INDIANAPOLIS –Chuck Pagano is no newbie when it comes to football.
Starting his 29th season in coaching, his 11th in the NFL and his first as a field general, Pagano felt something different, but familiar, today when he reported to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
He felt the familiar vibe of a regular season that has hatched. It was a good feeling, and it was one shared by coaches and players alike.
"You can just (feel it). It's different," said Pagano. "Guys had a little bounce in their step. Guys had some time off. I'm sure they were eager to get back to work. … You could sense it."
Gone were the times when practices solely meant to get better. There is a target at the end of the week, one that means something much different than when a preseason game looms. Players responded accordingly.
"The attention to detail was better. The meetings were excellent. We put them through a pretty good walk-through before we even practiced, then we put them through good paces. They were focused. I've seen teams be away from practice for two-and-a-half days and have all kinds of mistakes going on. That wasn't the case here. These guys are (focused)."
Indianapolis is coming off a 2-2 preseason that saw the team work with new schemes on every unit. The deluge of new faces started off the field with a new general manager (Ryan Grigson), 16 new assistant coaches and a playing roster where 30 of 53 players never have dressed in Colts colors on an NFL Sunday.
Pagano says everyone feels the itch of competition.
"Absolutely, everybody is (itching)," said. "You could tell from the moment you walked in the building this morning, from the first meeting until we just broke it down (at practice) out there (at 2:00 p.m.). Everybody's really anxious. We've got a lot of work to do, though."
A number of players missed portions of preseason with injuries, but Pagano feels good about having a squad near complete health as preparations resume Wednesday for the opener at Chicago.
"Jerraud (Powers) and Justin King in the secondary both went through individual drills. They'll do more on Wednesday. We kept them out of everything else. They looked pretty good in individual (work). … I believe they're going to be fine," said Pagano. "Cory (Redding) did some movement stuff on his own, did some bag work early in practice. We held him out. He'll do individual (work on) Wednesday. He'll get reps in each of the defensive periods we have. He's looking good.
"Knock on wood, we're pretty good, other than those surgery guys (Pat Angerer). I feel good from a health standpoint where we're at. I think the time off helped."
Pagano will be just two weeks shy of marking the start of his eighth month with the Colts when Sunday comes. He is prepared for the moment, yet is amazed at how quickly it came around.
"Driving in this morning and walking into my office, it almost seemed surreal we're getting ready for opener," said Pagano. "As crazy as it was six or seven months ago walking into this deal…you get in here and you have to put a staff together, you're dealing with players coming and going, an off-season program and adjusting to that, OTAs, training camp, boom, boom, boom.
"Now all of the sudden, it's sitting there staring you dead in the eye – it's for real now. It went fast, like it always does. It feels good to be sitting where we're sitting as a team. I know everybody's really eager to get to this one."
Sometimes coaches employ themes as they head into competition. While Pagano did a bit of that during the off-season, now is the time to focus purely on preparedness for the season.
"All we're doing is thinking about us and how we'll get better. What I just left them with is I'm not worried about our opponent right now," said Pagano. "All I'm worried about is us – how much film we can watch, how much rest we can get, how much treatment we can get, how much time I can spend in my Ipad, how much film I can watch. All those kinds of things.
"That's all I'm worried about, our own guys, the health of our football team. Moving forward, that's really our theme – how much Chicago stuff can we digest in the next 24 hours. (We) have tomorrow off, and they have to be smart in what they do in their own time. We still have to come in and watch film and get ready for Wednesday's practice.
"I've said it before, the enemy is really in our own camp. It's never your opponent. As long as we don't beat ourselves, we'll give ourselves a chance to compete and win."
Pagano said Vontae Davis will open at the left corner position for Indianapolis on Sunday. Davis recently joined the team from Miami in a trade. Davis did not play in the preseason finale against Cincinnati.
"He's doing really well. He's spending extra time with his position coaches," said Pagano. "He's putting the time in. I can tell by sitting back and watching. He's not making mental (mistakes). You can see his athleticism out there and his play-making ability. That's only going to become better as he becomes more comfortable in the system with the terminology."
Safety Antoine Bethea is ready for his seventh go-round with the Colts. Though it is a new scheme and he will be competing with a few new teammates, Bethea says the feeling still is the same.
"The first week is always the first week. (You're) excited," said Bethea. "The preseason is over. You have your final roster. You're ready to get out there and play the games that really count."