ANDERSON, IND --- Year 1? Playoffs. Year 2? Playoff win. Year 3? AFC Championship Game. Year 4? It's obvious as training camp begins, the focus is as sharp as ever to reach the next step in that progression (more specifically, skipping a step to bring home some hardware). So, Super Bowl expectations? Been doin' it for years...
"Love to be in that conversation, right? We put those expectations on ourselves Day One, when we got together back in 2012," said Head Coach Chuck Pagano after his team's first walk-through of training camp Sunday morning. "Any pressure that I put on myself, or on this team, or the players put on themselves, shame on us. We are in a great spot and I wouldn't want to be in any other spot. The other end of the conversation, no thank you."
Pagano's players say they're ready to go from hunter to hunted as well.
"I think there are high expectations every year," said safety Mike Adams. "Definitely ready for it."
"Who is that? Us?" asked cornerback Darius Butler jokingly, when told the Colts are the team to beat. "We always put that target on ourselves and we want to come out here and work. We always have the same expectation and that is to get to the Super Bowl and win it. That's the same expectation this year. The only difference is that a lot of other people expect the same thing."
Butler's message is the same as his teammates. Nobody has put higher expectations on the Colts than the Colts themselves, since Chuck Pagano's first training camp practice, when he reminded his players of the analysts that picked his team to finish dead last in the NFL in 2012.
Many veterans expressed some form of the same message revolving around excitement, internal expectation, and one day at a time. As to the obvious question of whether the Super Bowl is a realistic goal in 2015, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton answered it best.
"We definitely have a chance. We definitely have the team to do it," said Hilton. "We've just got to go out there week-in and week-out and just give it our all and hopefully we'll get there."
His rookie counterpart feels the exhilaration of joining a Super Bowl contender too, even if he's approaching it differently.
"Obviously there are a lot of big expectations for this team, but I definitely just try to block it out," said first-round pick Phillip Dorsett. "We just go out there and just try to do our job. That's what Coach Pagano really tells us. No pressure. Don't put any extra pressure on yourself. Just go out there, do your job and everything will take care of itself."
What about the new guys, like Andre Johnson, one of the best to ever play the wide receiver position, but some would argue his first season with a realistic Super Bowl opportunity.
"It doesn't really bother me. I don't really care much about what people have to say. Like I said before, I think we have a great team. It looks good on paper, but if you don't go out there and execute the plays that you need to execute and stop people on defense and play good on special teams then you're not going to win games," said Johnson.
The best quarterback Johnson has played with doesn't much care about what your local sports talk radio caller thinks about his chances of hosting the Vince Lombardi trophy. He does, however, very much notice the talent on this roster.
"I don't think you look at it that way. I think you appreciate the guys that are on the team and you say, 'Alright, here we go, let's do the best we can with who we have and a bunch of great players, a bunch of studs.' But I don't think you compare rosters year-to-year and say, 'Oh, we have a better chance this year or last year.' I think there's some faulting in that."
The Colts punter may have summed up what his quarterback said best, and as always, in entertaining fashion.
"I got out of my car in the parking lot and the first person I saw was Frank Gore. And that's an exciting feeling," said Pat McAfee. "And then you think, 'I get to play on a team with Frank Gore. We're going to be pretty damn good.' And then you think, 'Who's the quarterback with that guy?' And then you go, 'Oh, Andrew Luck is the freaking quarterback.' Then you go, "Oh man, then there's Andre Johnson, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Griff Whalen, a whole new o-line, defense ready to rock.' I mean we're ready to do this thing."
As for this particular training camp, who would know better than kicker Adam Vinatieri about what to expect, as he enters his 20th season in the NFL. No player has been in this league longer than him.
"This camp is going to be very exciting," said Vinatieri. "I think Coach (Pagano) will almost have to pull the reigns back on guys because I think the intensity level is going to be so high that we want to take leaps and bounds, which we will do, but to manage everything and make sure that we are ready to go when we go to Buffalo in a month and a half from now or six weeks or however long it is."
Pagano says he'll also manage those outside expectations too. Not discrediting them, but muting them.
"Blinders on and the earmuffs are on," said Pagano. "Total focus on today and getting better today. All the outside noise, can't listen to it."
Consider the volume inside the dorms of Anderson University turned down but the prize in sight. These Colts don't need to hear it to see it.
(article image courtesy of NFL)