INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano exercised his authority on Thursday and let a number of veterans sit practice out – the fifth of a three-day mandatory mini-camp that drew to a close an off-season program that started in late April.
"All 30-plussers didn't have to work today," said Pagano after the final whistle sounded. "We finished with a few less (players) today. We felt we've had great participation, great work, made great strides. We got better in all three phases and wanted to get the young guys another opportunity they need."
Pagano spoke to his charges about making the right choices while away, along with staying in the playbook over the next 34 days.
"We talk to players daily. They have to make great choices," said Pagano. "It's all about protecting the (NFL) shield and protecting the 'Shoe. Before you make a decision, 'Is this going to harm the 'Shoe and the name on the back of my jersey.'
"We talk about the lion in the field. What's his total focus? The hunt. Anything that doesn't have to do with the (Lombardi Trophy) hunt, don't do it. I trust our guys. They'll make great decisions."
A look at the first day of veteran mini camp!
Players report to Anderson University for the start of camp on July 23. When the 90 players report, Pagano sees great competition.
"There are a lot of (battles)," said Pagano, kidding that only the quarterback position is settled. "The depth chart is in pencil. We're going to have great competition.
"Look at this team today compared to where we started (in 2012). I told the team and our staff, 'It's going to be really difficult to get to 53 this year.' Until we get to the final cut, it's going to be difficult."
WAYNE FEELING FIT, READY FOR CAMP – Reggie Wayne spoke today for the first time in weeks after being called a "freak" by Andrew Luck for his recovery from a torn right ACL last October.
Ryan Grigson yesterday called Wayne's recovery "mind-boggling," but not surprising when considering Wayne's unique integrity.
Wayne said he is raring to go and time before camp will tick by slowly.
"I know my time is coming. I'm champing at the bit," said Wayne. "I'm that Chevy that's in the garage. As soon as you open the garage, I'm out, gone.
Pagano needs but a modicum of words from Wayne to know he is fit.
"He told me he will (be ready), that's all I needed," said Pagano. "I've known him long enough where that's all I needed to hear. He looks phenomenal. I'd be shocked if he wasn't ready (for camp).
"The only reason he might not get reps early will be because of me, if we decide to hold him back."
Pagano saw Wayne overcome a 1998 knee injury when they were both at Miami, Pagano as secondary coach and Wayne as a sophomore receiver.
Pagano remembers the intensity with which Wayne attacked that recovery. Wayne kidded he may have to attack Pagano in Anderson if he is held out of drills.
"I'm planning on bringing some extra boxing gloves for me and Chuck," said Wayne. "Whenever he tells me I can't go, we're going to lace them up.
"I feel great. I can't wait for camp. It's going to be a long 34 days for me. I'm excited where I am, where this team is. I think we have a pretty good team. I will make sure I'm part of it."
THIS AND THAT – Chuck Pagano on where the offense is now with a second straight year in one system, "We're better, but we have a long way to go. Not only offense, but defense and special teams. We made progress.
"We need to take the next step, and the next step is the next 34 days. It's 34 days until training camp starts. It's vacation, but it isn't vacation – not if you're chasing that thing (Lombardi Trophy)."
Pagano said players did pick up the system quicker than before, something that was noticeable. The team has had the entire package in all phases presented three times now, and training camp will be the final tuning before Indianapolis seeks another division crown and playoff berth – the most immediate goal.
Pagano was quizzed if he were aware of the desires Pat McAfee has to try field goal kicking and if he thought McAfee had more than just a "wisher's chance" with his talent, "Yeah, I wouldn't be hashtagging 'Boomstick' if he didn't (smiles), and tweeting that out.
"He can hit them. If we have a wind at our back and we're in Colorado and it comes down to a 75-yarder in that altitude, would it shock me to see it split the uprights? No, not at all."
A playful Pagano reiterated how tough it is for a player to punt and kick, "It'd be extremely difficult."
ROSTER MOVE – Free agent nose tackle Brandon McKinney has been signed. McKinney was a 2012 UFA from Baltimore, a stout (6-2, 345) interior 3-4 performer. McKinney had a knee injury in the 2012 preseason and a meniscus injury to open camp last year. He has trained hard on his own to return.