INDIANAPOLIS –Though Pep Hamilton moved from the Bay Area to Indianapolis, he probably wondered if there were something in the water that caused injuries.
Vick Ballard and Dwayne Allen were gone after one game, Donald Thomas, two, Ahmad Bradshaw, three.
Trent Richardson and Donald Brown assumed the 1-2 rushing punch, though Richardson joined the team in week three.
Game seven altered the offense dramatically with the season-ending knee injury to Reggie Wayne. Hamilton had to evolve with the gut punches.
"When you have the injuries that we had, you have to adjust and make changes," said Chuck Pagano. "It's kind of an 'adapt-or-die' type of principle. Credit Pep (Hamilton) and the offensive staff for finding a way to best utilize the players available."
Andrew Luck, Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus hammered through 16 starts. They were the exceptions.
Five different wide receivers and running backs have started. Coby Fleener is one of four tight ends to see action, while the offensive line has had seven different starting alignments and has used nine different players to open games this year.
"Of course, it's personnel," said Hamilton of what has been the toughest adaptation. "Losing Reggie was a tremendous challenge, just because of the impact he had on our passing game. Losing our two starting tailbacks, a left guard and Dwayne Allen, who set the edges in the run game and was a threat to get down the middle, (was tough).
"All the guys getting the off-season reps were not available on game day, but we survived it. We were able to recalibrate. Coaches did a great job of getting the next guy up ready to play and understand what we needed to do in the offense."
Andrew Luck said this week it is fair to say this is not the offense anyone envisioned in September and if he had been told then what is in place now, he would have wondered if the team would even be in the playoffs.
"I think he's done a great job, especially adjusting to personnel," said Luck. "He's done a great job of always giving us an offensive plan, a chance to succeed.
"He's done a great job, he really has. That's probably tougher than I realize, or anybody else realizes."
While Griff Whalen had no regular season experience, he knew the offense from Stanford installed here this year. Younger Colts had the off-season to learn, while any newcomer like Richardson and Da'Rick Rogers learned as quickly as they could.
Hamilton credits Pagano for instilling a strict code of preparation.
"That has always been demanded by our head coach," said Hamilton. "You practice, you prepare like you're the starter. That's part of Coach Pagano's culture.
"Our guys understand this is professional football, 'Know your job, do your job. You're always being evaluated.' "
The first six games post-Wayne saw Indianapolis go 3-3. Uneven play on both sides of the ball contributed to the struggle but in ending the year with three wins, units have clicked regularly.
"We had to recalibrate and find a way to match guys with certain concepts and situations, try to put guys in the position to do the things they do best," said Hamilton. "We feel like we picked the right time to kind of identify the niche of the different guys."
Hamilton said coaches are excited about winning the AFC South, the first goal set by Pagano, but no one is satisfied until Lombardi hardware returns to Indianapolis.
Doing so hinges on players ending a season they may not have started. Regardless of arrival, Hamilton says players have adapted because of the organizational mandate.
"It was good to see our players trusted our process. They respected and have been loyal to the 'Shoe (horseshoe)," said Hamilton. "That may sound cliché, but those are some of the things that Coach Pagano preached, 'Understand you have a job, know your job, do your job and don't take any of it for granted.'
"We've been able to stay afloat during a tough period of transition because guys bought in and stayed on course. Young guys have been able to step in and fill in the blanks for us."
PRACTICE REPORT – Did not participate: NT-Aubrayo Franklin (knee), DT-Fili Moala (knee); Limited: WR-Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring); Full: OG-Mike McGlynn (elbow), S-Sergio Brown (groin), DE-Cory Redding (shoulder), LB-Bjoern Werner (ankle), DT-Ricky Jean Francois (foot), DB-Darius Butler (quad), CB-Greg Toler (groin), CB-Vontae Davis (groin), LB-Robert Mathis (rest).