News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 17, 2014

Pagano, Colts look at Mathis' suspension as opportunity for young players

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts lost first-year head coach Chuck Pagano for most of 2012 season as he battled leukemia. Gloom and doom was predicted. The result? An 11-5 record and a trip to the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs.

Last year, the Colts lost Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne for the second half of the 2013 campaign with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. More doom was forecast. But Indianapolis posted another 11-5 record, captured the AFC South championship and a first-round post-season win over Kansas City.

So when the news came down Friday evening that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Robert Mathis would be sidelined for the first four games of the 2014 due to a National Football League-mandated suspension, the forecast for the upcoming season was predictably dire.

Mathis was suspended in accordance with the NFL’s policy on steroids and PEDs (performance enhancing drugs).

The attitude of the Colts coaching staff and players, however, as they prepare for the coming season hasn’t changed much. Forget it and move on. Just ask Pagano, who addressed Indianapolis’ situation on Saturday.

“With regards to the recent suspension of Robert Mathis, we’re going to honor the league’s policy as far as confidentiality goes. We certainly understand the severity of this situation, but as we’ve done many, many times before in our short stint here, we’ll get through this,” the Colts coach voiced.  

“We’ll come together as a team. We’ll come together as a family. We’ll come together as an organization and we’ll get through this. We love and respect Robert Mathis. He’s a horseshoe guy, he’s a pillar guy, and like I said before, we’ve got his back. Everybody in this organization has his back and we’ll get through this and at the end of the day, we’ll all be better for it.”

Much like what transpired last season when Wayne — a vital cog in the Indianapolis offense — went down, Pagano said other players are going to have to step up and perform in Mathis’ absence.

But who? Erik Walden and 2013 first-round draft pick Bjoern Werner are the first possibilities. And Indianapolis could wind up signing another veteran free agent to help stem the tide during Mathis’ absence.

“I mean we’re so far away. That’s why we’ve got a 90-man roster right now. We lost five starters I believe last year on offense, right? It was next man up in those situations. So somebody will take advantage of the opportunity to show up and play great football,” the Colts coach said, who has always stressed being ready to play in sudden-change situations.

“No doubt about it. Again, there’s going to be adversity, there’s going to be circumstances, and nobody’s built better to handle adversity than this group of people right here in this organization.”

Mathis’ suspension is just the latest setback for Indianapolis. But the Colts have managed to make the best out of tough situations. But can they do it again?

“Any time you’re faced with circumstances and you have adversity and setbacks, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, again you come together and you regroup. We take care of one another, we’ve got each other’s back and we’ll find a way to get through it,” Pagano said.

• King getting attention — A pair of former Indiana State players, safety Larry King and center FN Lutz, are both participating in the Chicago Bears’ rookie mini-camp this weekend.

King and Lutz are listed as tryout players. According to media sources in Chicago, the hard-hitting defensive back from South Bend has opened more than a few eyes among the Bears’ coaches and media.

• Indiana State connections — While there aren’t any former Sycamores at the Colts’ rookie mini-camp, which wraps up this morning, two of the prospects had head coaches with strong Indiana Stare backgrounds.

Georgia State offensive tackle Ulrick John played for former Sycamore player and head coach Trent Miles last season. John was Indianapolis’ seventh-round draft pick.

Wide receiver Jordan Harris, meanwhile, played at Bryant University for ex-Indiana State offensive coordinator Marty Fine. Fine, by the way, is the brother-in-law of Terre Haute native Cam Cameron and son-in-law of former Sycamore head coach Tom Harp.