ANDERSON – Reggie Wayne laments a lack of buzz about the Indianapolis Colts, but I don't expect that to last long.
As the Colts opened training camp Sunday at Anderson University, they brought the feel of an improved team, one with a boost in energy, a bounce in confidence and a quarterback with a year's worth of experience to go with his enormous talent.
“I really think our team this year is better than last year,” Wayne said. “If we don't hurt ourselves, the sky's the limit for us.”
Wayne's “sky's the limit” comments came after the veteran wide receiver arrived at camp with a flair Saturday via an IU Health Life Line helicopter. So there's some wordplay at work.
But there's legitimate reason to believe Wayne is right that the Colts will be better than their 11-5, wild-card playoff team of a year ago. That team was held together in some parts by figurative duct tape. This one seems to have been welded with reinforcements.
In addition to the returning veterans Wayne, outside linebacker Robert Mathis, defensive end Cory Redding and safety Antoine Bethea, there's the sophomore class of Luck, receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and running back Vick Ballard.
Throw in a ton of free-agent acquisitions, headed by safety LaRon Landry, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, and offensive linemen Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas. Add a rookie class that's not as heralded as last year's, but features high expectations for outside linebacker Bjoern Werner.
Overseeing it all is a healthy, vibrant coach Chuck Pagano.
Pagano has no restrictions on what he can do after beating leukemia last season, and casual observers can see it in his enthusiastic manner.
Pagano said he believes the blending of new players with those who began to “build the monster” last season will be smooth.
“We went out and brought in a lot of new faces, 35 new faces on the roster,” Pagano said. “Ryan (Grigson, general manager) and the scouting team went out and got guys that have 'Horseshoe' qualities, who fit that culture. It's not easy coming into any new system or organization in the NFL today. They came in in the spring, participating great, and fit into the culture of the locker room.”
Luck has been reunited with Pep Hamilton, his offensive coordinator at Stanford, and the tweaks in the offense will be fascinating to see.
Expect more use of the running game, but listening to Luck, it's clear there's not likely to be any de-emphasis on the passing game.
Luck spent time in the offseason working with Wayne, Hilton and LaVon Brazill (suspended for four games) in Miami. He threw with Heyward-Bey and Griff Whalen in California and spent time throwing with Allen and Fleener at Butler University.
“We want to get the ball in our receivers' and playmakers' hands,” Luck said. “When the ball gets in T.Y.'s or Reggie's hands, good things happen, or in Darrius' hands.”
Like most NFL teams, the Colts will go as Luck goes. Hamilton said he wants Luck to be more judicious with running the ball or scrambling this season. There's no sense taking an unnecessary beating on his body.
Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, meanwhile, expects an obvious jump in Luck's play because they have film on his rookie season to learn from in the meeting rooms. The addition of Matt Hasselbeck as backup quarterback will also be a plus, Christensen said.
“I've always thought that kids make their biggest jump in their second and third years,” Christensen said. “If they were a stock, that's the biggest percentage rise they make, two and three. Then it slows down. Reggie Wayne is not going to make a 25 percent increase this year, but Andrew Luck and the young guys like him, can. They really can make a big jump.”
The Colts should be stronger on the offensive line and in the secondary, where Landry and cornerback Greg Toler join the lineup. Heyward-Bey could be an upgrade from Donnie Avery of a year ago. The running game, if Bradshaw is healthy (he's on the physically unable to perform list early) can be improved.
Indy's players also seem to have maintained the chip on their shoulders of a year ago, when the team had T-shirts touting them as the No.32 team in preseason power polls.
“There's still not a lot of buzz about us,” Wayne said. “We've got to prove people wrong, we've got to show them what we can do and show them what we're made of. We've got to bite down through hard times and find a way to prevail.”
Obviously, every NFL team is undefeated in training camp.
The Colts aren't bound for an undefeated season, but body language as they opened camp showed a team expecting to generate plenty of buzz.