INDIANAPOLIS – Under yet another sunny day in optimal conditions, the Indianapolis Colts concluded a three-day mandatory camp that drew to a close formal practices until training camp.
First-year Head Coach Chuck Pagano presided over the four-workout session that brought together all players for the first time. The team had been minus three rookies, including quarterback Andrew Luck, because of academic rules prior to this week.
While rookies will remain about two more weeks at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Pagano cited the overall work of the team as well as cautioning those departing to keep an eye on training camp that starts in six weeks.
"(I was) very pleased with the finish of the mini-camp," said Pagano. "(We had) great participation. What I told the guys afterwards was that coming in as a new head coach, a first-timer, and having the participation, the leadership and the support of the building from the top down has been phenomenal. The coaches did a fantastic job. I thought we got a ton accomplished, and I think we are ready to have a great training camp."
Pagano is one of 17 new faces on the 20-man coaching staff, and the staff was working with a roster featuring 51 players who have joined the team this year, including 27 rookies. Progress is measured in days, snaps, inches, yards and retention, and Pagano acknowledged a pleasing pattern during this week's work.
"It's (the progress) amazing. It's because they all bought in," said Pagano. "They bought into the system. Again, they were here. They gathered all the information. Any time you're going to put in new systems on both sides of the ball and on special teams, the guys have to be here.
"They have to be willing (to learn). They put the time in, they put the work in. What we've seen of the progress by working the process day-to-day, it's been amazing. Leading into training camp, I'm obviously pleased where we're at."
Pagano was impressed by the attendance by veterans as well. It was dedicated effort by the roster leaders, and it started two months ago. With the amount of work done this spring, which included 10 organized team activity practices in addition to a rookie camp and this week's mandatory camp, Pagano urged his players to make smart decisions between now and the training camp reporting date of July 28.
"The biggest thing is we don't need any distractions. You can just pick up the paper every day and you read about somebody making a bad decision," said Pagano. "First and foremost, take care of yourself. Make great choices. Continue to work out. They've put all this time in and the worst thing they can do now is take two or three weeks off and try to get back. Training camp is certainly not grounds to get in shape. They've put too much time and work in right now with (Strength and Conditioning Coaches) Roger (Marandino) and Richard (Howell) in the weight room, running and conditioning. To put it down from a mental and physical standpoint would be disastrous. Take care of yourself. Take care of one another. Stay in your (playbook). Keep working out. Get charged up. You have to re-charge the batteries. Get charged up for training camp."
Pagano likes the style and character of his entire staff. In particular, he cited his coordinators for how they are helping shape the team.
"When I lay my head on the pillow at night, I'm not worried about Bruce (Arians). I'm not worried about Greg (Manusky). I'm not worried about Marwan (Maalouf) and the special teams," said Pagano. "These guys are great men. They've been in the game for a long, long time, and they know their craft.
"More importantly, they're great with kids. They're great with people. The way they deal with these guys, they're great teachers. They know the importance of building relationships and building trust. The X's and O's, everybody runs the same stuff in this league. You pull the decals off and they're running the same concepts, some people just use different numbers and names (terminology). I sleep well at night knowing we have those three at the helm."
Another reason for his solid rest at night is the attitude of the roster and chemistry that is forming among teammates. Pagano stresses relationships and accountability, but he wants the game to be fun.
"It's huge. It's everything," said Pagano. "I've talked before, it's a kid's game. The stakes are high, and we're all judged by one thing and one thing only, that's winning and losing. They're having fun. They're enjoying each other. They're enjoying being out here (at practice) and spending time together. The chemistry is great, and that's a testament to our coaches and our veteran leadership."
A great deal of the focus this week was the return of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck marshaled the team through one walk-through and three full-speed practices that focused on building a rapport offensively and with an emphasis placed on situational drills. Luck got a heavy dose of red zone work on Thursday while taking the majority of the practice's snaps.
"We're obviously trying to make up time (missed) and make up ground with him," said Pagano. "The vets, we knew this was their last day here and he (Luck) hadn't had much red zone work (with them). Most of our situational stuff was down there (red zone). That's why we did it."
Arians agreed with Pagano on the progress of the camp and with Luck specifically. He will be able to work a few days more with Luck and other rookies in preparation for camp.
"Excellent. It was a great camp," said Arians. "It was good to have him back with everybody and watching him grow with his teammates, them get used to him and him get used to him, snap count, throwing balls, the whole nine yards. You wished you had another month but you don't, so you take what you've got and you get better with it. I thought we got a lot better the last couple of days."
Reggie Wayne is forming his bond with Luck, and there could be more work ahead for the pair off-site in the next few weeks. Aleady, the Pro Bowl receiver sees Luck asserting himself.
"I do see him taking control (of the offense). I think in this offense, you have to do that regardless," said Wayne. "Today at the line of scrimmage, the guys were messing with him when he was making a check, and it showed his maturity level. He's kind of already ahead of the game. He's able to step in, change a play and play at a pace. It tells you he's paying attention to details. He knows how to put a team in the right situation. As long as we keep building off that, we'll be alright."