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Colts Tweak Schedule With Eye On Week 1, Early-Season AFC South Gauntlet

The Colts will hold all but two training camp practices at noon at Grand Park over the next few weeks and built in days of lighter work in an effort to start the upcoming season with a win for the first time in nearly a decade. 

WESTFIELD, Ind. – As Colts veterans arrived at Grand Park on Tuesday, the biggest news on the eve of training camp turned out to be the team's star linebacker requesting to be known by his middle name.

"I guess that's better than last year's, I guess," laughed linebacker Zaire Franklin. "... I mean, if we're just trying to figure out what Darius' name is going to be in the program, and I guess we can debate about that for four weeks, let's go do that then for sure."

There was a good vibe around Grand Park as players, coaches and staff convened together ahead of Wednesday's training camp practice. It's a group still motivated by how the 2021 season ended ("we s* the bed," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said) and buoyed by the high-profile additions of quarterback Matt Ryan, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, among others.

Mostly, the sense was palpable that these guys are ready to get back to work.

"A lot of times you'll see guys trying to ease back into the season, but really your time to do that is leading up to training camp," running back Jonathan Taylor said. "Once you hit training camp, it's full pedal to the metal, so being able to have that mindset going into the season — the time is now, there's no next week, there's no tomorrow, let's get rolling right now."

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Every team says they want a fast start to a season, but the Colts have some added motivation behind that goal for two reasons. First, they haven't won in Week 1 since 2013; second, five of their first seven games come against AFC South opponents – including both meetings with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

"I think it's just more heightened," center Ryan Kelly said. "Obviously, we've preached about Week 1 since we have been here and since I've been here about getting to a hot start, and we just haven't done that. We've had some really great games in Week 1. We just haven't got a win, and so I think that's obviously number one.

"... We've got a tough stretch the first seven weeks, but if we don't take care of Week 1, the rest of the season will be different, so I think if we get 1-0 for week one, we'll be having a lot of fun and roll into the season that way."

There's more here than just talk, too. The Colts tweaked their training camp schedule to start practices at noon, instead of earlier in the morning, to get players' circadian rhythms lined up closer to the 1 p.m. kickoff times they'll have when the regular season begins Sept. 11 against the Houston Texans.

"(Director of sports performance) Rusty Jones and the strength staff, who I have a great deal of trust in, they have worked hard this offseason to try to get a good training camp schedule so we can hit the ground running better in Week 1," general manager Chris Ballard said. "We've made adjustments, you can see with the 12-o'clock starts. Walk-thrus are more in the morning, so we're doing all we can to try to rectify by that."

The schedule also has some built-in recovery time for players to try to keep them as fresh as possible with an eye on September.

"I feel like Frank, the coaches, they did a great job with adjusting the schedule this year, making sure guys had enough time to rest and recover," Buckner said. "I feel like the past couple years we've had a slow start losing Week 1 coming right out of camp. And so I feel like they altered the schedule a little bit to kind of help with that as well. I don't know if that was in mind but as a player, I'm looking at it and I'm seeing it and that's what it kind of looks like. I'm excited to see how this camp goes."

The Colts lost, 28-16, to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 in 2021; in 2020, a season-opening loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars wound up as their AFC South foe's only win that year. Had the Colts won Week 1 last year, they would've made the playoffs; in 2020, a Week 1 win would've meant they would've won the AFC South and hosted at least one playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"Coach Frank and Rusty and DT (director of player engagement David Thornton), they definitely spent a lot of time working on this camp schedule, making sure that we do the best to maximize our bodies and go into the season fresh," Franklin said. "Last year, we definitely had a tough camp and started off a little slower. The biggest thing this year is definitely getting that work in, we're grinding and getting better but at the same time giving us a chance to recover because we all know the beginning of the season is a big part." 

And while the schedule tweaks are certainly welcome, everybody here in Westfield knows they have to be ready to execute when the calendar turns to September.

"Let's just play better in Week 1," Ballard said. "I mean we played bad. Let's just play good football."

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