Colts owner Jim Irsay: ‘I think we have the makings of a third golden era’

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The backdrop Tuesday included high skies, withering temperatures and a replica Island Green hole – imagine the 17th hole at TPC at Sawgrass’ Stadium Course – and on his Pete Dye-designed golf course that adorns the Indianapolis Colts’ West 56th Street complex.

The occasion was a charity golf event to benefit Autism Speaks and The First Tee of Indiana.

Owner Jim Irsay, the driving force behind the course and the cause, revealed his 4-year-old grandson, Lockey, has dealt with autism.

“This is a very difficult disease,’’ Irsay said. “We still don’t know the right ways to treat it.’’

After addressing one issue extremely close to his heart, Irsay pivoted to another: his Colts open the season against the Detroit Lions Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

In a casual Q & A with a handful of local media, Irsay touched on a variety of subjects:

The national perception of a team that finished 8-8 and failed to reach the playoffs in 2015: 

“It is a new chapter,’’ Irsay said. “We aren’t the division champions; Houston is. We have to go out and re-prove ourselves and people are wondering ‘Who are they?’ Are they a 7-9 team that needs more draft picks and more maturation? Or is this a football team that has the right mix of some veterans and young people that can go out and win the division and continue to get better?

“Only time will tell. As the owner, I’m excited.’’

Irsay quickly added, “This is the Indianapolis Colts. The expectation is to be playing in January in the playoffs.’’

The long-term objective. “I think we have the makings of a third golden era, if you will,’’ Irsay said. “There was (John) Unitas, there was Peyton (Manning) and now there’s Andrew’s time. I believe we can get to the top of Mt. Everest and plant that Colts flag, but it’s one game at a time.’’

An offensive line that must protect Luck, Irsay’s $140 million quarterback:  

“I’m concerned like any fan out there,’’ Irsay said. “I think we can get it stabilized, but obviously the Eagles game was concerning, and until we prove otherwise, we’re going to be tested every play.’’

Luck was expected to play into the third quarter of the third preseason game against Philadelphia, but shoddy pass protection – three sacks, six hits on the QB – convinced coach Chuck Pagano to keep Luck out of the second half.

Irsay conceded left tackle Anthony Castonzo must elevate his game, but insisted Castonzo, left guard Jack Mewhort and rookie center Ryan Kelly form a solid trio. He is encouraged by the promise of 360-pound right guard Denzelle Good and likes the options at right tackle with Joe Reitz and rookies Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark.

“We protect Andrew and good things are going to happen,’’ Irsay said.

The load the Luck-led offense must carry, especially early in the season:

“We have to offensively, I believe, at least score 24 Sunday,’’ Irsay said. “The offense has to carry us while the injured, young defense finds its way and gets its footing. And that means protection for Andrew, no question about it.’’

A handful of front-line defensive players either won’t play or will be limited in the opener: cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Darius Butler, linebacker Sio Moore, defensive linemen Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson, safety Clayton Geathers.

The importance of a fast start:

The Colts have opened 0-2 the last two seasons. “We know we have to go out there and win this football game,’’ Irsay said of the Lions. “Again, it’s a big game for us. There is no other way to put it. Look, Ryan (Grigson) knows what he signed up for, Andrew knows what he signed up for, Chuck knows what he signed up for.

“We have to get it done and I believe we can get it done. But it’s one game at a time and it starts with this one.’’