INDIANAPOLIS – Last weekend saw the Colts welcome approximately 40 rookies to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for a three-day orientation to the culture of the team.
The session included all of the team's 10 draft picks, plus others who joined the club through free agency. It was an intense camp that had heads spinning with the amount of information introduced to the newcomers.
General Manager Ryan Grigson liked what he saw from his organization and of the players he helped bring to Indianapolis to build a new competitive monster.
"There was a lot of learning involved," said Grigson. "You have to take that into account with all these players. They're coming from different systems, different coaching styles and techniques. There is a lot of things getting thrown at them in a short span."
Players reported last Thursday to undergo physical evaluations and an introductory team meeting. They underwent two practices on Friday and Saturday (a total of about two and a half hours daily) and one on Sunday with a coaching staff that pitched information at a healthy and repetitive pace. Grigson was complimentary of their attentiveness and retention.
"Some guys pick it up quicker than others but for the most part, I thought it was a really good three days because the players seemed like they were taking coaching and responding," said Grigson. "There were a lot of things thrown at the guys. I thought they responded collectively pretty well, considering where they were coming from. They came from all different types of levels. We had a player from Division III (linebacker Kevin Eagan) up to the SEC. It was all different walks here.
"They were playing at a pretty good rate of speed, considering all the newness of it. I was happy with just the tempo overall. It's a credit to Chuck (Pagano) and his staff."
Pagano was conducting his initial rookie camp as well. Since joining the Colts as head coach on January 25, he has worked with veteran players, hitting the more seasoned bunch with new schemes on both sides of the ball, plus a new approach to special teams play.
Grigson likes the teaching methods of Pagano and his staff. It is a friendly but firm approach styled for maximum results. Like any successful staff, no fundamental is unimportant and no detail is too small.
"I definitely like it, and that's why they are here," said Grigson of his coaches having an effective teaching style. "They really work hard on fundamentals, which I think is so important.
"Going through the (hiring) process from the beginning, that is what really impressed me about this staff. They preach fundamentals. They work on all the things that you need to have to be a sound football player. They preach it, the guys do it and they see it come to fruition on the field. The biggest thing for me watching was not only the communication, but all the players really kind of gelled as teammates as time went along. It was a productive three days."
Players voiced an appreciation of the coaching style, as well as the aggressive pace with which information was thrown their way. Both players and coaches noticed each day how much installation was retained and how much needed to be reinforced a second time.
Last Sunday, coaches urged players to keep their attention tuned to the playbook, plus to keep their physical conditions in order for when organized team activities (OTAs) start in the middle of May. Most of the rookies will be on hand. A few, quarterback Andrew Luck (Stanford), wide receiver LaVon Brazill (sixth round, Ohio) and wide receiver Griff Whalen (free agent, Stanford) will be excluded because of academic reasons. All players were told to control every avenue within their power.
"We have a long way to go, but I'm sure the rookies and the young players would tell you that. They can only control what they can control right now," said Grigson. "That is to be in the playbook, lift, run and do all those types of things. (They will) continue to learn from these coaches. They (the coaches) obviously know what they're doing. It was fun to watch, and it will be interesting to see where these guys are a few months from now."
Luck, Brazill and Whalen will be on hand for the full-squad mini-camp that runs from June 12-14. The mandatory camp will be the final on-field work until the start of training camp at Anderson University. Players will report to training camp on July 28, and practice starts the next day.
Pagano implored the newcomers last weekend that this is not a rebuilding time for the team.
"I told them, 'It's Next Man Up.' We know we've lost some great players. There's been turnover here, huge change. The culture, the dynamics are totally different," said Pagano. "We just raised the bar. The expectations are way up (high). We said, 'You wouldn't be sitting in this room if someone didn't see something in you. It's 'Next Man Up.' Get yourself ready to go. Learn what you're supposed to do.'
"Rebuild? No, we're not talking about rebuild, ever. … You're judged on one thing, and one thing only, that's wins and losses."
Grigson liked the firm message imparted to young ears.
"I think they at least know they will be coached hard. They will have high expectations given to them by Coach Pagano and the entire staff," said Grigson. "The bar is set high, and that's what we're working toward."