INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts are ready to start over.
For the first time in 15 years, Peyton Manning isnt 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 dont believe in using the r-word.
I dont 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.
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, Mannings replacement, has bought into the philosophy.
I dont 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 Indianapolis is enormous.
Indianapolis father-son front-office tandem, Bill and Chris Polian, has been replaced by the wheeling-and-dealing first-time general manager Ryan Grigson.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 Dungys 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, linebacker Gary Brackett, tight end Dallas Clark, offensive lineman Ryan Diem and center Jeff Saturday.
Even those who stuck around have been busy retraining.
Freeney and Mathis, one of the leagues most feared pass-rushing tandems for nearly a decade in Indianapolis traditional 4-3 defense, are now considered linebackers in Paganos 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.
Indianapolis reward for posting the leagues worst record last season was earning the No. 1 draft pick, giving the Colts 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.
How good is he?
He doesnt play like a rookie, hes 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.
Grigson revamped an offensive line that struggled each of the past two seasons. He kept left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the 2011 first-round pick, then filled in three other spots with new acquisitions – center Samson Satele, guard Mike McGlynn and right tackle Winston Justice. Its a work in progress.
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.
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.
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 well be in tune to find out what happens.