INDIANAPOLIS – On Wednesday under picture-perfect skies again, the Colts worked in organized team activities (OTAs).
The session marked the sixth of 10 such practices for Indianapolis as spring work continues in preparation for the 2012 season.
Head Coach Chuck Pagano, whose demeanor typically matches the sunny weather that has bathed the area recently, has seen his club continue its work efforts that are indoctrinating players to the new culture in Indianapolis.
The vast majority of the 90 players on roster participated Wednesday, and Pagano remains pleased with the progress.
"(We want to) keep throwing stuff at them, keep building on the playbook," said Pagano. "We felt like we got a ton of work done (Wednesday). We did a back-up situation where the offense was having to get off the goal-line and the defense was trying to score or force a three-and-out. We've thrown a lot of material at them. We're challenging them both physically and mentally. We're getting a ton of plays. We're getting a ton of work. I'm really pleased with where we are."
At the conclusion of Wednesday's work, Indianapolis announced it had traded fullback Chris Gronkowski to Denver for cornerback Cassius Vaughn. The acquisition of Vaughn brings to 50 the number of players who have joined Indianapolis this season. Thirty of the current Colts players finished last year on the active roster, while 10 others wound up 2011 on injured reserve or the practice squad.
The spring work carries importance no matter what the roster composition is, and the coaching staff is hitting the players with an aggressive learning pace.
New schemes across the board were introduced to veterans prior to the Colts' rookie camp that was held a week after the draft. It has continued through the OTAs, and Pagano is pleased with the amount of information his players are retaining.
"It's been good because they are staying in their playbooks," said Pagano. "We emphasize that with them. It's like anything else. If you put something down for too long, you'll come back and you're starting over from ground zero. They've done a good job on their time off of staying in their playbooks and coming back. Their retention has been good."
Among the familiar faces on the squad is defensive end Robert Mathis. Mathis (83.5), the second-leading sacker in club history, is busying himself trying to learn a system with a 3-4 look. The scheme will have the former Pro Bowler doing different things than in the past, and Mathis does not mind being tested at this point in his career.
"They're testing us. They're throwing it out to see what sticks," said Mathis. "As a competitor and athlete, you like that. You accept the challenge. There is nothing wrong with being challenged this time of year. They (the coaches) want to see how hungry we are. Coming off a 2-14 year, we're pretty hungry."
Fifth-year quarterback Drew Stanton is among the bevy of new faces on roster, and he is well aware that OTA work is critical because of the observant eyes of a new staff.
"Once you get into OTAs people are starting to figure out where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing," said Stanton. "There is competition out there and you compete every time you step out on the field because of the evaluation process that we're going through.
"(The coaching staff) made that evident from the beginning that every time you step on the field, you are evaluated by your film and the type of tape you put out there. That's the way it goes in this business. For those young guys, you try to make them aware of that early on. It gets cranked up a little bit more and the competitive juices get flowing."
Rookie Chandler Harnish is back at work in OTAs after missing a brief period. Harnish has been successful on every level of football to this point, and he embraces the aggressive instruction.
"Yes, I do (like the pace)," said Harnish. "I think the best way to learn is trial by fire. You just throw yourself to the wolves, if you will. That's how it went for my high school career, my college career, it's what I'm used to. There are some bumps and bruises early on but once you start to learn, you progress with the offense and gain confidence. It's a whole lot of fun."
Diving into the playbook with its diagrams and terminology is a football equivalent to a Mensa test, and Harnish knows mastering the intellectual challenge can bear on-field fruit.
"It's pretty complex. It's probably the toughest thing I've had to do in football," said Harnish. "That's a challenge. I feel like I am being challenged, and this is something I want to succeed at and be successful. I want to help the team win any way I can. I feel learning the playbook the best way I can is going to help the team."
There is no scheduled OTA work again until June 4. At that point, the club will conduct four consecutive days of work. A full squad mini-camp will run from June 12-14. The total number of sessions is fewer than in previous years. Still, Pagano thinks goals are being met.
"They don't allow you as many (sessions). You used to get 14 (OTAs), now you get 10. The time constraints are the same. We're getting done what we need to get done," said Pagano.