NEW BLUE PREVIEW
New Look Colts Host Rams in Lucas Oil Stadium
*Intro: *Sunday's game marks the first of four preseason games that will introduce many new faces to Colts fans. This is the new hometown team – a new era.
INDIANAPOLIS – Rarely has the need for a roster been more appropriate for Colts fans than for Sunday's game against St. Louis.
The preseason opener against the Rams is the 290th Colts game played in Indianapolis and other than the very first game held on August 11, 1984, this may be the most different looking Colts squad in 29 seasons.
Long-time and more recent followers of the club will recognize some of the names, faces and jersey numbers of their hometown heroes, but many of the players and coaches will be making either their first-ever game appearance in Lucas Oil Stadium or an initial one as a member of the home team.
Only 27 of the 90 players on the active roster ended the 2011 season in the same capacity for Indianapolis, while seven-to-eight others closed last season either on the practice squad or injured reserve. Additionally, the coaching staff, headed by field leader Chuck Pagano, boasts 17 newcomers. General Manager Ryan Grigson is another principal making his initial trip into the stadium as a member of the blue and white.
The Colts come into the St. Louis game having conducted 21 training camp practices after reporting to Anderson University on July 28. There have been many days when the team was on the field working for four hours, and the sessions have been attended by thousands of fans.
Pagano is grateful for the attention given his team while it is forging its identity about 50 miles away from the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"Training camp has been a period of learning for the team. The atmosphere and energy has been just what we are looking for, and (Sunday) will be a good measuring point for where we are," said Pagano. "What I have liked so far is the integrity, spirit and dedication of the players. They stayed in great physical shape during the weeks they were away just prior to camp. They came back ready to keep learning, and our practices have been sharp.
"We hope fans on Sunday enjoy what they see. We are so appreciative of the support they provide. We know they take pride in making Lucas Oil Stadium one of the toughest venues in the National Football League, and we want to restore the Colts' culture of winning. We will work tirelessly to develop a team built for the long-term, consistent success. That's what wins championships. Our focus will never change or weaken. It's exciting to get back home."
Sunday is the first look Colts fans will have for many of the new players. The anticipation to see a number of the new Colts is palpable, none more than to see rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
Fans who have attended camp at Anderson University have seen crisp practices, and Luck has been just one of the players making the camp successful.
"It's just 'Wow' every day. I've never been around a guy who can learn that fast. I've been around guys who are extremely smart, worked extremely hard at it, but he just gets it," said Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians. "He can flat play the position. … (Luck) has a little bit of Peyton (Manning), a little bit of Timmy Couch and a little bit of Ben (Roethlisberger). I'm really anxious to see him develop and watch him grow because he's got the best of all three of those guys."
"Andrew is an incredible young man," said Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay. "I think all those aspects that Andrew brings to the table, the intangible aspects, really understanding and knowing the game and leadership and all those things are tremendous because he's a humble guy. He wants to be treated just like the rest of the 53 guys on the roster, and you love to see that. We're blessed to have someone come in with the same attributes that is just hard work and humility."
"You can't help but kind of get magnetized to watching him because he does things so well," said Grigson. "Andrew seems to exceed expectations. I think the sky is the limit. … It (is) neat seeing it in a Colts uniform, with a Colts helmet on."
Sunday, the Colts and Rams are a part of the NFL's "Thank You Fans" weekend. Colts players and coaches know there is a great deal for which to be thankful when it comes to fans following the team. Indianapolis has sold out 113 of its last 114 home games, including a streak of 79 straight.
The game Sunday is sold out, a true testament to how fans feel about their local team. That number was extended in 2011 when the club endured a tough season. Colts faithful stayed loyal to the cause by remaining vocal throughout the year and helping the club post season-ending home wins over AFC South foes Tennessee and Houston.
Enshrined in the club's Ring of Honor in 2008, the "12th Man" has made a difference in many home games.
"I've been here a long time and we've won a lot of games, and our fans definitely are a tribute to that," said long snapper Justin Snow. "They are there game in and game out. They make it a hostile environment for the opponent coming. Something we look forward to is having that '12th Man.' I know they will be with us again."
"I tip my hat to our fans. They are terrific," said safety Antoine Bethea. "We know when we hit the field, they are going to be loud and loyal. That's all I've ever seen from them, and it's great having fans like that who really care and support the team. I wouldn't trade our fans for anyone's, and I mean it. I've enjoyed them every time I've played over the last six seasons. They support you no matter what."
"What can you say about the fans," said kicker Adam Vinatieri. "You see so many of the same faces game-after-game. They know when to cheer, and they've always been there for us. I knew about Colts fans before I played here, and I like having them on my side."
Free agent running back Deji Karim twice visited Lucas Oil Stadium when he played with Jacksonville. He appreciated the nature and passion of Colts fans then and is glad to call this home now.
"When I was a rookie in 2009 and even last year, I thought it was one of the loudest stadiums I've ever been to," said Karim. "My first time here it was a game we could win to go to the playoffs, and it was the loudest atmosphere I ever had been a part of. It was fun. You had to play mistake-free football and they (the Colts) beat us, but it was a lot of fun.
"Out of all the fans, I thought they (Colts fans) were the classiest. They would talk to you during game, and that's fine. At the end, they would say, 'Nice game,' where in other stadiums fans might not be so nice to the opposing team. I look forward to hopefully having this as my home field. They are great fans."
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis notes the new energy about team and what it wants to do for its loyal supporters.
"It's a new Colts era. Everybody knows it. It's unavoidable, actually," said Mathis. "The fans we have, they're staying with us, and we love them for it. We just plan to just get them back to being proud of us."
COLTS ROSTER (alphabetical by position,*-rookie)
Quarterback (3) – Chandler Harnish, Andrew Luck, Drew Stanton
Running Back (6) – Vick Ballard*, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Darren Evans, Deji Karim, Mewelde Moore
Wide Receiver (11)– Kris Adams, Donnie Avery, LaVon Brazill, Austin Collie, Quan Cosby, Jarred Fayson, T.Y. Hilton, Jeremy Ross, Jabin Sambrano, Reggie Wayne, Griff Whalen
Tight End (5) – Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Dominique Jones*, Kyle Miller, Andre Smith
Offensive Line (16) – Justin Anderson* (T), Steven Baker, (T) Anthony Castonzo (T), George Foster (T), Jason Foster (G), Hayworth Hicks* (G), Winston Justice (T), Jeff Linkenbach (T), Mike McGlynn (C/G), Ty Nsekhe (G), Seth Olsen (G), Joe Reitz (G), Samson Satele (C), A.Q. Shipley (C), Zane Taylor (C), Mike Tepper (T)
Defensive Line (10) – James Aiono* (E), Chigbo Anunoby* (T), Josh Chapman* (T), Antonio Johnson (T), Ricardo Mathews (T), Brandon McKinney (T), Fili Moala (E), Drake Nevis (T), Cory Redding (E), Jason Shirley (T)
Linebacker (15) – Mario Addison, Pat Angerer, Jerry Brown, Kavell Conner, Moise Fokou, Jerrell Freeman, Dwight Freeney, Tim Fugger, Mario Harvey, Justin Hickman, Jerry Hughes, Larry Lumpkin*, Greg Lloyd, Scott Lutrus, Robert Mathis
Cornerback (11) – Cameron Chism, Antonio Fenelus, Buddy Jackson*, D.J. Johnson, Terrence Johnson, Brandon King, Justin King, Korey Lindsey, Jerraud Powers, Chris Rucker, Cassius Vaughn
Safety (8) – Antoine Bethea, David Caldwell, Jermale Hines, Joe Lefeged, Matt Merletti, Mike Newton, Latarrius Thomas, Tom Zbikowski
Punter (2) – Pat McAfee, Brian Stahovich*
Placekicker (1) – Adam Vinatieri
Long Snapper (2) – Matt Overton, Justin Snow
Rookies – 27; First-Year (NFL) – 14; Players finishing 2011 season on active roster – 27; Players finishing 2011 season on injured reserve/practice squad – 8; Players on current active roster not ending 2011 with Colts – 55.