News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 30, 2012

Dungy likes what he sees: Former Indianapolis coach gives Colts thumbs up

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

ANDERSON — Former coach Tony Dungy put his stamp of approval on the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon.

Dungy, who retired after the 2008 National Football League season as the franchise’s all-time winningest coach (92-33), spent Saturday night and Sunday watching and meeting with Indianapolis’ coaching staff and players.

In some cases — as with wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie, outside linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and safety Antoine Bethea — he rekindled previous relationships. As for meeting new head coach Chuck Pagano and watching the team practice, Dungy came away impressed.

“This is actually the first practice that I’ve seen of anybody since I left [coaching]. It was fun to see the start of a new era. I got to talk to [Colts’ owner] Jim Irsay a little bit. And he’s excited. And then I watched practice and I could see why,” he admitted.

“Got to spend some time with Coach Pagano [Saturday] night and he’s special. I can see why Jim Irsay really hit it off with him. Got a chance to meet [rookie quarterback] Andrew [Luck] and watch him. To see the decision-making, just the command of the huddle and the command of the field, they’re going to be in good hands. They’re going to be in good hands for a long time.”

Following Sunday’s afternoon practice, the first official public workout of the Colts, Dungy was asked to speak to the team. His talk, which took place in the middle of the practice field, lasted several minutes.

“To be able to address the team and talk to them about what it means to play football here in Indiana and what it means to have these fans [nearly 3,000 crowded into the sideline bleachers], what they can do to lay down their own foundation, it was a pretty special afternoon for me,” he admitted.

• Dungy likes Luck — It didn’t take the former coach long to see why the franchise is so optimistic about rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.

“That’s what impressed me the most, to see the decision-making and the lack of any indecisiveness. He looked liked a third- or fourth-year guy in his first [NFL] practice. And I’d seen him play twice [in college], Oregon against Stanford, and I saw it from that perspective. But you feel like, well, he’s running his offense that he’s comfortable with,” Dungy explained.

“But to see it out here, knowing that he’s had a condensed summer school program too because of the school setup [at Stanford], it was very, very impressive. I guess I know now what those guys, [first-year general manager] Ryan [Grigson] and Jim Irsay and Chuck, knew. They’re going to be in good hands.”

• Seven — That’s how many players remain on the Indianapolis roster who played on a Colts team coached by Dungy.

The list includes Wayne, Collie, Freeney, Mathis, Bethea, placekicker Adam Vinatieri and long snapper Justin Snow.

“It was great [to see and talk with his former players]. The thing for me was asking them how comfortable are they, not knowing many people. These guys have a lot of new teammates. But they’re good and they’re comfortable,” Dungy said.

“It’s a new system for them, but they’re embracing it and looking to be the leaders. Reggie, Dwight, Antoine, Robert … those are guys you want to follow. So they’re going to be in good shape.”

• Advising Pagano — The former coach’s appearance at training camp came about when Irsay asked him to visit and offer the new Colts coaching staff any words of advice.

Dungy and Pagano have followed a similar path in their respective coaching careers. Both were highly successful defensive coordinators who made the move up to be a head coach.

“We talked a little bit about that [Saturday] night. I talked about my first year [as a head coach in Tampa]. And I probably talked more about being resolute more than anything else. You think it’s going to go well. You believe that you’ve got all the answers. You really believe in what you’re doing,” Dungy recalled.

“I thought that too and we started out 1-8. So whether you start out 8-1 or 1-8, you know what you want to get done. I just sensed that from Coach Pagano. He has a plan and he’s not going to deviate from it. And that’s what we talked about.”

For his part, Pagano appreciated the visit.

“Tony is great and he has so much wisdom and he’s done so many great things,” he voiced.

• Injury list — Rookie undrafted free agent wide receiver Griff Whalen spent the first day of training camp on crutches after tweaking his left foot during last week’s rookie mini-camp.

Whalen has had problems with his foot for the past year but has been able to play through the injury. After having a good day of practice Wednesday, his foot was sore. He has been placed in a walking boot and is expected to be sidelined for about a week.

Inside linebacker A.J. Edds, meanwhile, left Sunday afternoon’s practice early after tweaking his left knee. The knee was iced and Edds was driven off the field on a cart.

Pagano wasn’t sure the extent of the injury. An MRI has been scheduled and there is no timetable for Edds to return.

• Luck’s day — Stats-wise, Luck’s first official Colts training camp practice went about as expected.

Unofficially, he completed 27 of 32 passes and had two intercepted during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. The interceptions were his first since coming to Indianapolis. Luck had two near-misses during spring mini-camp work.

He was picked off Sunday by safety Tom Zbikowski and by former Southern Illinois cornerback Korey Lindsey. Lindsey’s interception came after a tipped pass.