INDIANAPOLIS – Maybe it's the fact these Colts rookies came into town for mini-camp as a solo group, without the returning big-name guys like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney and, um, well, I guess that's about it for the returning big-name guys.
Whatever the reason, there's a fresh vibe in the house.
This is a rookie class with personality, from designated superstar quarterback Andrew Luck to tough guy nose tackle Josh Chapman to diminutive playmaker T.Y. Hilton, who just wants to be Devin Hester, something Colts fans could definitely enjoy.
They're learning a lot of stuff in a short period and – let's be honest – this is where the foundation of the new-era Colts will be built.
“We know we've lost some great players and there has been turnover here, huge change,” said coach Chuck Pagano, one of those changes. “The culture and the dynamics are totally different, so we've just raised the bar. The expectations are way up here. We said, ‘You wouldn't be sitting in this room if someone didn't see something in you.' ”
Of course it starts with Luck, who stepped onto the field looking like he'd been a pro his whole life. Same thing happened when he walked into the locker room to face a horde of reporters. He answered questions if he had the answers, and demurred from answering if he didn't. He talked about how nice it would be to play with his former teammates at Stanford, tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver Griff Whalen, but said they all had to make the team first. I think Luck will make it. Fleener, too. Whalen, the undrafted one, has made some nice catches in his early audition. He has a shot.
But it's more than just Luck with the poise and self-assurance. Fleener strolled in to meet the media for the first time on Friday, carrying his pasta lunch to his locker. Someone asked if he'd share. “One noodle apiece,” he joked. Now there's another player comfortable in his next step. Looks like Stanford knows how to guide players to maturity in all phases.
Hilton will be fun to follow, too. His first name's Eugene. His father's name is Tyrone and so he was called T.Y. by his family as a youngster. “They took the ‘rone' off and called me Little T.Y.” he said.
When he was coming out of high school in Miami, Hilton narrowed his choices down to Florida International and West Virginia. He let his then-infant son pick the hat he liked better. After enough attempts to gauge a favorite, Florida International won.
I supposed there's nothing wrong with a kick returner with a quirky decision-making process. After all, he ended up with six return touchdowns in his college career.
“I have natural playmaking ability and I love changing games for the offense,” he said.
That looks cocky in print. It didn't sound that way in person. Hilton says he can't wait to work and learn from Wayne. He also really likes the leather chair Wayne has at his locker, white with embroidered “Wayne” and “87” on the back.
Then there's tight end Dwayne Allen, who doesn't mind putting a little pressure on himself by comparing himself to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Heath Miller, who happened to thrive under new Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
“He has actually been one of the guys that I idolized coming out of high school,” Allen said. “Him being a Virginia guy and also a John Mackey Award recipient. He has an all-around game, and hopefully one day I can be half the tight end that he is.”
There seems to be a common framework of personality with these rookies. They all possess that tricky mixture of confidence with humility and respect without timidity.
Pagano has told these youngsters their time is now.
“So it is next man up,” Pagano said. “Get yourself ready to go, learn what you are supposed to do and somebody in here is going to be the next Dallas Clark and somebody is going to be the next Joseph (Addai). Someone will take their place; it happens all of the time.”
With this version of the Colts, change is happening all at once.
It'll be fun. It'll be unpredictable. It'll be as fresh as fresh can be.