INDIANAPOLIS – The minute Chuck Pagano arrived with the Colts, the Lombardi Trophy has been a popular image on clothes, posters or any other propaganda meant to motivate the fan base or team.
It was the coach’s intention to stress to his team that a Super Bowl championship was a top priority even if the team was rebuilding the roster in the post-Peyton Manning era.
Two years later, Pagano has the pundits finally buying in.
On Monday USA Today did an early forecast of the 2014 NFL Season and right at the top of the AFC were the Colts. The publication predicts that the team will face the Seahawks in the Super Bowl and while the picked Seattle to win that game there is a clear expectation that the Colts are considered among the elite again in the NFL.
Not that the team is taking that distinction too seriously at the moment.
“Yeah, I mean I guess you’d rather have a positive outlook. I don’t know,” said tight end Coby Fleener when asked about the USA Today prediction. “I don’t think it really matters if USA Today put us first, last, somewhere in the middle. It’s not going to change how we prepare.”
Which at the moment is day-to-day as the majority of the team proceeds through OTAs over the past six week’s at the team’s 56th Street headquarters. Getting ready to enter the third season of the Grigson-Pagano era, the team seems poised to make a legitimate run for a top AFC and a spot in the big game come February in Glendale, AZ.
“Oh yeah, we can see it. We can see towards it these last few weeks, people growing. Everybody, like I said, gelling together,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman. “The defense is growing a lot, we’re getting a lot deeper in the playbook. We’ve got a lot of guys that have been in the system before; even though we brought them in, they had been in the 3-4 system before.
“We’ve got a lot of high IQ guys out there just flying around.”
Unlike two years ago when the team was full of turnover, the majority of the 2014 Colts will be similar to the team that won the AFC South in 2013 and reached the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. Also a number of younger players like quarterback Andrew Luck and receiver T.Y. Hilton will enter the year with two seasons under their belt.
“I feel good. Healthy. I know the plays, so that’s allowed me to go fast,” said Hilton, who had 82 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns last season. “I pretty much know all the positions, so it’s slowing down for me, real slow.”
Robert Mathis feels that could be the same for the defense as they enter year three of their 3-4 alignment brought to Indianapolis by Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Perhaps that will bring more consistency from a defense that was 20th in the league in yards allowed (356 per game) yet was 9th in points allowed (21).
“Yeah, the learning curve, we’ve turned a corner,” said Mathis. “We feel we can do a lot more things and guys know each other, are comfortable, and that trust factor has gone up a lot. We feel like the sky’s the limit for us.”
“Yeah, the learning curve, we’ve turned a corner. We feel we can do a lot more things and guys know each other, are comfortable, and that trust factor has gone up a lot. We feel like the sky’s the limit for us.”
Other are starting to feel the same even with the start of the season still around 100 days away.