INDIANAPOLIS – When Colts players returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center in early April, they were in for a big dose of change.
On hand was General Manager Ryan Grigson and a coaching staff he helped assemble that boasted 17 newcomers. Only three men – David Walker (running backs), Clyde Christensen (quarterbacks) and Richard Howell (assistant strength and conditioning – remained from 2011.
Chuck Pagano was the field leader and the three phases of the game had new coordinators – Bruce Arians (offense), Greg Manusky (defense) and Marwan Maalouf (special teams). Fresh schemes accompanied the new staff members.
The Colts have covered a great deal of ground in the past six weeks. Veterans have gone through initial spring work, and they were joined by a draft class that numbered 10 players. Approximately 40 rookies went through a three-day camp in the first week of May, and the majority of the entire squad this week finished the fourth, fifth and sixth of 10 organized team activity (OTA) practices that will last through June 7.
Grigson has been an avid spectator of the proceedings. He likes the style of coaching he is seeing, and he knows players are benefiting from the talents of the instructors. In particular, Grigson feels his coaches are true teachers.
"That's why they are here. They really work hard on fundamentals, which I think is so important," said Grigson. "Going through the (hiring) process from the beginning, that is what really impressed me about this staff. They preach fundamentals. They work on all the things that you need to have to be a sound football player. They preach it, the guys do it and they see it come to fruition on the field."
Coaches are putting players through an aggressive teaching pace. Of the 90 players on roster, only 40 were with the team in some capacity last season. There are veteran newcomers like Cory Redding, Winston Justice, Mike McGlynn, Brandon McKinney and Samson Satele. The team will have a new quarterback for certain, and young faces across the roster could find significant playing time in 2012.
Grigson set out to improve competition in every area of the roster, and he feels the mission has been attacked.
"We sure tried, and we'll keep trying as we get close to camp here," said Grigson. "All the way through camp, we're always trying to improve. The players know that, the coaches know that, the personnel staff knows that and Mr. Irsay supports that.
"The only way to get where we want to go is to create an element of competitiveness. Chuck (Pagano) believes the same way. The only way to get better is by pushing each other. You get dull if you're not pushed."
Pagano was asked during the first week of OTAs about how aggressive the team would be to bring in new personnel if it were deemed something necessary to make the team better.
"Any time we can bring a guy in and upgrade (the roster), so to speak, supplement a position where we need to, we're going to make that move," said Pagano. "We're going to be extremely active as we go."
Pagano has stated this is not a rebuilding season in Indianapolis and that the term never will apply. He knows the biggest barometer used to gauge an organization is the on-field record. He will not lose sight of that, nor will Grigson.
"This is a competitive league, and the only way to win is have the best out there," said Grigson. "Chuck always talks about, 'Man sharpens man like steel sharpens steel.' It is a Biblical phrase, and I believe that. I think it's a great way to think, especially from where I sit in this organization. It can only be healthy for us moving forward, to constantly increase the competition level at each position."
No slack was cut for rookies during their five-practice camp that was held from May 4-6. The team wanted it clear in new minds that goals are in place.
"I think they at least know they will be coached hard," said Grigson. "They will have high expectations given to them by Coach Pagano and the entire staff. The bar is set high, and that's what we're working toward. If you make a mistake, you're going to hear about it."
Grigson and Pagano both are battle-tested in the league. This will be Grigson's 14th year in personnel circles. Prior to joining the Colts as general manager, he most recently was Philadelphia's director of player personnel. Ten of Pagano's previous 28 years in coaching have been in the NFL.
This is his first time around as a field leader. Grigson likes his coach's style.
"You see him at work out there (on the field). Chuck walks to each position and rolls up his sleeves," said Grigson. "It doesn't matter if he's showing a defensive lineman how to get off the ball, or how to use the correct technique to block a punt. From top to bottom, you can tell Chuck is well-versed in every position on the field and knows all the in-and-outs of those positions.
"Chuck is very hands-on, and it's nice to see. He's very vocal. If he sees something across the way, he'll address it. Chuck talks to his coaches, but he lets his coaches coach. He has a nice balance."
McKinney and safety Tom Zbikowski played for Pagano in Baltimore. They liked his style there as a defensive coordinator and the environment he is creating in Indianapolis.
"He's a pretty laid back coach, a player's coach, a good guy," said McKinney. "At the same time, he wants everyone to play hard. You want to produce for any coach and for yourself but you get a guy like Chuck, he'll make you want to play harder while he's doing it."
Said Zbikowski, "It's a team atmosphere. No individual is bigger than the team, and that's including Chuck himself. It's about football. He (Pagano) just wants football guys. … I'm excited to be in this atmosphere with the players. The players are going to rub off a lot on Chuck and this entire staff as much as Chuck is going to be able to rub off on everyone on the team."