FORTIFYING OPPORTUNITY

Coming off a 2-14 season, Indianapolis owns 10 picks in next week’s draft, including the first and last choices in the process. An opportunity to fortify a franchise is at hand, and General Manager Ryan Grigson will guide the process.

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Ryan Grigson entered the media workroom on Wednesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, it seemed different than other times when he had addressed reporters covering the team during his first three months.

While getting grounded himself after joining the Colts on January 11, Grigson had to help put together a coaching staff and oversee departures of many key veteran players.

The atmosphere on Wednesday carried an expectancy of things to come, and a portion of the club's future will become much clearer in the next eight days. 

By that time, the 77th Annual National Football League Player Selection Meeting, better known as the draft, will be over and there will be an influx of collegiate talent moving to the pro level.  If all remains as it is today, Grigson will see 10 new players ticketed to Indianapolis. 

It is an exciting time and while discussing what lies ahead, the new general manager noticed the different feeling from his past appearances.

"I would be lying if I said it isn't a lot nicer being here this time than last time.  It is a lot more comfortable," said Grigson.  "I am talking about something that I love, not something I had to do that was a really tough thing, but is a part of this business.  

"It is nice when you can get in here and talk about things in this way.  Talking about the draft, talking about the future of this team is exciting to me.  I could talk about it all day to be honest with you, within reason."

The draft has been a matter of discussion locally and nationally since Indianapolis ended the 2011 season with a 2-14 record and earned the top spot in the draft.  This marks the fourth time in the club's Indianapolis era (1990, 1992, 1998) the team has owned the first overall choice.  The club twice has spent the pick on a quarterback, the last time being Peyton Manning in 1998.

Grigson says the club has "exhausted the process" and "made up our minds" on the evaluation of its first pick, and he will approach the rest of the process knowing the entire roster demands attention. 

"We're a team that won two games last year.  We want to get better at every position," said Grigson.  "That's just how my mindset is, and that's the way I think we have to be programmed as an organization.  Every day we're trying to get better, no matter how good it seems that we are at a particular position.  

"You know how this league is.  No one knows what tomorrow holds.  A guy could get hurt.  A guy could screw up and do something dumb.  There are so many factors that can happen.  To me, honestly, we want to get better everywhere.  That way, I think you create an atmosphere of competition, and I think that's real healthy in this league."

The team's roster looks dramatically different than it has in past seasons.  Gone are more than 15 players who were with the club last year, including many veterans who helped Indianapolis forge the NFL's winningest decade from 2000-09.  Among the new players are eight who came via trades or unrestricted free agency. 

The coaching staff reflects 17 new faces as well, including Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who enters his 29th year on the sidelines and 11th year in the NFL.  The savvy Pagano joins Grigson, who has 13 previous seasons in league personnel circles, in helping direct the club. 

Grigson knows the characteristics of players that suit his style, and he will use a measured approach next week in augmenting what has been a radical reconstruction of the franchise.

"If you're building a team that you want to have sustained success, you want the best players," said Grigson.  "It doesn't do you any good to draft a guy that is just a guy, when you compare him to someone else at another position where you maybe have a little depth that's just markedly better talent-wise.  It's tough sometimes, but you have to be disciplined.  The teams that draft really well, I think, are disciplined in following their board and not reaching due to need.

"(You want) to get football players who love to play the game.  Guys you don't have to worry about when you're not watching them, guys that have talent.  It's really a blend.  You're dealing with human beings.  You can't just pick one type of player.  You have to sprinkle different types in all over the place.  At the end of the day, they all need to love to play the game and have some level of talent that will help you win eventually.

Some teams are known for sticking with their allotted choices, while others have reputations for draft-day trades to move into and out of selections.  Grigson has a method in directing his first draft – any action would have a valid reason, all activity will be geared for achievement.

"I'm always inclined to do anything if it involves us securing a better player, or a player I really wanted or a player that we feel could help us," said Grigson.  "To trade and maneuver and do those things just for the sake of maneuvering is not in my makeup.  I like to really keep a laser focus on the board and see who is coming off.  You let the draft come to you and let that board speak to me. … Obviously, we'll entertain any phone calls.  You do that because you'd be a fool not to.  

"If there is a player who is not there and you have a pick that people are vying for and a pick that people want, that drives up the market value of that pick.  You might get a really nice pick or there might not be a player that you are really fired up about.  So why not trade back and get those extra picks?  That's what is fun about it.  You can't take your eye off the ball.  You don't want to do too much to where you forget who is up there."

Seeking talent in the draft mirrors his actions in free agency.  Though Grigson thinks the draft has solid offensive linemen, he says he likes how the unit is manned with veterans, three of whom landed as unrestricted free agents.  In addition to the top pick, the club's other slots fall at 34, 64, 97, 136, 170, 172, 187, 206, 208, 214 and 253.  The 253rd pick is the final one in the process, the first time since 2002 a team has the bookend picks in the draft.  To Grigson, all choices are relevant, and he will keep an eye peeled to fortify his squad.

"You just have to follow your board," said Grigson.  "You have to be honed in and focused and keep looking at it.  We have a lot of needs in a lot of areas to improve.  It's going to take players who we think can come in and help us compete.  That's where we want to go."

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