INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano stood before approximately 70 players today at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center welcoming faces old and new to the first day of voluntary off-season workouts.
With 76 players on the roster, Pagano estimated a 95 percent attendance level as the business of backing up an 11-5 season started anew.
"The message was, 'Our condition last year was when we walked in here that, according to the experts, we were the worst team in the NFL. Our position and your position was that we chose to win now. This is how we did it,' " said Pagano.
Last year, pundits called for Indianapolis to repeat the 2-14 finish of 2011, or they expected the team to come close to it.
Pagano distributed shirts reflecting the power rankings as he and Ryan Grigson went about constructing a roster with a culture of, "Respect, Loyalty and Trust."
The intangible terms helped create tangible results as the club overcame an illness that forced Pagano to miss 12 games. The team battled on to win seven games via fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks, posting a nine-game jump and a return to the playoffs.
Saying he feels "great," Pagano offered a prescription for his players, many of whom are familiar to the process while others have joined the Colts this year through trades or free agency.
"You have to prove yourself. Nobody really cares about last year, to be honest with you," said Pagano. "I wanted to highlight with the guys how much they accomplished and what they overcame. That will always be in the record books.
"Perception-wise and reality-wise, this is, 'What have you done for me lately?' We have to go prove we belong. We're in the conversation now, now we have to prove we belong."
Today started nine weeks of voluntary work that includes conditioning and physical rehabilitation only for 14 days.
Phase Two goes for three weeks. On-field workouts can include individual instruction and drills. Team practice is on a separate basis. No contact or team offense-versus-defense work is permitted.
Phase Three is the final four weeks. Teams may have a total of 10 days of organized team practice (called OTAs). No contact is allowed again, but team drills are part of the process.
The Colts will hold a rookie mini-camp from May 10-12, and the mandatory veteran mini-camp is June 11-13.
Pagano feels returnees will continue buying into the process that allowed the program to take flight last year.
With about one-fifth of the roster bearing new faces, he sees no huge problems with those just added adapting to the culture.
"I think because of the leadership that is still here, the way our locker room is, it makes that transition that much easier. (It's) not seamless, I think that would be going too far at this point," said Pagano. "If you go back to how our culture is set up right now, the way our leadership is, those guys will come in and gravitate (to it).
"Going through free agency and talking to guys as they came through, they saw first-hand what's going on. They understand this organization has won for a long time. It's a top-notch organization, the best in the National Football League. Guys want to be a part of stuff like that."