Colts Training Camp
Public practices: Open most days at 1:50 p.m., beginning Sunday at Anderson University. See www.colts.com for full schedule.
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This season might end up feeling like Colts coach Chuck Pagano's second first year.
Pagano set the Colts up for their surprising 11-5 season in 2012 with a strong training camp and a specific mindset during late July and early August. But by the time the season was hitting its early stride, the coach was hit by leukemia.
His battle inspired a team, his attitude inspired the fan base and he returned at season's end to coach a playoff team.
Healthy again, this is Pagano's second chance at a full season as coach.
Look for him to again set the tone in training camp, which opens this weekend at Anderson University. Fans can attend the first open practice at 1:50 p.m. Sunday. The event is free, but Anderson charges a parking fee.
Pagano's second season brings with it plenty of assets and positives, but also some challenges.
It certainly helps that quarterback Andrew Luck enters his second season with experience and confidence. But there will be changes in the offense with new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who coached Luck at Stanford.
Despite the strong 2012 season, the Colts are looking at eight or nine possible new starters and changes of some sort in every unit outside of quarterback, kicker and punter.
“We had a really productive offseason program,” Pagano said last month. “We had great attendance. The work that we got in day after day, we were just stacking bricks, and we'll keep building that foundation.”
It'll be interesting to see how Pagano and Hamilton mesh in pushing the offense in the right direction.
Pagano had a history with former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians – they had been friends for years – and that relationship helped immensely when Arians took over as interim head coach while Pagano was out. They shared a philosophy and an approach, although Arians was definitely his own man with play calling.
Hamilton brings in a new outlook after spending the last few years at the college level.
How much freedom will Pagano give Hamilton to develop the offense with Hamilton's vision? It'll probably be significant. Hamilton's history with Luck (as well as tight end Coby Fleener and possible wide receiver Griff Whalen) should make the transition to a tweaked, if not overhauled, offense much easier.
Hamilton has said he'd like more balance and a strong running game, and that's something Pagano emphasized a year ago, even as the Colts were a heavily pass-oriented team.
“He's a great teacher,” Pagano said of Hamilton in June. “His message that he tries to get across, the way he teaches, is very clear, matter of fact and to the point. So people get it.”
Bringing in Ahmad Bradshaw at running back was intended to help that, but Bradshaw is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list for now. That means Vick Ballard, who had a breakout season as a rookie, enters the season as the No.1 back.
The offensive line has been retooled and Darrius Heyward-Bey has been added at wide receiver. How quickly will Luck and the offense find their synchronicity? Heyward-Bey has a one-year deal. He should bring some urgency along with his somewhat untapped potential.
The Colts' defense will be without longtime pass rusher Dwight Freeney, who left in free agency and is now with the San Diego Chargers. Can rookie Bjoern Werner, who agreed in principle to a contract Wednesday, step into that void?
By the time the offseason concluded, Pagano was fully back to his old self, looking strong, emanating enthusiasm and work ethic.
This will kind of be like Pagano's second first season but with a major head start.