Colts keep focus on football as Pagano recovers
Maybe taking a break from football was just what the Indianapolis Colts needed.
Two days after being told coach Chuck Pagano would be out indefinitely because of leukemia, the Colts went back to work.
There were the usual morning film sessions and team meeting, the normal afternoon practice and after listening to interim coach Bruce Arians' plea, there was a distinctly more upbeat attitude in the locker room. For the Colts, it was almost business as usual Wednesday.
''I think having yesterday off was good because it's the same routine as always,'' quarterback Andrew Luck said. ''I am glad we got to come in Monday and practice and hear the news as a team rather than sitting around a house or an apartment thinking about it (during the bye weekend).''
Normalcy is the top priority right now in Indianapolis (1-2).
Players and most of the assistant coaches were stunned when Pagano didn't show up for Monday morning's scheduled team meeting, only to get the full explanation a few moments later from Indy's hierarchy.
Yes, Indianapolis tried to press on with its regular routine after that meeting, but it wasn't the same.
Arians met with Luck before that morning to ensure the lines of communication would remain open, and defensive players were surprised when Arians started cheering after they came up with a couple of turnovers late in Monday's afternoon practice.
Afterward, in a somber locker room, players repeatedly expressed concern about Pagano, and one player even suggested the best remedy might be getting away from football again - even after returning from a bye week - just to put the illness in perspective.
It certainly made a difference.
''Obviously, we know what's going on and there's no doubt everyone still has that in the back of our heads,'' defensive end Cory Redding said. ''But this team has to move on. We have to go out there and do our job.''
Arians is doing what he can to keep players cope with the circumstances and reinforce the message that nothing will change on the field.
He will be calling the offensive plays Sunday, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will be making the defensive calls and the rest of the assistants will continue to do their jobs without taking additional responsibilities. In fact, Arians said he'd only spent about five minutes looking at tape of the Packers potent offense, giving that task to Manusky and his assistants.
And Arians, the longtime assistant who will be calling all of the shots for the first time in his NFL career Sunday, had a simple message for the team: Don't try to do too much Sunday against Green Bay.
''The one thing that I think we have to be very aware of is not getting overexcited, overhyped to try to do something extra. We don't need to do anything extra,'' Arians said. ''We just need to play, coach every day like we have and prepared like we have and not get caught up in snot bubbles and tears. They don't beat anybody.''
Some of the veterans understand because they've been through the emotional shockwaves of NFL life.
A few Colts players are still around from the days Tony Dungy's son committed suicide in 2005 and Reggie Wayne's brother was killed in a traffic accident in 2006. Center Samson Satele was playing in Oakland last season when Raiders owner Al Davis died, and Redding was mourning along with his ex-teammate, Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith, who lost his younger brother in a fatal motorcycle accident less than two weeks ago.
Those who been through other tragedies are now trying to pass those lessons along to a large group of young guys including Luck who acknowledged Wednesday that he's never been through anything quite like this.
''You have to keep your emotions under control,'' Redding said. ''That's the way it is in any profession.''
It won't be easy.
Pagano has been widely embraced by his new players despite holding the job for less than 10 months.
He is expected to be hospitalized six to eight weeks as he undergoes treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia, an illness in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells that interfere with healthy blood cells.
Moments after Monday's announcement, team owner Jim Irsay made this week's goal clear - beat the Packers (2-2) so the team could take a game ball to Pagano.
Arians worries the emotional quest to win one for Pagano could create an undue burden on players, something neither he nor Pagano want the team to be dealing with as they prepare for the Packers.
''I think more and more as the week progresses, the emphasis is going to be more and more on win this game for Chuck,'' Arians said. ''Chuck doesn't want that.''
Instead, Pagano and the Colts staff want these players to practice and play the way would Pagano has been preaching - a point that seemed to resonate during Tuesday's day off.
''There will be a little bit of a focus to try to not get too emotional,'' Luck said. ''Coach Pagano wouldn't want us crying about him before the game. ... I don't think we will.''
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