INDIANAPOLIS –Recently when Bruce Arians said he never had been around a class of rookies who had contributed so greatly, he was not kidding.
Eight Colts rookies combined in 2012 to produce 3,108 yards, the most achieved by an NFL team's rookie class since the 1970 merger.
Six of the rookies are draft picks – Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard and LaVon Brazill – while free agents Dominique Jones and Nathan Palmer factored into the process.
The previous post-merger NFL record was set by the Colts' 1999 rookie class that gained 2,751 yards. Arians that year was the club's quarterbacks coach, and he witnessed Edgerrin James amass 2,139 yards of that total. Free agents Terrence Wilkins, Paul Shields and Isaac Jones rounded out the group.
The majority of playing faces this year for Indianapolis has been newcomers. Some were veterans and others were new to the league. Spring OTA work and training camp were used as crucibles to form a reloaded, not rebuilt, roster.
Players were coached hard and instructed to think big. Head Coach Chuck Pagano challenged players to ask, "Why not?" It was a solid tack to take.
"That's it exactly. That's one thing Coach Pagano talked about before the season," said Allen. "It's been guys seizing opportunity. Of course the coaches did a great job of coaching us but at the end of the day, guys have to step up and make plays when opportunities present themselves. This rookie class has done great job of stepping up to the plate."
Luck, the draft's top pick, played every snap, literally touching the ball on every play that set things in motion.
"It's been a fun class to be a part of," said Luck. "You go through those first OTAs together where we looked like a rag-tag bunch of high school kids in their first varsity practice or something. To see them contribute, to see Vick (Ballard) taking over for Donald (Brown when he got) injured, to see T.Y. (Hilton) sort of come into his own and the tight ends and LaVon Brazill, it's fun.
"I think credit goes to B.A. (Arians) for putting us in situations to make things happen and trusting in us. I know Reggie (Wayne) has a big hand in the wide receivers and (me) developing. It's been a fun class to be a part of."
Ballard was the club's leading rusher, three times exceeding 20 attempts in a game, something that had not been done but once by the team since 2010. Indianapolis joined Washington as the only teams with rookies as the leading passers and rushers, something that had not been done in the NFL since 1943.
Ballard ended the season with an 11-game streak of having at least one rush exceeding 10 yards, and he feels the coaching staff did a terrific job of cultivating newcomers.
"I think B.A. did a great job of developing us and teaching us about the game," said Ballard. "He taught us the small things that make a difference on the field. There is a mental (approach to this). I kind of got as grasp (as we went along). Coming out of camp, I knew a little bit but not really (everything).
"We put in a whole lot of time in rookie camps, mini-camps and OTAs. I guess you could say this is the fruits of our labor. All of us rookies are playing, and that's really big."
2012 COLTS ROOKIE PERFORMERS
966, Vick Ballard (814 rushing/152 receiving)
890, T.Y. Hilton (861 receiving/29 rushing)
526, Dwayne Allen (521 receiving/5 rushing)
281, Coby Fleener (281 receiving)
255, Andrew Luck (255 rushing)
186, LaVon Brazill (186 receiving)
8, Dominique Jones (8 receiving)
-4, Nathan Palmer (-4 receiving)
TOTAL – 3,108 gross yards
1999 COLTS ROOKIE PERFORMERS
2,139, Edgerrin James (1,553 rushing/586 receiving)
567, Terrence Wilkins (565 receiving/2 rushing)
37, Paul Shields (37 receiving)
8, Isaac Jones (8 receiving)
TOTAL – 2,751 gross yards