you're looking for in a complete receiver. Of course, Brandon (Marshall) he's an imposing figure. He matches up with all the corners he's going to play this year as far as size is concerned. But he can run routes like a small man; can drop his hips coming out of his breaks and all that. But we still get off the bus running the football, and we ask our receivers to block. He likes blocking. We've all been impressed with what Brandon has brought to the table in the locker room as far as just trying to be one of the guys and earning his wings from how he's worked on the field."
Bears Head Coach Love Smith(on how the Bears defense is shaping up):
"Everyone is coming together including Brian (Urlacher). Brian had his knee injury early, like a lot of guys had during training camp. But the plan was for him to be back with the crew this week. He is and everyone else, Lance Briggs has been outstanding also. Best training camp Lance has had since I've been here. Tim Jennings, a player, of course, who has a history with ya'll, has really played well all season. We're excited about Kelvin Hayden, bringing Kelvin back home. But the defense has been about where we thought they would be about this time. They're anxious to play their first game."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(on how much the team is using last season as motivation for this year):
"It's unfortunate. We were 7-3 and feeling pretty good about ourselves, getting ready to play the rest of the AFC West. Whenever you're playing really good football in November and December anything can happen, I mean look at the Giants last year. You get on a run, you can get the chance to go to the Super Bowl. It's unfortunate but looking into this year, we've got the same team, but we've upgraded a few positions which is going to do nothing but help us."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(on what was the steepest part of the learning curve for him as a rookie):
"You know, I mean everyone talks about the speed but I think in college football these days, and I played in the SEC, the speed is there. I mean that was something that just kind of came naturally and wasn't that big of a deal because defenders are faster but your guys on your side of the field are faster as well. I think it's just the details of game plans from week to week. Being able to master all of those, and being able to go out there and put it together on a Sunday. I have a feeling Andrew Luck is going to have no problem doing that."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(on whether it's harder to prepare for the Colts with so many new guys and a new system):
"You know, we play some teams this year where we know exactly what they're going to do defensively, and they know exactly what we're going to do offensively. So to go against a team with a new coordinator, new head coach, it's a little bit of an educated guess. You kind of have to take a look at what they've done at their previous job, what the Colts have been successful with over the past couple years, what they did in the preseason, and kind of mix it all together and form a game plan from that."