News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 13, 2014

Moving on: Coach likes what he sees, gets ready for phase three of Colts’ development

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Time to move on.

In the wake of the Indianapolis Colts’ 43-22 AFC divisional playoff loss at New England last Saturday night, head coach Chuck Pagano is ready to take time off and then start getting after it again late this spring.

But don’t get Pagano wrong. Yes, he was disappointed in the outcome of the Patriots game. He thought his team could have, and should have, played much better.

But he’s also looking at the big picture, taking a look at the 2012 season as a whole. And he likes what he sees.

“Obviously [Monday] is one of the tougher days in football. The finality of it. It’s hard to prepare for. The packing up. We all signed up for greater things,” Pagano voiced during his end-of-season press conference.

“[The players and coaches] sacrificed everything. I want to thank them for their dedication to the horseshoe. We’ve got a great group of players and coaches here.

“Just talking to the players, I felt like we had a great season. Our ultimate goal we fell short of. But we will never stop chasing that. But we had a great season and we accomplished a lot. I think to follow up an 11-5 first season with another 11-win season, a division championship, sweep the division, win a home playoff game, I think we took the next step in building this program.

“It looks very bright going into year three of our program. We have a lot of work to do, obviously. We’ve got a lot of decisions to make. We know that. [General manager] Ryan [Grigson] and I have not had an opportunity at this point yet to discuss the roster and things like that. At some point in the upcoming days we’ll have a chance to sit down and discuss that.

“We will begin the research and development, the evaluation process, starting with ourselves, and we will look to get better in every area that we need to improve on.

“We’ll start preparations for the upcoming draft. The [National Football Scouting] combine will be on us before we know it. We’ll have to deal with that.”

Some tough player personnel decisions are in the offing. Indianapolis has 23 free agents, including placekicker Adam Vinatieri, punter Pat McAfee, safety Antoine Bethea, cornerback Vontae Davis, running backs Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw, inside linebackers Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Pagano doesn’t expect any changes on his coaching staff heading into next season. When asked if he was looking forward to more stability in that regard this offseason, he had a quick reply.

“Absolutely,” the Colts coach said.

Pagano was asked what the immediate future holds for Indianapolis.

“The sky’s the limit for this group. We were one of eight [teams in the AFC divisional playoff round]. Three teams playing [on] championship Sunday we beat [Seattle, San Francisco, Denver],” he said.

• Free agency decisions — Bethea has been with the Colts for eight seasons but will become an unrestricted free agent on March 11. Bethea would like to return to Indianapolis but understands the business side of things as well.

“I’d love to finish my career here. But at end the of the day both sides need to come to an agreement,” the veteran defensive back said Monday.

His comments were shared by all of the other free agents, including Vinatieri, Brown and McAfee.

“No doubt about it. I want to stay here,” Brown said. “But we’ll see what happens. This season was like a job interview.”

McAfee plans to make Indianapolis his year-round home no matter what happens contract-wise.

“Indianapolis has become my home. I hope to be a Hoosier for life. Business is business, however,” he said.

Vinatieri agrees.

“I still feel like I can do [kick] at a high enough level. I’d like to be here,” the record-setting kicker said.

None of the Colts free agents or their representatives have heard from team officials has of yet. They all expect things to start moving quicker now that the season is over.

• Wayne, Allen, Ballard getting better — Three Colts players who were forced to miss most of the 2013 season — wide receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), tight end Dwayne Allen (groin) and running back Vick Ballard (knee) — are more than ready to get started on preparations for next year.

Wayne’s rehab is ahead of schedule, according to Pagano. Allen had surgery, which turned out to be a bit more extensive than originally planned. His rehab time was pushed from four to six months.

“I’m very, very confident I’ll come back better than I was before,” he said Monday. The second-year tight end from Clemson doesn’t know if he’ll be ready for the spring organized team activities but is pointing to the start of training camp in late July.

Ballard says that his rehab is on schedule and hopes to be able to take part in OTA workouts this spring.

“As far as injuries go, we had a couple guys that got banged up in the [New England] game. Stanley Havili, Josh Gordy, Hugh Thornton and Darius Butler were the four that went out. Still being evaluated as to whether they’ll need or require some sort of surgery. I don’t have that information for you at this point. As far as the [injured reserve] guys go, as far as I know all those guys are doing well,” Pagano said.

• The beard is gone — Stop the presses. Quarterback Andrew Luck’s bushy beard, which drew plenty of attention as the Colts got closer to the playoffs, was missing Monday when he talked to the media.

Luck wasn’t happy with his four-interception performance against New England. He had seven interceptions in the two playoff games against Kansas City and the Patriots after having just nine during the regular season.

“I’m wondering what to do [now that the season is over]. I feel like a lost puppy. Probably everybody feels that way,” he said. “Definitely there was progress [this year]. Offensively we got better. With guys coming back [from injuries], hopefully we can keep taking steps forward.”

• Pro Bowl — The Colts coaching staff will be representing the AFC in the Pro Bowl. Indianapolis had the best remaining record of the teams that lost during the wild-card and divisional playoff games.

“Fortunately for the coaching staff … they get to go to Hawaii, because of the circumstances of how the Pro Bowl coaches are determined now. It’ll be a well deserved break for those guys,” Pagano said. “We’ll be leaving early next week to do that.”