INDIANAPOLIS – When Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano built a program last year, they did so with a team that had finished 2-14 in 2011 and needed to create a new identity.
The roster overhaul meant the departure of many long-term veterans, and possessing 10 picks in the draft, including the top overall choice, meant contributions would be needed from players who would be making their first NFL footprints.
At times, rookies in 2012 played like "Bigfoot."
Andrew Luck set multiple rookie records that included 4,374 passing yards and seven comeback wins in the fourth quarter and overtime, plus he had 11 starting wins.
T.Y. Hilton's 17.2 reception average, five 100-yard outings and eight total touchdowns constituted a wondrous year for a third-round pick.
Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Vick Ballard helped the rookie class be one of the most successful in franchise history.
Entering last weekend's camp, Pagano noted this year's rookie class finds a roster with fewer gaping holes than last year's did, but room for contributions still exists.
Five workouts over the three days helped form initial opinions for Pagano and his staff.
It was the first time nominal (and non-padded) offense-against-defense work was held, albeit with no veterans, and it was a notch different than Phase Two of the voluntary work that has allowed minimal team work on a separate basis.
It also was the first chance to view Pagano's staff in action, one that has new coordinators in Pep Hamilton (offense) and Tom McMahon (special teams). Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert also is in a new position from last year.
Here are five things learned from the camp:
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY MEANS BALANCE – Pep Hamilton stressed again on Saturday that more balance will be necessary in the offense this year. While playmakers will get the ball, a return to a more blended attack will be the approach. Any 90-man roster has a fuller complement of players at each position group, but the work of the tight ends and fullbacks made for interesting watching. Creating conflicts for opposing defenses should have more of a "grounded" look than in year's past.
WERNER EVERYTHING AS ADVERTISED – Pagano mentioned before camp that reports from Florida State had Bjoern Werner conditioning wonderfully pre- and post-draft. When the top pick came to Indianapolis, the proof was in evident. Werner was active and tuned into the process. He said he wanted to justify his selection. Pagano knew what to expect and was not disappointed.
"Bjoern is everything we thought he was. From an evaluation standpoint, he's big, fast, explosive and a real easy learner," said Pagano. "The game is easy for him. He's just a natural."
THORNTON, HOLMES WILL PROVIDE SOLID DEPTH – Working at center and right guard through the weekend, Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton gave impressive accountings. Added to the mix with veteran free agents Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus, they solidly will be in the mix as useful components as Gilbert forms his line.
Holmes was a natural leader at USC. A rookie here, he looked very comfortable and confident through the weekend. Thornton will benefit from having worked under Gilbert at Illinois. Thrown into NFL waters, both swam well.
"The two offensive linemen from a mental standpoint they're off the charts. Physically, we know what they can do," said Pagano.
COACHING STAFF GOOD TEACHERS – While Pagano is at the helm for a second year, Hamilton and McMahon were seen in action for the first time. Also, Gilbert worked for the first time as the top offensive line coach.
These are three key components, with Gilbert being in his second year with the club. Instruction was firm, direct and professional. Coaching was done positively, but with demands.
Instruction is key, and the staff had players on the same page to a very pleasing degree.
A GOOD START – Three days with rookies and free agents is only that – three days, but it was a very good start. Players showed why they were here, particularly as it related to the draft class.
Grigson early this year harped on the need to land players who would fit into the playing culture.
"We're always looking for guys who are tough, smart, athletic, love football, hate losing – great, competitive guys, team guys," said Pagano.
This weekend did not disappoint either Grigson or Pagano.
Only cornerback Sheldon Price (UCLA) had to leave Indianapolis after the camp for academic reasons. Others will be around to work with veterans in the final week of Phase Two of the voluntary program.
Phase Three starts on May 20, with 12 sessions running in a three-week period. The final week is a three-day full-team mini-camp from June 11-13.