ANDERSON – The Indianapolis Colts came to training camp to see how much they had improved over last season.
They left Friday still looking for answers.
I think once we get everybody healthy and we get everybody back, weve got a chance to be really good (defensively), especially in the back end, Pagano said. Once LaRon (Landry) gets back, the corner position, I think weve really upgraded and solidified ourselves there. If you stay healthy there, weve got a chance.
This years training camp was atypical.
The rookie class, which was expected to help fill some of last seasons glaring holes, didnt get much of a chance to prove itself.
As first-round choice Bjoern Werner continued the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker, he sat out late last week with a left knee injury and missed the preseason opener. Offensive lineman Hugh Thornton, a third-round pick expected to compete for a starting job, sprained his right ankle in a rookie minicamp practice and didnt practice at Anderson University.
Fourth-round selection Khaled Holmes, expected to compete for playing time at center, sprained his right ankle on Day 4 and hasnt been back yet. Defensive tackle Montori Hughes, Indys fifth-rounder, has been out with a stinger and sixth-round choice John Boyett is still on the non-football injury list.
The injury rash even hit some of the Colts high-profile, high-priced free agents.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was forced to come off the physically unable to perform list early after he participated in a walkthrough drill in Week 2 but still has not worked out in pads. Landry, a two-time Pro Bowler, hurt his left knee and missed the final 10 days of practice. Cornerback Greg Toler missed a few days with a concussion and more than a dozen Colts sat out the 44-20 loss to Buffalo.
The good news Friday was that tight end Dwayne Allen, who is expected to miss a couple of weeks with a foot injury, was out of his walking boot.
Despite the injuries, team owner Jim Irsay clearly expected more from Indy in last weekends preseason opener. On Monday, he used Twitter to apologize to fans for the abysmal showing. Irsays critical words resonated inside the locker room.
Hes the keeper of the brand, hes the protector of the shoe and thats his job. Hes the boss, five-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis said. We werent satisfied with our performance last weekend, so were making it a point of emphasis to just give a better showing and just hone in on the details and just improve on everything that were learning in practice.
Though Andrew Luck did not lead the Colts on a scoring drive, Indy did have a 10-3 lead when Matt Hasselbeck departed early in the second quarter and things didnt really get ugly until late in the first half – long after the Colts starters had been pulled.
And the defense has looked better. It has won its share of head-to-head battles against the offense, something players believe bodes well for Sundays game at the New York Giants – and the rest of the season.
We feel like were gelling as a unit, Mathis said. Unfortunately, a lot of injuries, so were waiting to get a lot of guys back. But for the most part, we feel like were coming together, and were going to make a lot of people proud of us.
Pagano also has been pleased with the progress of the rebuilt offensive line, which did allow one sack against Buffalo – a sack Luck blamed on himself, not left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who missed the block on Mario Williams.
But the Colts still dont know what theyll get out of Bradshaw, whether receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey will perform like a former first-round draft pick or whether hell continue to struggle catching passes or who will provide the pass rush opposite Mathis.