Speed and Intensity Increase When Regular Season Begins, Colts Veterans Say
INDIANAPOLIS – To Kelvin Hayden, it all changes when the regular-season begins.
And to Hayden, that does not mean it starts Sunday, when the Colts step onto the Lucas Oil Stadium field. Nor does it start that morning. Or even Wednesday morning, when the team begins full-scale preparations for the regular-season opener.
Actually, Hayden said it did not even start Monday when the Colts gathered at the Indianapolis Farm Bureau Football Center to begin early preparations for Sunday.
In the regular season, the intensity level rises, Hayden said. Players work harder. Focus increases. Basically, everything is faster.
And it all started late Thursday night, Hayden said.
"It started as soon as the preseason was over," he said with a smile Monday afternoon as the Colts (12-4 last season, second AFC South) prepared to play the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11, fourth AFC South) in the regular-season opener at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.
"You always want to get off to a great start, and that's what we usually do."
Such was the message from veterans to the 11 rookies and first-year players Monday. Six of the Colts' selections in the 2009 NFL Draft are on the 53-man roster along with free-agent rookies Cody Glenn, Jacob Lacey and Ramon Humber. Two more first-year veterans – Shane Andrus and Kyle DeVan – also are on the team, and veterans said their theme to those players is simple.
The preseason is one thing, and it was imant.
But everything is different now.
"You let them know that it picks up a lot," Colts fifth-year cornerback Marlin Jackson said. "The intensity, the speed, the game overall, every play – so much goes into that play. The guys want to go out and make plays and win. That's the thing you don't realize as a rookie.
"My rookie year, everyone told me how it was going to pick up, but I really didn't get to see that or feel that until I got into a game. You can tell them, but the best thing for them is to get out there and get into that live-game action and see it."
Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said he typically notices the intensity level increase quickly, and said he saw the same Monday.
"Guys have watched three or four games on Jacksonville already," Brackett said. "It's that mental preparedness – watching film, seeing what things they like to do, some of their tendencies and just getting your body right."
Said Hayden, "It's like night and day. Preseason seems like it moves at a slower pace and come week one of the regular season, it's just totally different. We try to inform those guys as much as possible that preseason is a different level from the regular season. You have to take it on the same way, but your preparation has to get much more intense and much more into detail.
"Those guys seem like they want to work and get better. As veterans, we have to lead the way."
The ability to make that transition has been key to the Colts' success in the last half decade. With the exception of last season, when the Colts lost the season-opener to Chicago en route to a 3-4 start, Indianapolis has been one of the NFL's quickest-starting teams in recent seasons, starting 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 in 2007.
That is in contrast to a 4-18 preseason record since 2005.
"You have veteran players," Jackson said. "The core of this team is veterans, and we know what to expect. Guys have been here for years. They really know how to lead and set the example for the younger guys. Young guys here always have done a good job of following the lead of the older guys. We know what to expect coming out of preseason. We know what we need to work on. We know what we need to get better at. We've done a good job of that. Other than last year, every other year has been a fast start, and we're looking forward to keeping that going."
Said safety Antoine Bethea, "It starts at the top – veteran leadership, the coaches. It started with our preparation, OTAs, training camp – everything. Whatever we do, we have a lot of focus. It starts at the top and trickles down. . . . I just tell them, 'Go out and play your game. It's going to come to you. The speed's going to pick up a little bit, but at the end of the day, it's the game you've been playing for a long time, so just let it come to you. Everything will be fine.'"