News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 30, 2012

Colts enjoy bye week to rest, reflect on start of new era

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — A time for a bit of reflection and some extra time to heal up. That’s how the Indianapolis Colts hoped to use the bye week. Indianapolis was one of two National Football League teams, along with Pittsburgh, to have an early week off to the season.

Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano had two days of practices last week and then gave the team four days off to rest and think about the 1-2 start to the Colts’ season.  

During the two days of workouts, Pagano and the Indianapolis coaching staff set about trying to figure out what went wrong in last week’s 22-17 home-field loss to Jacksonville, as well as what’s happened of the course of the first three games, and attempt to fix as many problem areas as possible.

Pagano welcomed back several players who have been absent from the team’s line up due to an array of injuries — inside linebacker Pat Angerer (foot), outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (ankle), offensive guard Joe Reitz (knee).

All three could end up starting Indianapolis’ Oct. 7 home game with Green Bay if things continue to go well.

The extra time will also hopefully allow cornerbacks Vontae Davis (ankle) and Justin King (groin) some time to rest and return to the practice field when practices resume on Monday.

Angerer, in particular, could really help a defensive unit that has been inconsistent. He hasn’t played since fracturing his right foot on the first play of the preseason opener with St. Louis in mid-August.

“He’s had a tough go. It’s been a long time since he’s played football and it’s been hard on him, real hard on him. But we had him back [during practice last week] a little bit,” linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald said late last week.

“We worked him in individuals so he’s with the guys and doing work with them so he looked good. He’s going to be rusty. It’s just a matter of him being out so long that he’s going to have to work himself back in a little bit.”

Early-season positives

Despite the loss for most of early portion of the season, and now the remainder of the year, of veteran wide receiver Austin Collie, the Colts passing offense has come along a lot quicker than most anticipated.

Having another veteran, Reggie Wayne, around certainly helps. Wayne is off to the fastest start of his NFL career in terms of receptions and reception yardage through three games. He is working well with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.

But Donnie Avery, who was the first receiver taken in the 2008 draft by St. Louis, has really come on and been a valuable addition. Avery appears to be all the back from a serious knee injury that helped to curtail his career with the Rams and Tennessee Titans.

There has also been a big improvement overall in special teams play, especially in kick and punt coverage as well as in kickoff and punt returns. Second-year safety Joe Lefedge has become a special teams ace as a gunner on punt and kickoff coverage. Lefedge’s duties are strictly on special teams for now despite putting together a pretty good rookie season on defense in 2011.

Perhaps the biggest positive has come from the quick maturation of Luck, who has been as good as advertised.

“With Andrew, it’s kind of, to me I look at [bye week] as the end of training camp officially. Everything has been pushed back, we’ve had to accelerate everything so fast in these first three weeks of the season and now we’ll take a good hard look at what we’re doing rep-wise and how many throws we’re getting him and some of those things and we’ll have to cut back on some of those things,” quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said.

“But without him being here this offseason, we really had to do a little extra work and pre-work and pre-practice work and post-practice work and just make sure that he was up to snuff. I think it’ll be fun to just go back and sit down and take a deep breath and say ‘Okay, where is he? What do we need next? What do we need to do next and where do we need to cut back?’ Because he can’t keep this pace for the whole 16 weeks, it would be tough to keep this pace up.”

Luck’s ability to learn and adjust to what he sees, particularly in game situations, has been an eye-opener.

“He just comes to work and punches in and works and has been so steady, so he doesn’t surprise me. But usually with a rookie, you kind of expect some ups and downs and some confusion or frustration or some of those things. But he’s just been steady. After a mistake, he just comes back and works again and keeps trucking. He’s been excellent from the sideline,” Christensen said.

“I think just the football maturity-wise that has been so impressive to me that he’s been so even keel, especially for your first time through this thing, and especially with the little offseason that he’s had, I think that’s been the impressive thing that there hasn’t been surprises. The surprise has been that there hasn’t been surprises. So that’s a compliment to him.”

Early-season negatives

Where to start. There’s been the Colts’ inconsistent run offense as well as the inconsistent defense. Injuries have also played a big factor in how Indianapolis has responded through the first three games of the year.

Taking the last topic first, the Colts have, once again, been hit hard by the injury bug as several key players — Reitz, Freeney, Angerer, Collie, Davis, center Samson Satele, offensive tackle Winston Justice — have all been sidelined.

Collie is done for the year with a torn right patellar tendon and also suffered from the effects of a concussion.

The running game has been non-existent at times. The defense is still trying to learn the new 3-4 hybrid system, so inconsistency there is somewhat expected.

Cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Antoine Bethea both admit that learning a new defense — the Colts had been a 4-3 defense since 1992 — hasn’t been as hard as getting accustomed to so many new teammates.

Nearly two-thirds of the Indianapolis roster has been turned over since the end of the 2011 season. That can make for some anxious moments on the practice field and, consequently, on game days.

“There really hasn’t been anything that’s tough. I think we’ve gone through the toughest part. Well, I guess we’re still going through it now. Playing with one another. When you have those veteran teams and you have those veteran players who’ve have been out there playing with one another for a long time, you know where this guy is going to be [on the field],” Bethea voiced.

“So we’re kind of going through that now, getting comfortable with one another on the field. All that [we] can really do is get better with playing time. So week in and week in, we’ll continue to get better with that.”

Powers agrees, saying that the locker room atmosphere is different with a younger group of players around.

“The toughest thing I had to adjust to was learning new names. I’ve been in several [defensive] schemes since college, so I knew that wouldn’t be a tough part,” he said.

“I could learn a scheme. But it was like ‘now who’s this guy beside me’ in the locker room, ‘who’s this new guy, who’s that new guy.’ So getting that team comadrie and having to start a whole new bond of trust and a whole new bond of brothers that you haven’t even met or don’t even know. That was probably the toughest thing. But other than that, they made it an easy transition.”