INDIANAPOLIS – Under sunny skies on Wednesday morning, Indianapolis concluded its third organized team activity (OTA) of the off-season.
The full-team practices held Monday through Wednesday marked the start of phase three work for players this off-season, a process that started about a month ago and will run through the middle of June.
NFL teams have a roster size of 90 players this time of year, and Indianapolis had the large majority of its players participating this week. The OTAs are the first time the Colts are able to convene veterans and rookies in practice sessions.
"Great energy, great enthusiasm. Obviously, the attendance is phenomenal," said Head Coach Chuck Pagano of the OTA work. "You can see on both sides of the ball and (on) special teams, everyone is out here and getting better.
"My hat is off again to these guys. They're busting their tails. To have the leadership, having the old vets, so to speak, going through everything it just shows their passion and what they want to accomplish this season."
Pagano and his staff have been installing new offensive and defensive schemes, and special teams have not been excluded in overhauling how the team will attack in 2012. Among the 17 new coaches this year are special teams coaches Marwan Maalouf and Brant Boyer. No area of the squad is being overlooked, and Pagano is pleased with his team's execution and attention to detail.
"They're working the fundamentals. They're working the techniques," said Pagano. "The communication is getting better. We're working on a ton of situational stuff. We did third-down on Monday, the two-minute drill on Tuesday. (Wednesday), we spent a good amount of time in the red area. We're making progress."
Nearly 80 of the team's players were active in Wednesday's practice. There are nine veterans on roster who are heading into at least a seventh year in the league, and all nine participated in Wednesday's practice – Adam Vinatieri (17 years), Antoine Bethea (7), Justin Snow (13), Winston Justice (7), Reggie Wayne (12), Cory Redding (10), Dwight Freeney (11), Brandon McKinney (7) and Robert Mathis (10).
The OTA practices allow rookies who have completed academic work to participate. Three players, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver Griff Whalen and Ohio wide receiver LaVon Brazill, are not present because of that circumstance. The trio will re-join the team around June 8.
Queried on the progress of Luck, Pagano says the verbal flow of information is smooth as the draft's top pick is concluding his degree work in Palo Alto.
"Obviously, (we have) constant communication. We're talking back and forth," said Pagano. "He was able to take some stuff with him. Besides school, he's spending time with Griff (Griff Whalen) out there and couple of his other teammates.
"He does football in the morning. He goes out there, throws, works out. He's staying on top of everything. He's on point. He does his couple of classes. As a matter of fact, last night he called me and it's killing him not to be here. He's dying to get out here. He's doing well."
Indianapolis was working with two quarterbacks in Wednesday's practice, Drew Stanton and Trevor Vittatoe. Stanton and Vittatoe split the work while seventh-round pick Chandler Harnish was a spectator due to a knee ailment suffered in conditioning work.
"We held him out today," said Pagano. "He tweaked his knee a little bit in a training session. We did some evaluation on it. It's nothing serious. He has a sprain. Like always, we're going to err on the side of caution and hold him back. He might miss a couple or three weeks."
Even without his rookie quarterbacks, Pagano saw progress in the offense's execution. That execution was evident in all areas as well.
"They dropback, they throw and they catch. The ball is not on the ground. That's a good thing," said Pagano of the offense. "Mental errors are down on both sides of the ball. Guys are starting to get it. … You're implementing schemes on both sides of the ball and special teams, and the guys are picking it up. They're picking it up fast because we're throwing a lot at them. From that standpoint, it's been great."
Offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana, the club's two top picks in the 2011, are still in rehabilitation and did not participate in the on-field work on Wednesday. Second-year running back Delone Carter missed the work, too, with a thumb injury.
"I know he's progressing. I know he's doing what he's supposed to do," said Pagano. "It's kind of a day-to-day deal. … They did some surgery on it. They repaired it. It's a matter of time until we get him back."
One other player missing time Wednesday was center Samson Satele. Satele has a minor knee matter that does not require medical attention, and rest was the best protocol.
"He's got a little bit of a knee (ailment). … It's pure rehab work on him," said Pagano. "We always try to err on the side of caution, especially this time of year. With the numbers we have, you can afford to hold a guy out, give him some time and not force the issue. You want them out there. You want them learning. You want them communicating and you want to build some chemistry among the linemen. At the same time, you want to be smart."