“I just look at the numbers that we brought in in free agency, the quality of the players, the quality of people,” Pagano said, “and then adding the guys that we just added over the last three days of the draft, our locker room is really strong. Our team got way better, and we know what the expectations are coming down the pipe. It's exactly where we want to be.”
Pagano's enthusiasm is genuine. I have no doubt. If the Colts' acquisitions live up to expectations, we're looking at a markedly better team in 2013. But free agency and draft picks are a calculated gamble.
Teams don't know if an underachiever elsewhere will thrive in a new environment, as the Colts hope is the case with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Teams don't know if college studs can bring their production to the NFL without a hitch, as the Colts hope is the case with rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, the team's first-round pick.
Coaches, GMs and scouts do their homework. They make their moves. Whether they admit to praying they are right doesn't mean they aren't, indeed, praying.
“We took guys that were 'above the line,' and guys that are above the line are guys we feel are NFL starters,” Grigson said. “That's always the goal of any draft.”
At least half the free agents and three or four of the Colts' draft picks need to compete for starting jobs.
Looking at the Colts' starters from last season, the offense has six players who should be locks to start again: quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and running back Vick Ballard. You can add center Samson Satele to the probable starters list, but A.Q. Shipley and rookie Khaled Holmes will challenge him.
Veteran free agent Gosder Cherilus will start at right tackle. I can see rookie guard Hugh Thornton and veterans Donald Thomas (guard) and Heyward-Bey competing for starting roles, too.
On defense, who are the locks as returning starters? I'm saying outside linebacker Robert Mathis, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, defensive end Cory Redding, free safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Vontae Davis.
Free agent signee LaRon Landry will be at strong safety. Other free agent signees who could start include cornerback Greg Toler, defensive end Erik Walden, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Werner and defensive tackle Montori Hughes are rookies who should challenge. Josh Chapman enters his delayed “rookie” season as a possible starter, too.
Of the Colts' seven draft picks, only the final pick, tight end (and new “Mr. Irrelevant) Justice Cunningham doesn't have a shot at significant playing time.
It's possible that 10 or 12 of the Colts' 22 offensive and defensive starters could be different from last year.
That's probably why the Colts adopted the slogan, “Building the Monster,” last year rather than “Completing the Monster.”
If all of these new players live up to their billing, and the gushing praise of Pagano and Grigson, the Colts could be Super Bowl contenders.
But that remains an “if.”
“We've got a group of guys coming in here that are Colts,” Pagano said. “They're Colts through and through and they can't wait to get here and get rolling, and we can't wait to get them in here to get rolling.”
Pagano referenced expectations in regards to the offseason acquisitions. When a team goes 11-5 and makes the playoffs, as the Colts did last season, expectations blossom.
Give the Colts credit. They didn't stand pat. They've shaken up their roster. Most new players look like upgrades.
Pagano and Grigson are gushing about the new players. If people not drawing paycheck from the Colts are doing the same come December, there's no limit to how far Indy can go in Year 2 of the Luck era.
Colts draft at a glanceBjoern Werner, DE, 6-3, 266, Florida State
First round, 24th overall
“You turn on the film and he jumps off the screen at you.” – Colts GM Ryan Grigson
Hugh Thornton, G, 6-3, 320, Illinois
Third round, 86th overall
“I thought he was the most dominant guard of the Senior Bowl. …He can set the tone for how the game is meant to be played.” – Grigson
Khaled Holmes, C/G, 6-3, 302, USC
Fourth round, 121st overall
“He started two years at guard and two years at center, I believe, at USC. He's played a high level. Smart kid, long arms.” – Grigson
Montori Hughes, DE, 6-4, 340, Tennessee Martin
Fifth round, 139th overall
“He's 6-4 and change, 340 pounds and he can move like a cat. There are just very few human beings that have that ability.” – Grigson
John Boyett, SS, 5-10, 204, Oregon
Sixth round, 192nd overall
“You watch this guy, he's a buzz saw. He's a downhill guy. He loves to play. He loves special teams.” – Colts coach Chuck Pagano
Kerwynn Williams, RB, 5-8, 195, Utah State
Seventh round, 230th overall
“Our special teams coaches had him rated as one of the best returners in the draft and that got our attention.” – Grigson
Justice Cunningham, TE, 6-3, 258, South Carolina
Seventh round, 254th overall
“He has a swagger and a thirst. The competitiveness you can see and feel when you're watching this kid. He has that will to be great.” – Grigson
For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1