INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano is three weeks shy of completing his fourth month as head coach of the Colts.
Pagano has worked Colts veterans over the past month into the new culture the club has for 2012.
One part of that was the slogan 'Build The Monster' that was emblazoned on shirts and placed in every locker when the veterans returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center in April.
Now in his first orientation with the club's rookie class that includes 10 draftees and about 20 undrafted free agents, Pagano is stating a very clear message – the time to contribute is at hand. The need to win is now. It is an expectation, not just an aspiration.
The word, 'build,' should not be mistaken with 'rebuild.'
"I got asked that question many times," said Pagano about if this is a rebuilding time given the departure of many prominent veterans. "I told them (rookies), '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. 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. Somebody in here is going to be the next Dallas Clark. Somebody in here is going to be the next Joseph Addai. Someone will take their place. It happens all the time.'
"Rebuild? No, we're not talking about rebuild, ever."
The changing time in Indianapolis is well-documented. The opportunity to win will be at hand quickly in a competitive NFL. Pagano is working with players hopeful to extend a career past college. There is a trite but true way players can better the odds of extending their playing days.
"Like I said in the team meeting with a lot of these guys, especially with the undrafted free agents, their meal ticket is going to be special teams," said Pagano. "(Special team coaches) Marwan (Maalouf) and Brant (Boyer) have to be their best friend. They had better come out here and do a great job on special teams because when the rubber meets the road at the end of the day and you start making cuts in training camp, it's going to come down to who can help you on special teams. (That's) who is going to make this team.
"The slate's clean. Everybody's got a fresh start, (just) come out here, the quicker you can learn it, the more you can do."
Rookies have been hit with a steady diet of fastballs from their coaches this weekend with installations in all phases of the game. The aggressive introduction of information was likened on Friday as throwing mud on the wall to see what sticks, then throwing more. Players went through two practices on Saturday just as they did the previous day, and Pagano believes the players have responded well.
"It was good," said Pagano of the Saturday sessions. "We cleaned up a lot of mistakes this morning in the film room from yesterday. We gave them another install, threw a bunch more at them. They're spinning a little bit just like we expected. That's kind of our deal, give them a ton now. They'll come back and figure it out later. We're excited where they're at."
Draft weekend and the days just following the selection process are key times in the building of every team. Colts followers know well the success stories of undrafted free agents from previous seasons, and Pagano believes there could be rookies beyond the draft class who can make an impact. It is a credit to the personnel staff that scours the nation for talent.
"Every year it happens," said Pagano of potential free agent impact. "The scouting guys did a great job of bringing in a great group of guys. We have a lot of speed. We have a lot of athleticism, smart guys, guys with Colts traits, so to speak."
Pagano said Andrew Luck has handled deftly the challenge of absorbing information.
"Like all of them, he'll be the first to tell you he's spinning, too," said Pagano. "I think he's doing a great job of picking up the terminology, the lingo. Like I said, for Andrew, Chandler (Harnish) and the rest of the guys, having a chance to go in there and spend an hour and an half, two hours looking at the tape from yesterday, then digest the install from today, it's been great for them."
Luck commented on Saturday that getting on-field work has helped the learning process.
"I'm still learning a lot. They're still throwing a lot at us in terms of installs and plays. It's definitely better to be out there with a practice under your belt, and a walk-through, knowing the snap counts, just the little idiosyncrasies of the offense.
"Trying to improve is always a goal of mine. I think it's a goal of a lot of athletes, practice-to-practice just trying to get better."