Colts fighting perception they aren’t physical enough

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 11: Akeem Hunt #33 of the Houston Texans runs with the ball during the second quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The tone was set early, but will it erase a perception that clearly gnaws at Chuck Pagano’s competitive nature?

You know, the perception his Indianapolis Colts must shed their not-physical-enough reputation during what has been hyped as a more physical training camp.

During one goal-line session Tuesday morning, two Pro Bowl Colts went MMA. Cornerback Vontae Davis squared off against wideout T.Y. Hilton. They locked each other up and had to be separated by teammates.

“Just two guys that love the game, competing,’’ Hilton said. “Sometimes your competitive nature comes out.

“It showed that offense, defense won’t back down. Guys gonna compete and you want to show that dog. Me and him showed our dog. As soon as the period’s over, we shook hands. We’re just competing.’’

Almost immediately after tangling with Davis, Hilton beat him with a sliding touchdown catch at the pylon. He jumped up, tossed the football in the air and chest-bumped the other receivers.

“I had to let him know I won today,’’ Hilton said. “We were just having fun.’’

Davis addressed the scuffle on his Twitter account: One of the biggest competitors I know . . . Nothin but respect @TYHilton13. He added a video link of the dust-up.

Later, Davis was back at it, this time with Phillip Dorsett. He body-slammed Dorsett, prompting Pagano and several players to run to the scene of the fight.

Linebacker John Simon made light of the Hilton-Davis bout.

“It’s nice when the little guys get into it,’’ he said with a smile. “Us big guys do it every play.’’

The perception, though, has been the Colts haven’t done it every play, every game. No one has levied that dreaded four-letter word at them – soft – but neither has anyone extolled their ability to stand toe-to-toe and trade shots with a top-tier opponent.

On that, Simon took issue. He’s faced the Colts the last three years as a member of the Houston Texans.

“They’ve been a physical team when I played against them in the past,’’ he said. “Any time you have Frank Gore at running back, it’s a physical team. That O-line’s tough up there.

“It’s a physical team. Every team in the NFL is a physical team.’’

Some more than others.

Whether the physicality – or lack thereof – of the Colts is perception or reality can be debated. But first-time general manager Chris Ballard has been committed to developing a younger, faster, stronger and – yes – more physical roster.

He noted that includes with a more physical training camp.

“It’s hard to be a physical team if you don’t want to have a physical training camp,’’ Ballard said. “I think it really comes to light when you get into November and December.’’

Tuesday, being more physical at camp meant more body-on-body contact at close to full speed. It meant defensive linemen lunging and attacking offensive linemen. It meant defenders occasionally applying a “thud’’ to a running back, but stopping short of bringing him to the ground.

“Spirited practice to say the least,’’ Pagano said. “First day in the pads is always going to be like that. I love the competitive nature of this football team.’’

Pagano routinely talks to the players about walking that fine line separating aggression and over-the-top hostility.

If the Hilton/Davis scuffle had occurred during a game, it might have led to an ejection.

“We’re going to play within the framework of the rules,’’ Pagano said. “You can’t fight in a game. If you fight in a game, if you throw a punch, you’re going to get ejected. You’re going to hurt yourself. You’re going to hurt your football team.’’

The objective, he added, is to “take it as close to the line as possible, but you don’t cross it.’’

Pagano paused briefly, then focused on the perception versus reality discussion.

“I think there’s a perception out there and we have to change that,’’ he said.

What is that perception?

“You guys understand what I’m talking about,’’ Pagano said with a stern glare. “You guys write it.’’

Isn’t it accurate you’re attempting to set a physical tone during camp?

“This is a grown man’s game,’’ Pagano said. “It’s a physical football game, obviously, and a physical sport. There’s only one way you can play it.

“You’ve got to practice (being physical) and if you can’t tackle on defense you’re not going to be a good defense. We’re putting an emphasis on it.’’

It was mentioned to Pagano that there didn’t seem to be as many “thud’’ plays by the defense, where a defender hits a running back but doesn’t drive him to the ground.

Again, Pagano disagreed.

“I don’t know what practice you were at,’’ he said. “I felt like we had a lot of good ‘thud’ periods. Most periods were ‘thud.’ We just didn’t do live today.

“I’ll make sure to tell the guys that and it’ll be extra fuel. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, the perception.’’