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August 16, 2013

CAMP SCENE: Preseason all about roster development for Colts

ANDERSON — Preseason in the National Football League, for the most part, is viewed as an excellent opportunity for a team’s lesser-known players to get extended work in a real-time game situation.

With the exception of the two teams who play each summer in the NFL’s Hall of Fame Game, each league team will have play four exhibition games. Very little game-planning occurs for three of the four games. Offensive and defensive starters see limited work in three of the four games.

Winning, however, is not the primary goal. Do teams want to win in the preseason? Yes. And if they do, that’s great.

But getting an opportunity to watch little-used backups and younger players — who usually don’t get a chance to get on the field in crunch time — is the goal.

And that’s the conundrum. The short-term goal of winning a meaningless game versus the bigger job of protecting the starters from injury along with roster development. Is what happens in a preseason game really that important?

From 2005 to 2011, the Indianapolis Colts registered a preseason record of 5-26. The 2005 and 2010 teams failed to win a game. Those same teams were 77-35 during the regular season with two having 14-win seasons, one with 13 wins and two with 12.

Indianapolis earned five AFC South titles, two AFC title appearances, two trips to the Super Bowl and one Super Bowl crown.

So is what happens during the preseason really a peek into what happens during the regular season?

That question has been asked in a lot of places where Colts fans congregate over the last few days. Indianapolis did not play well in a 44-20 preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday. The starters did okay but were only in the game for a couple of series. Their replacements didn’t play well.

 The Bills — with a new head coach and coaching staff along with a rookie starting quarterback and a recent history of on-field struggles — wanted to set a tone early. Indianapolis, with its coaching staff returning for a second year, took a different tact.

In the aftermath, though, nobody from Colts Nation came away happy. Particularly team owner Jim Irsay, who let loose with a tweet a day later in which he apologized to the team’s fans and inferred that he had spoken to his ‘commanders.’ Irsay was thought to be referencing general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano.

Heading into this week’s preseason road game with the New York Giants, is the pressure on Grigson and Pagano to use the starters more? Or will they stay the course and continue to limit playing time to the team’s key players, hoping for better performances from the backups?

“We always place high expectations on ourselves. Our guys hold each other to a high standard. And we always expect to go out and play. We always expect to go out and win. Sometimes it never works out that way. It’s never going to be perfect. We’re always chasing perfection,” the Colts head coach voiced Thursday.

“Doesn’t matter what it is. Preseason, certainly regular season, post-season. That’s our goal, to go out and win each and every ball game. Sometimes it obviously doesn’t go that way. But that’s why we’re here. That’s why we practice. That’s why we continue to meet and to do everything that we need to individually, on both sides of the ball, special teams and as a team. To get better.”

To be sure, Pagano and his coaching staff weren’t pleased with the results from the Buffalo game. And it had nothing to do with the final score.

“We were all disappointed in the outcome of the game. We certainly never projected that. But again its the National Football League and if you turn the ball over, you give up big plays, you don’t convert big plays, all the things that we saw. If you don’t play well in situational football, every facet of that game. You give Buffalo credit. Credit’s due. They did a nice job on third down. We weren’t good,” he stressed.

“They were better than we were in the red zone. We had some red zone stuff defensively. They converted. Converted a two-minute drive at the end of the first half, which hurt. They had another sustained drive [in the third quarter] and went up 14 on us. Give up a 107-yard kickoff return [for a touchdown]. All those things lead to disaster. And that’s what happened. Disappointed? Yes. Discouraged? No.”

Pagano’s primary objective in the Buffalo game was to find out just how far the Colts had progressed through the first two weeks of training camp.

“We wanted to go into that game and find out exactly where we are on both sides of the ball and special teams. I think we found that out,” he said. “A lot of good stuff. There was some things we need to fix. We spent this week, the emphasis was on those things, trying to fix those issues.”

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