Colts hoping for solid start in new Luck era

The Indianapolis Colts are ready to start over.

For the first time in 15 years, Peyton Manning isn’t around. For

the first time in more than a decade, the Colts are not expected to

contend for a division title or make the playoffs.

Players understand this is reality for 2012, they just don’t

believe in using the r-word.

”I don’t have rebuilding years in me,” Pro Bowl defensive end

and converted linebacker Robert Mathis said. ”I rebuilt last year,

2-14 was the rebuilding year. New year, new attitude, new defense,

new offense, new tune.”

It’s a common refrain within the confines of Indy’s recently

remodeled locker room.

The few longtime veterans still hanging around – Mathis, Dwight

Freeney, Adam Vinatieri and Reggie Wayne among them – delivered a

succinct message that quickly resonated with the new and young

faces now populating the Colts’ complex.

Even Andrew Luck, Manning’s replacement, has bought into the

philosophy.

”I don’t think anybody is viewing it as a rebuilding season,”

Luck said. ”There are great players on this team. Guys that have

made the playoffs for X amount of years in a row, and then maybe

missed out last year, so I know they are hungry. I just hope that I

can help them achieve that goal.”

The challenge in Indy is enormous.

Indy’s father-son front office tandem, Bill and Chris Polian,

has been replaced by the wheeling-and-dealing first-time general

manager Ryan Grigson.

Jim Caldwell, Tony Dungy’s hand-picked successor, was replaced

by Chuck Pagano, a folksy fellow who has never before been a head

coach.

Also gone are most of those familiar faces who helped lead the

Colts to the most regular-season wins in a decade than any team in

league history. The list includes Manning, running backs Joseph

Addai and Edgerrin James, linebacker Gary Brackett, tight end

Dallas Clark, receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive lineman Ryan Diem

and center Jeff Saturday.

Even those who stuck around have been busy retraining.

Freeney and Mathis, one of the league’s most feared pass-rushing

tandems for nearly a decade in Indy’s traditional 4-3 defense, are

now considered linebackers in Pagano’s preferred 3-4 hybrid

defense. And Wayne, who always lined up on the left side, has been

rejuvenated by moving all over the field.

”As a team, I think everyone is buying into the system and

understanding what is going on,” Wayne said. ”As a whole, we

believe that we can be a really good bunch and surprise a lot of

people, so hopefully we continue to have that mindset and keep

moving forward.”

The biggest reason for optimism is pure Luck.

Indy’s reward for posting the league’s worst record last season

was earning the No. 1 draft pick, giving them a chance to replace

Manning with a rookie quarterback considered the most NFL-ready

passer since Manning was taken No. 1 overall in 1998.

Luck has been as good as advertised.

From the day training camp opened, the two-time Heisman Trophy

runner-up has been drawing rave reviews. He completed 71.3 percent

of his 447 attempts in team drills during Indy’s 3 1/2-week stay at

Anderson University, and 62.5 percent in his first three preseason

games.

How good is he?

”He doesn’t play like a rookie, he’s a very polished guy,”

said Vinatieri, a former teammate of Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady and

Manning. ”For a young guy, he can make all the throws.”

But there are plenty of questions, too.

The Colts took the top two tight ends in the draft, Coby Fleener

and Dwayne Allen, then drafted two wide receivers and signed the

oft-injured Donnie Avery.

Grigson also revamped an offensive line that struggled each of

the past two seasons. He kept left tackle Anthony Castonzo, Indy’s

2011 first-round pick, then filled in three other spots with new

acquisitions – center Samson Satele, guard Mike McGlynn and right

tackle Winston Justice. It’s a work in progress.

”There were some things, obviously, that after we looked at the

tape, from a communication standpoint and, like I said afterward,

fundamentals and technique stuff, that we can clean up,” Pagano

said after last weekend’s preseason loss at Washington. ”It has

nothing to do with want and effort and certain things like that.

But again, it just comes down to communication and fundamentals and

technique.”

Defensively, things are still getting sorted out, too.

Defensive end Cory Redding is recovering from a knee injury,

inside linebacker Pat Angerer is expected to miss another four to

six weeks with a fractured foot and three backups – defensive

tackle Brandon McKinney and linebackers A.J. Edds and Scott Lutrus

– have been lost for the season with torn anterior cruciate

ligaments.

Add the switch of Freeney and Mathis and the recent acquisition

of cornerback Vontae Davis, and Indy still has a lot to learn.

However, Wayne says, ”Who knows, we might shock the world. This

time next year, you might be writing that these Colts are some bad

boys. I guess we’ll be in tune to find out what happens.”

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