INDIANAPOLIS –One day in organized team activities, Bruce Arians wore long black socks to the afternoon practice.
Razzed by defensive players sartorially, the offensive coordinator said he was in mourning and was paying homage to the defenders the offense had annihilated in that morning's session.
Arians, who tutors hard while having fun, is one of 17 new coaches hired by General Manager Ryan Grigson and Head Coach Chuck Pagano to reload the team for a strong run in 2012.
With an inordinate number of new faces, including many rookies, Arians said he saw the team forming during those early days, but in particular in camp at Anderson University. What he saw budding gave him a notion of what could happen.
"I thought we would have a chance in training camp, not in April," said Arians of possibly being a good team. "In training camp, when I saw what we had, if we could win at home and scratch a couple out on the road, 9-7 might get you there. We've been able to win the games at home, and we've scratched a few on the road."
At this point, 9-7 would be a downer for the 9-5 Colts. A victory this Sunday at Kansas City clinches a playoff berth and would give Indianapolis breathing room heading into the finale. It would even the team's road record at 4-4, while Indianapolis is 6-1 at home.
Indianapolis has improved by seven games from last year and is close to joining the 1982 Patriots and 2008 Dolphins as the only teams to make the playoffs after losing as many as 14 games the previous year.
Four rookies have started at least nine times, while two others are major contributors. Only 17 active-roster players were with the Colts last year, and two of them are ruled out for Sunday because of injuries.
Fourteen newcomers have appeared in at least eight games and nine of those have started at least that many contests. Twenty-three injured players have missed approximately 93 games, and that number will swell in the next two weeks. (That total does not include six players who missed the entire season on injured reserve.)
"I never would have dreamt it with the number of injuries we've had," said Arians. "I thought with our top 25 guys we would have a chance to do that. What this team has done, with the injuries and guys stepping up, I've never been around. This is amazing."
Arians has spoken during the season about never seeing a rookie class contribute so greatly. With Andrew Luck directing the offense and closing in on the NFL rookie passing yardage mark, while amassing nine starting wins, rookies have accounted for 2,733 of the team's 5,478 gross yards.
Coaches threw the playbook at all newcomers aggressively in the spring, and it produced results in camp.
"I think in training camp, once we started getting after each other pretty good both sides (started believing)," said Arians. "I know defensively talking to Dwight (Freeney) and Robert (Mathis) and Antoine (Bethea) and those guys, they were excited about what they were seeing on the other side of the ball."
Bethea, a seasoned veteran, who embraced the club's reloading, not rebuilding, process noted the progress that made practices harder and games something to anticipate.
"It was every day. Those receivers out there, the old, wise man Reggie (Wayne) catching everything. You had the young guys LaVon (Brazill), T.Y. (Hilton) and Donnie (Avery) going deep as fast as ever," said Bethea. "Then you had the young tight ends (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen) running, too. (Andrew) Luck was doing what he was doing, making plays. In training camp and in each game you could see everybody growing. In training camp you could see we had something special on the offensive side of the ball."