INDIANAPOLIS –Chuck Pagano strolled to the podium in the media center at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Friday and the lessened throng meant the week is winding down.
Pagano told an anecdote about the week winding down as the team prepares for the season opener on Sunday in Chicago.
"I asked one of the players, 'What does it mean when we say the hay's in the barn?' The guys said, 'All the work's in.' No, work's not done. The physical part is done, but we've got 48 hours to still prepare mentally.
"We had a really good week. (It) felt like three days, and we had the extra day on Monday. These guys have done a nice job of preparing, both in the meeting rooms, through the walk-throughs and at practice. We'll come in tomorrow and have our meetings in the morning, have our mock game and then get on the plane and head to Chicago."
Pagano will be making his coaching debut, and it is a time of excitement for that reason, as well as this being the opening of the season. It will be Pagano's 29th year in coaching. It will be the Colts' 29th year in Indianapolis.
Despite the years in the profession, Pagano is subject to the same jitters as always.
"You always have those butterflies and nerves. That's why I'll go to mass today, light a bunch of candles, pray for some wisdom," kidded Pagano. "I think everybody does (have nerves). Again, once the thing is kicked off and you get in the flow of things, it kind of calms down, just like the players."
Pagano's squad features 30 players making their first Colts appearance. Fifteen of those will be making a first-ever NFL appearance. There are eight rookies and six first-year players on a roster that has been reconstructed radically from 2011.
Pagano said guard Seth Olsen will open for Joe Reitz on the left side. He also identified the primary points of emphasis for his team.
"It never changes really – stop the run on defense, be able to run it on offense, take care of the football, move the chains on third down. We've got to do a great job," said Pagano. "(I) talked to them early in the week about doing a great job on first down on both sides of the ball. Don't take any negative plays on first down, whether it be false starts (or other things).
"We've got to be able to handle the crowd noise. Just don't take any negative plays on offense on first down. Then defensively, get them in the second-and-long, and then hopefully third-and-long. Then we can certainly try to cut our guys loose and get after the quarterback a little bit. Those are the major points. Once we do get down in the red area, particularly on offense, we've got to score touchdowns. If you're going to win in this league, you can't settle for field goals. You have to score touchdowns. You've got to take care of the ball down there. Defensively, you've got to force field goals or turnovers."
The Colts will have new schemes offensively and defensively, and the special teams are under new instruction, too, with coaches Marwan Maalouf and Brant Boyer. The first test up will include defending Devin Hester.
"You talk about one of the best, if not the best in the game to ever play the position of returner," said Pagano. "The guy is a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete. Every time he touches the ball, whether it's on punt returns or kickoff returns or they bring him in on offense and run reverses with him, throw him screens and things like that, takeoffs, he's a threat to score from anywhere on the field. We've got to do a good job of containing him."
After four dress rehearsals in preseason, Sunday counts for marbles. Pagano said the team approached preseason accordingly, and it is incumbent on players to keep executing at full speed.
"You know what? We've shown a good amount of stuff. Like every team, we're not going to show (our) full hand in preseason," said Pagano. "There's still some things that we've got in our arsenal, in our toolbox. Some things we definitely didn't want to show (in preseason). Our whole idea is to make sure that these guys, on every play, know exactly what to do, how to line up, what their assignment is, what their technique is, what their key is. If we can do that and we communicate well, and we don't make mental (mistakes) and we can play fast, we have a chance."
Roster moves – On Friday, the Colts waived defensive end James Aiono, linebacker Tim Fugger, running back Deji Karim, cornerback Brandon King and safety Mike Newton from injured reserve.